Warung Luwak (Munduk)

After having both dinner and breakfast at the Puri Lumbung Cottages, we were ready for a change of scenery for our first lunch in Munduk.  Luckily, our cottage was located just across the street from a restaurant that looked mighty intriguing.  Sure, its brick facade suggested that construction had not even been completed yet, but after climbing the few flights of stairs and taking a look at the menu, we decided to give Warung Luwak a try.

Now, if you have been following our blog and have read our report on Java you probably already know what a “warung” is, and you may even be able to figure out that “luwak” is just another spelling of “luak” - as in “kopi luak,” or “cat poop coffee.”  If you have not read the Java blog, you may want to check out its “sips” section now.

Though we had already tried kopi luak during our plantation tour in Kalibaru, according to some rather informative signs and menus, the coffee up for grabs at Warung Luwak was promised to be the absolute real deal.  Further documentation supplied by Budi, the well-versed owner of Warung Luwak, revealed that the growing popularity of the rare beans has created some controversy.  Apparently, in order to keep up with the demand in cheaper souvenir shops, some producers have cut corners and caged the nocturnal palm civets so that they cannot run away into the darkness of night.  These cultivators feed the creatures any old coffee beans they can find, cutting out one of the main factors that supposedly gives kopi luak such a refined taste:  the civets’ nose for the perfect bean!

After ordering a round of kopi luak we selected a number of dishes from the menu, all the while trying not to laugh at the misuse of the word “homely” when phrased next to “dishes” and “drinks.”  The insane view from the balcony of the restaurant easily kept us captivated until the individual kopi luak brewing system arrived at our table.  We enjoyed watching the entirety of the three-brew process almost as much as the richness of the elixir that followed.  And yet, the best was still to come.

Drum roll please...

And now we present the award for BEST MEAL IN INDONESIA...  Yes folks, Warung Luwak, the random establishment in the middle of a mountainside village, provided us with the best tasting food in all the land.  While we cannot remember exactly what the special dishes were called at this point, the soup and two spicy entrees we enjoyed were somehow enhanced to perfection!  Truly, whoever was making this meal had created them from scratch and had really put their heart and soul into each dish.

Afterward Budi stopped by our table to ask our opinions of the meal.  After we started talking, he told us about his foundation D’ecommunity Center of Munduk, the result of a life-long journey that took him from Munduk all the way to University in Amsterdam and back.  D’ecommunity Center aims to educate the people of Munduk how to prosper in their community without damaging its delicate resources.  To achieve this task, Budi hopes to persuade villagers to work together and make smart choices about expanding the same tourism that has put the town on the map.  Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!

If you have visited Munduk already, you know how special a place it is, and how important it would be to those who live there to retain that magic.  If you would like to learn more about Budi’s work, please visit his website listed below.

Warung Luwak - Munduk,  Kecamantan Banjar  81152, Singaraja, North Bali, 011 (62) 387-38007

D’ecommunity Center - Munduk  81152, Singaraja, North Bali, 011 (62) 387-38007, http://www.balieco-empowering-projects.com

Cafe Bali (Seminyak)

Finding a dining spot in Seminyak can be a heady task, even if you are not one usually swayed by high design elements - and we are!  There is simply too much to choose from.  With really only one night in the heart of Seminyak to enjoy all of its tantalizing wiles, we made a point to scavenge the entirety of Jalan Laksmana (aka Oberoi) before making our decision.

“Gee, that Japanese restaurant looks good, but then so does that Indian one over there.  Oh, and look at that crazy place across the street!”  (Yes, we are complete dorks.)  While we cannot say whether or not we ultimately found the best choice in all of South Bali, we can recommend Cafe Bali as wonderful conduit in which to indulge both your eyes and your taste buds.

True, Cafe Bali completely lacks creativity when it comes to its rather bland moniker, but what opportunities are missed with its name are more than made up for in terms of the restaurant’s zany, yet comforting interior.  A hodge-pdoge of styles that we’ll dub “Balinese Provence Shabby Chic,” Cafe Bali redresses its mostly off-white wooden canvas with everything from farming tools and chic modern photography to a refreshing plunge pool in back!  Perhaps most clever, a gaggle of unusual light fixtures scattered throughout seem destined for greatness well beyond the multiple levels of this establishment!

Tables and chairs of all styles are arranged in all sorts of combinations.  (Some expats off to the side appeared happy enough to simply lounge on the comfy couches while sharing their design work on their iPads.)  We were sat at a table for six and were soon joined by another couple of visitors who advised us that the fairly new establishment was operated by a mostly French team of expats who had already garnered success via a few other nightspots in Bali.  (That explains it.)

The menu at Cafe Bali is diverse, offering well-spiced delights on both sides of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.  Set of Drifter Doug scarfed down a mean Pepes Ikan (steamed fish in banana leaf) while Brady opted for wonton soup and sashimi.  Portions at Cafe Bali were not huge, though that just made more room for some of the tastiest cocktails of our trip.  (Set of Drifters tip:  Make sure you try “The Illusion.”)  And speaking of cocktails, why not end your meal with the “Colonel” as a dessert?  We assure you the lemon sherbet served in a martini glass of vodka went down a treat, and may just be the perfect way to set you up for the rest of your day (or night) spent shopping or bar-hopping along the liveliest stretch of Bali’s decadent paradise.  Take us back there... like now!

Cafe Bali - Jalan Laksmana/ Oberoi, Seminyak, Bali, 011 (62) 361-736484

Ubud's culinary gems (Ubud)

The beautiful town of Ubud has a reputation as the cultural epicenter of Bali, known to most as the place for the island’s best art, architecture, and dance dramas.  And thus, we were somewhat surprised that, even with our limited time in Ubud, we ended up having some of our best meals here as well.  Perhaps Ubud’s overall reputation needs some readjustment to include the wonderful array of tasty dishes that can be had from a variety of hot-spots. 

Our first taste of Ubud occurred our first night in town after the completion of the Sadha Budaya troupe’s Barong performance at the Ubud Palace.  We decided to head back to a place we had spotted earlier that looked mighty appealing, particularly since it was so crowded - always a good sign.  Ibu Rai is a bar and restaurant that prides itself on serving its mostly Asian cuisine in a visually-appealing manner.  In Bahasa Indonesian, “ibu” means “older women of respect,” and it was in 1986 that “Ibu Rai’s” grandson opened the restaurant as a tribute to the family’s matriarch who had previously run a successful warung near the Ubud Palace for many years.  Her food was so well known that it became famous amongst travelers for being as “safe to eat” as it was delicious.

Today, Ibu’s old recipes, like the oddly named “aubergine finger,” are still packing them in.  Complimented by some rather beautiful decor - and nice drinks - we highly recommend you check this place out whether you fancy seafood, salads or even noodle dishes.  (They’re open for lunch as well.)

The following day, while shopping up a storm on Monkey Forest Road, some intriguing paintings caught our eye.  It was their hook that first brought us into Three Monkeys Cuisine and Art Cafe.  Perhaps we have a sixth sense about these kinds of places, but we immediately felt at home here.  Turns out, the spot is one of the most popular in town for both expats and tourists alike.

Call us crazy, but after a few weeks in Indonesia eating the local cuisine, we were ready for something different, and by different, we mean any dish that did not contain noodles or rice!  While the extensive menu at Three Monkeys fuses together elements of Mediterranean, Vegetarian and Indonesian cuisine, we immediately zeroed in on its pizzas.  The creative concoctions sounded perfectly delicious, particularly when realized with fresh local ingredients on a super thin crust.

Any sense of guilt we felt after ordering one pizza each was soon washed away after that first bite into the cheesy, gooey masterpiece.  We were in heaven!  Two “Frozen Lime Mints” and a couple of empty plates later, we decided to check out desserts.  True, Three Monkeys presents an unparalleled selection of ice creams, brownies, and sundaes.  Unfortunately, our stomachs were simply too small to consume anymore.  You can however!  Just make sure you carve out some time to check out the kick-ass local artists who display their work here.  If only we would find a place like this back home to spend our days writing in!

On our final night in Ubud, we decided to find somewhere for dinner a bit more quiet and closer to our hotel.  Planning originally to eat at one of the very noticeable riverside restaurants in spitting distance from our hotel, we switched gears after glancing at its out of range prices.  It was getting mighty late and we were running out of options so we crossed back over the river to what we assumed was a small restaurant called Murni’s Warung.  Upon entering however, we soon realized this place was huge, set out on several different levels that looked out onto the same river.  Even better, Murni’s boasted affordable prices and regional Indonesian dishes that ended up being some of the best of our trip.
Murni’s, part of a larger hotel complex, ended up being one of the better surprises of our time in Indonesia.  Since we were one of the few couples to dine so late in the evening, we had almost the complete attention of the unbelievably sweet staff.  They even allowed us to move tables mid-way throughout meal once we realized that a better vantage point existed two levels down.  It being a quiet weeknight, we imagined this place is probably rammed on the weekends as the river ambiance really makes for a special culinary experience.  A winner of TripAdvisor's coveted "Certificate of Excellence," Murni's has also made it onto our list of “Must Eats.”

Ibu Rai - Jalan Monkey Forest 72, Ubud, Bali, 011 (62) 361-973472, http://www.iburai.com/

Three Monkeys Cuisine and Art Cafe - Jalan Monkey Forest, Padangtegal, Ubud  80571, Bali, 011 (62) 975554

Murni’s Warung Restaurant - Jalan Raya Tjampuhan, Ubud  80571, Bali, 011 (62) 361-975233, http://www.murnis.com

be wary of babi guling!! (warung near Mengwi)

Along our journey from South Bali up into the mountains, we kept seeing sign after sign for the local culinary experience known as "babi guling."  The dish is well-received throughout all of Bali, though we do not imagine it would go over so well in Java, or other parts of Indonesia that are predominantly Muslim.  In short, babi guling is a spit-roasted suckling pig, often stuffed with additional spices such as garlic, turmeric, ginger and coriander.  We had agreed earlier to try the meal at least once and were waiting for just the right opportunity.  After passing several warungs that featured the dish on the road to Munduk, we finally settled upon one that seemed like it would be all right.  Whoops!

Believe it or not, sometimes your Set of Drifters make a mistake.  We should have figured it out from the start when we noticed there was only one other patron in the joint.  And if that had not tipped us off, than the flies hovering above the table should have.  Still, we were determined to eat babi guling, even if our life depended on it.  Turns out, it may have! 

Conceptually speaking, the dish was an assortment of caramelized pork skins with layers of fat, and maybe some meat somewhere in there, attached underneath.  Served with some stale rice and bits of jackfruit, we couldn’t even figure out what was ultimately vegetable and what was not.  After pushing our forks around the plate for more than a few minutes, we eventually digested something that was extremely hot with chili.  We had to down two bottles of FresTea each - just to cool down the heat!  (The tea was the best part of the meal.) 

We don’t really want to get into any of the details about the results of this meal, but let’s just say this was the only day in our entire three-week trip that we didn’t feel so well.  Nevertheless, babi guling is something we have been assured can be a delicious experience!  Next time we return to Bali, we’ll be sure to hit up a busier place, you know, the type where they actually wipe down the table in between patrons! 

catching a bite in Sanur (Sanur)

Our stay in Sanur came toward the end of our three-week sojourn in Indonesia, and thus after 18 days of eating traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner, we were a bit burned out.  Luckily for us, Sanur is “expat country,” and the tourist-filled streets typically offer a wide array of restaurants that cater to Western tastes.  We checked out several spots along Jalan Danau Tamblingan, yet not all were necessarily created equal.

One spot we did like was the Retro Cafe, a sprawling restaurant within stumbling distance to our hotel that beckoned immediately by name only.  It was Halloween and we were in the mood to party.  Sadly, it was also an Indonesian Sunday night, and aside from a few costumed revelers, the place was virtually empty.  We wondered why, especially after seeing the amazing deal on their menu that advertised a steak, side dish and dessert for only $12 USD!  While it ultimately sounded too good to be true, this was one of the rare times where everything (price, quantity and quality) seemed to work out just fine.

Even though the cafe seemed to be closing for the evening, we still coaxed the bar out of two rounds of drinks from their extra-long menu.  We were feeling pretty good by the time our chocolate lava cake arrived, despite the fact that never did get the opportunity all night to Trick or Treat!  Retro Cafe is known for its eclectic food selection that promises fresh ingredients.  Overall, we found the atmosphere quite welcoming, with original artwork, relaxed seating and a friendly and attentive staff.  A safe bet for sure.

Perhaps spurred on by the adventure promised by Kalimantan, an island we wished we could have squeezed into our trip, we dove a bit deeper into Sanur’s “expat culture” on the following afternoon by choosing Borneo Bob’s for lunch.  The restaurant was somewhat unusual in that it was set quite a bit back off the street, and hidden almost entirely by vegetation.  More peculiar perhaps was the fact that its menu vacillated between Mexican, Western and indigenous foods from Borneo!   We could hardly keep up, particularly when the dish descriptions offered such great one-liners as:  “Chicken Soup - A joint venture of US technology and Indonesian style.”

Though we had been the only ones in the restaurant upon our late 2:00 PM arrival, as soon as we ordered our chips & guacamole (yes, chips & guacamole in Indonesia!), a group of expat Aussie’s sauntered in to take over a corner of the restaurant.  They proceeded to party loudly for the next hour, ordering Bintang after Bintang.  It was the only element of our meal that we regretted, for the when the food finally came out from the kitchen after a long wait, they were simply delicious and perfectly spiced.  We kind of regretted not finding this place sooner as we really dug the Disneyland "Jungle Cruise” atmosphere and there impressive library of books to browse.

Another seemingly popular restaurant in Sanur is Swastika.  What?  Can you imagine anyone in America going to a restaurant called “Swastika?”  We could hardly fathom it, but ultimately are aware that the instantly recognizable symbol predates the Nazi’s regime by thousands of years.  As the ancient Indian culture’s sacred mark of auspiciousness, the swastika is found all over mostly-Hindu Bali, so get used to it!

Swastika, the restaurant (and hotel), was packed every time we passed by, though since our timing was off we never made it in to try the food.  If so intrigued to help demystify Western ugliness, the cafe offers fresh fish dishes, barbecued meats and many traditional Balinese dishes.

Retro Cafe - Jalan Danau Tamblingan 126, Sanur  80228, Bali, 011 (62) 361-282472

Kalimantan/ Borneo Bob’s - Jalan Pantai Sindhu 11, Sanur  80228, Bali, 011 (62) 361-289291

Swastika - Jalan Danau Tamblingan 150, Sanur  80228, Bali, 011 (62) 361-288693, http://www.swastika-bungalows.com/services-facilities/