Bali in the Raw…

 

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Bali. The name alone carries you away to distant places- narrow curving roads that sweep through endless rice fields, an infinite ocean glistening below dramatic cliff drops, the smiles of the local Balinese as they move about their day and the floating tendrils of smoke that dance from the incense that sits in the center of the morning spirit offerings.

In recent years, Bali has also become synonymous with a better way of living, encouraging people to take time out of their hectic schedules and relax with yoga, healthy vegetarian food, dance, meditation, massage and ceremony. With more and more people coming to Bali with this aim to nurture their mind, body and spirit, places such as Ubud have become a mecca for yoga studios, health food shops, stores selling everything from mala beads to eco yoga mats, and last but not least, an influx of raw vegan food and eateries.

 10177274_10152277173487770_778073810502841719_nMy first trip to Bali was ten years ago. I was traveling solo on my first adventure outside of Australia. I had a one-way ticket that began in Bali and then onwards to Thailand and India. I remember wandering the streets and discovering two places that became my second home for the duration of my stay- they were the infamous Bali Buda, and the equally well-known Kafe.

Ten years on, both Bali Buda and Kafe are going strong, both have expanded their original store and also branched out to new stores and cafes around the county. Alongside these two favorite, they have been joined by a host of vegetarian, vegan and raw cafes, all of which offer extensive menus that include superfood smoothies, slow pressed juices, gourmet raw entrees and decadent raw desserts.

With only a week in Ubud this time around, and coupling that with the fact that most of that week was being spent on site at the Bali Spirit Festival, my mission was to visit as many of these raw establishments as possible to get a good idea of what Bali offered a raw vegan traveler.

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My experiences were, in all honesty, both hit and miss. There were some spectacular dishes and creative concepts that bought a smile to my face and sent my taste buds dancing. Yet there were also moments of disappointment, lots of repetition and what I encountered the most- lots of great raw food but made with little love or enthusiasm, which made the food and overall experience, rather disheartening.

For me, enjoying a meal has so much to do with whether the person who made that meal enjoyed doing so. I love feeling that passion, that excitement, that genuine interest in serving and nourishing people. I felt that this was lacking at many of the raw establishments in Bali. My only guess is that westerners have arrived with the concept of developing a raw establishment and staffed local Balinese people, but in the translation and teaching, the passion, the intention, the whole concept of serving people life-giving food, has been lost.

Forgive my skepticism though for now and allow me to move on to the highlights!

If you are fortunate enough to spend time in Ubud, there are certainly places I would recommend trying (some again and again if you have time!)

I have to begin with Clear, purely because their food was possibly the best raw vegan food I have tried anywhere (and that is a world wide statement!) Their menu was extensive and creative, their presentation was divine, and their combination of flavours left me gobsmacked and thrilled, unable to put my finger on the precise ingredients and method of creation!

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The food I tried there was quite simple as I am not a huge fan of complicated, heavy, raw food that aims to mimic the standard western diet. At Clear I enjoyed their Clear Kale Salad which was an artful mix of turmeric, ginger, jicama, thai cashews, spiced pumpkin seeds and spirulina atop fresh kale with a cashew lemon dill or miso-orange dressing. Every mouthful was unbelievable. Amazing. So amazing, I ordered another to take away for dinner that night to enjoy in my guesthouse! Along with their signature salad, I tried their Bamboo Rolls which were coconut wraps filled with coconut jerky, green papaya, julienned red peppers, avocado & zucchini served with almond dipping sauce. Again, exquisite, every bite was amazing from the texture of the wraps to the perfection of the dipping sauce. I would have been back again and again, however Clear is one of those cafes that has a particular vibe or scene where the expat and traveling yogi community flock to. For me, I felt a little intimidated and out of place! I love yoga and I love raw vegan food, yet I’m a simple girl, I like down to earth vibes and I would always opt for takeaway lunch on a sandy stretch of solitude beach over a crowded space of mala wearing yogi rock stars! So while I enjoyed (adored!) the food there, I left my status as ‘been and done.’

10153675_10152277139107770_3669173255280356182_nSpeaking of down to earth vibes, Down to Earth café was indeed that, a lovely, laid back, sweet  and homely café above a great little health food store off one of the busy main streets in town. Their menu covers vegetarian, vegan and raw, and again, their food was lovely. I was disappointed however in their live food platter, a plate that was primarily not much more than sprouts and greens with little flavour or imagination. Their nori rolls were fabulous, so too was their Mediterranean plate and again, their macrobiotic plate. Yet the highlight of Down To Earth was their drink menu- their raw chai smoothie was amazingly divine, their kombucha was a real treat and their green smoothies were fresh and full of flavour. Their raw treats were quite standard, offering a wide selection of bliss balls and chocolates, and while nice, very plain and traditional!

The one café that you will tend to hear mentioned the most is Alchemy. Alchemy is located a just outside of Ubud up the steep hill towards Penestanaan. Alchemy had their own food stall located at the Bali Spirit Festival, so while I didn’t get to visit their permanent establishment, I did get to try their amazing salad bar which they had replicated (albeit condensed!) at the festival site.  There, in gorgeous big banana leaf bowls, you were offered a choice of leafy greens, topped with five salads and a dressing. Two days in a row I enjoyed this big healthy bowl of goodness and both days were very different, with choices including, zucchini pesto noodles, wakame and sesame salad, fresh coleslaw, kale salad, cheesy nori strips, marinated and activated seeds, fresh beetroot salad, raw pad Thai and a rainbow of other offerings to enjoy! The salads were fresh and tasty, fuelling me each day for the myriad of events and activities that were on offer at the festival.

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There were a couple of other places that are certainly worth mentioning. Every morning in Ubud I enjoyed breakfast at the same place- Little K. Little K is an offshoot of Kafe, and while Kafe is bustling and busy from dawn until midnight, Little K is off the beaten track and tucked away, a little oasis in the middle of the rambling jungle of Ubud! Their breakfast menu was lovely and I thoroughly enjoyed their big fruit bowls, their raw muesli, their homemade cashew milk, their raw porridge and many of their beautiful fresh smoothies, juices, coconuts, wheatgrass shots and jamu! Little K was a real godsend each morning, a tranquil space (with wifi which helped me work and holiday simultaneously!) where the staff were friendly and the food nourishing, simple and delicious.

The guests next door to where I was staying in Ubud were performers that had come for the Sprit Festival and were also vegan. They swore by Café Soma where they ate pretty much every one of their meals for the whole week! I ventured there on my final night and found a tiny, stuffy, yet animated café down near the soccer field that was overflowing with smiling relaxed people. Their ginger kombucha was delicious and their homemade cashew ice-cream was a rich tasty treat indeed! However the meal I had which was cabbage rolls (appearing steamed not raw as I thought they would be!) lacked flavour and love. They were poorly presented, thrown together and had no ingenuity or integrity to them. So again, hit or miss! The owner who sat out the front seemed lovely and very friendly, and I like to think that perhaps the rest of the menu options are more rewarding!

10157179_10152277139177770_7794372263555193473_nLast but not least was Bali Buda, one of the longest standing and first vegetarian cafés to receive popularity in Bali. The café was busy all day and night, but the service was quick and generally friendly. Their live food platter is simple but delicious, consisting of two raw dips, raw pizza crackers, raw vegetables and sun dried tomatoes. It was very flavoursome (a little garlicky!) but healthy and fresh. Their smoothies and juices read very well on the menu but unfortunately every one I tried was served above room temperature and lacked any flavour. One sip and I was done, and I tired at least half a dozen! Their bliss balls on the other hand were delicious, I fell in love with their spirulina and mint ball and their cashew cardamom ball!

There were a few other places that I missed visiting and will have to save for next time! Seeds of Life only just opened when I arrived and I was saddened to miss this one as I have heard wonderful things about it, as well as the passionate and enthusiastic couple that have made this dream into a reality.

All in all, it is very easy to eat healthy in Ubud, the choices for vegetarians and vegans are immense and there is plenty of raw food options if you take time to seek them out. I enjoyed the opportunity to see what was available and what was new in the world of raw food- I was pleased on occasions and disappointed on others. I simply feel that raw living food needs to be made and served with love, care, passion and understanding, and this is what I felt was missing in several of the places I visited.

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Finally, to finish on a good note, I will share my favourite tucked-away treasure! Sari Organics is a bit of a hike to reach, located a few kilometres out of town in the centre of the rice fields. Yet, the walk is well worth it. The café is not entirely raw or vegan, yet it is all 100% organic and almost everything comes from their onsite farm and land. The salads are huge and tasty, their drinks are refreshing and inventive. The love for what they are sharing is felt in every bite. Not to mention, you really feel as though you are in Bali here! You are surrounded by rice fields in every direction! The essence of what Ubud once was like is felt here, whereas it is hard (if not impossible!) to appreciate anywhere else in town.

I think Sari Organic summed up my overall impression of the raw food scene in Bali- you need to create and share from the heart. I felt many of the places mentioned are seeking the client (in designer yoga clothing with their iphone, mac air, motorbike and mala beads) and forgetting why they are sharing or what they are sharing in the first place.

So, my advice?! Take time to find the simple sweetness in Bali, it is in the quiet, the unseen, the delicate nature of things, where perfection really exists.

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