Bali: A Raw, Vegan Journey
The action is centred on Ubud in the centre of the island, about a 1,5hour drive from Denpasar airport. Ubud is a village with the cultural life of a major city. While you can easily walk from one side to the other, you will find an astonishing array of art and culture; museums, galleries, traditional music and dance performances, as well as the many evidences of local craftsmanship such as painting, or the wooden carvings and stone sculptures which adorn almost every building.
Nature’s presence is very strong in Bali, and at every corner you might stumble into a garden oasis or wild natural scene filled with lush vegetation. The village is built at the convergence of two rivers, and there are many walks which will take you along the riversides or through adjacent rice fields where peace and quiet belies the hustle of nearby Ubud.
While Ubud has traditionally been a home of creative arts, this extends to the healing arts as well. In particular it is the home of Balinese massage. You can easily fill your time here, with massages, reflexology and all types of Spa treatments which are abundantly available. Since the 1930s Westerners have brought groups here for retreats of some type or another, and currently it is a huge destination for Yoga practice and education. Popular studios such as Radiantly Alive and Yoga Barn are community focal points and provide the link to raw foods. Yoga Barn started one of the first raw food restaurants in Ubud in 2009 and Radiantly Alive offers raw food training as well as raw food catering on its yoga teacher training.
Since my last visit to Bali in 2010, there have been quite a few new restaurants added to the scene, which all seem to be thriving, and popular with expats and tourists. We found the restaurants so affordable and out of this world that we hardly ever put a meal together for ourselves. Our favourite restaurants included Alchemy and Clear, both in beautiful, big spaces, as well as Seeds of Life and Sayuri’s Healing Food.
Alchemy at Penestanan which has a 100% raw vegan menu, nailed it in so many ways for us, with its great innovative concept and great quality dishes, with great tastes and texture. One of the things I enjoyed most at Alchemy was the smoothie bowl with its choice of fruit / smoothie / granolas / coconut whipped cream / other toppings and sauces. Both simple and elaborate, light but satisfying, colourful and vibrant. The pizzas were moreish, the spinach-mushroom quiche was also a come-back for and the handmade chocolates and sweet treats were curious and varied.
SOL (Seeds of Life) is a much smaller and cosier place on a quiet street, Jl. Gootama, in the centre of town, a street which happens to be home to many and varied looking eateries. Highlights include the ‘SOL bowl’, a nourishing and filling salad with greens, seaweeds, veg noodles, kim-chi and sauces. Just like what a devoted raw foodie would make at home.
The Tonic bar is an attraction here, with a huge menu of herbal tonics and teas, as well as tonic based smoothies and creamers. Just reading the menu is an education in Chinese herbal medicine. There is a loungy seating area downstairs and open terrace upstairs with a yoga studio in the back.
Behind the menu at SOL, is vegan raw chef Sayuri who has recently opened her own place in the former Jazz café on Jl. Sukma. You will find a Zen-like atmosphere here and spacious garden (and super-duper toilets). There is an amazing menu; filling wraps, breakfast burrito, Mexican lasagne, dreamy colourful desserts. Could they also have the best Wifi connection in town??!
Clear Café at Jl. Hanoman has a varied menu including many raw food options. Clear has been rebuilt since its earlier rendition burned down in 2014. Besides the menu, the wow factor here is DESIGN. Everything is designed, from magical round entrance door, the two- story interior landscape design with beautiful water feature, trendy glassware, and unique dresses worn by the staff.
While the menu is huge with something for every taste, the raw part of the menu is complete in its self. Think pizza, ‘pasta’ noodle linguine, sushi, burritos, soups, salads, wraps, and lasagne. Most interesting though is the diverse liquids menu including water infusions, ice teas, non-dairy mylk shakes, tonics and elixirs with alluring names like Lemon Drop, Glittery Gold, and Electro Berry. Some contain the gelatinous Irish moss seaweed (a popular ingredient in raw Bali), while locally sourced turmeric, aloe, ginger, sea salt, and honey all feature.
Two other tips of where to eat raw food in Bali; We had a great experience at Moksa, which we wished we discovered earlier, so that we could have gone more than once. And for an elegant meal out, a half hours drive away, we visited the up style Five Elements resort, where food is presented as an art form and the setting a magnificent Bamboo building.
Local ingredients are abundant in Bali, with plentiful sun, rain and volcanic soil, and with many organic producers, nutritious fresh foods are in great supply. There are many tropical fruits available like the vibrantly purple dragon fruit, snake fruit, mango, papaya, watermelon, and banana. Of course, the smelly spikey super fruit durian is available seasonally, which can be tracked down with the mobile vendors who park at the roadside on the eastern end of the Main Road heading out of town.
While there are quite a few options for joining a raw food retreat in Bali (healing or chef trainings hosted by diverse organisations and independent teachers), it’s quite possible to plan your own ‘retreat’. In our second week, following the first week of gourmet exploration and indulgence, me and Pascal both did a five-day juice fast. We were greatly assisted by Alchemy’s delivery service, who brought us seven x 450ml cold-pressed juices at 7.30 each morning. This included coconut water, coco kefir, dark green juices and other fruit/veg juices all pressed in the superior Norwalk Juicer.
It’s necessary to have a fridge at your accommodation for this plan to work, and to really work the plan it’s advisable to do a series of colonics in conjunction with your fast. Fortunately, these are offered in numerous places around Ubud, including Alchemy’s Holistic Clinic, the aforementioned yoga and community centres, or Ubud Sari Health Resort where we went, also for chilling out by their pool. Ubud Sari also happens to specialise in residential juice fasting retreats and raw food courses in case you would like a more structured and closed environment.
The biggest hazard to your health while visiting Ubud is likely to be the air pollution from the streets which are over-crowded with mopeds and taxis. This is the downside of a destination which has been booming for a few years now. We found a solution to this, which is to wear a face mask on the Main Street. It irked me to do it, but it was better than breathing the fumes. Since it’s a very walkable city we’d love to see a growing trend for getting around by bicycle in the future. Any Dutch want to start the trend there??!
The other big environment issue going on is the huge number of plastic water bottles which can’t be effectively recycled or disposed of on the island at present. The solution that everyone should know about is to bring or get hold of a glass bottle. For example, a handy 650ml glass bottle of kombucha/coco water/herbal tea from SOL ‘Seeds of Life’ and refill it at your hotel / your favourite restaurant / Bali Buda shop. The central library is also a handy place to get a refill for a small fee.
What’s not been fully expressed here is Bali offers so much more than food. It’s just a magical place, with wonderful people, and everything there including the amazing raw food scene will support your healing process. Bali is in my heart and I can’t wait to get back there soon.
Find links below to some of the best places to visit for Raw Food in Bali:
Originally from the UK, Diana moved to the Netherlands and launched her company Raw Superfoods. Since acting as co-ordinating editor of the book Raw Foods Works, Diana has given advice about the public’s growing interest in raw foods and superfoods to large companies-including Danone, Philips, and Ekoplaza.
As one of the pioneers putting raw food on the map in the Netherlands, Diana was the first to produce and distribute fresh wheatgrass, and to sell raw chocolate. Her Raw Superfoods market stall can be found on Amsterdam’s Noordermarkt (Weekly Organic Farmers Market).
Besides developing tasty recipes, she regularly gives workshops in raw food cuisine in Europe and the USA, is a contributing editor to Get Fresh magazine (UK) and co-founder and co-organiser of the Dutch Raw Food Festival, launched in 2013.
Diana is an old school friend of mine and I have watched her love and deep knowledge of a healthy, happy balanced lifestyle blossom over the years. When I see her now, she looks a good few years younger than the rest of us, I aspire to follow her eating habits.