Cooking and Eating in Bali


I love the food in Bali! During two months there it seems I was always eating, but still losing weight. Of course I was teaching and/or practicing yoga daily, hiking, gardening, etc., but a few pounds easily and surprisingly drifted away.

At the Jiwa Damai Retreat Center where I taught yoga the meals are strictly vegetarian. Often before dinner I would walk through the organic garden and pick the salad. There were always tomatoes, green onions, lettuce, cabbage, basil and more.


The Jiwa Damai kitchen also featured a great deal of rice (always at least one big cooker on warm and full) and tempeh, both staples of Balinese cooks. Tempeh originated in Indonesia. It’s the only traditional soy food that didn’t come from Chinese cuisine. Tempeh provides protein, fiber, vitamins and serves as an inexpensive meat substitute. Plus, in the Indonesian heat it can sit out for awhile; our retreat center Balinese cooks would make a tempeh recipe during the early morning, cover it on the counter with a wicker basket and not serve any of it until lunch or dinner. If there were meat or seafood out for that amount of time in the jungle heat you’d be asking for serious trouble.

I learned a great deal more about Tempeh visiting Ubud (about nine kilometers north of Jiwa Damai) on a beautiful October 2016 day. Bernardo – the other yoga instructor at the retreat center – and I decided to attend a tempeh cooking class there. The grounds of the facility holding the class were so picture perfect I just had to, well, take a perfect picture:


The cooking class was a very interesting 90 minutes long, most of which was dedicated to the history of tempeh and how to make your own. Actual cooking did not take place until the final minutes of the presentation.



At the very end of the class we were presented with our reward – free food! However, to be totally honest, it really wasn’t that tasty. Bernardo and I speculated afterwards on why that was. We think the assistant chef – a tall Australian guy in a burgundy apron who followed the main teacher’s directions and did all the cooking – didn’t follow them correctly. I asked him when the class was over if this was his favorite tempeh recipe.

“This is the first time I ever cooked with tempeh,” he replied, sheepishly. LOL.

Here’s a tempeh recipe similar to what I had at other places in Bali. Everyone can make it at home. It combines sweet with heat.

Balinese Tempeh ingredients:
Tempeh sliced thin to 1/4 inch strips (like matchsticks, the recipe books say, but I see ’em only a little wider)
Coconut oil for frying (or soybean, but I believe all that coconut oil, coconut water, coconut milk, etc. I had in Bali contributed to easy weight loss)
Four small (or a couple big) shallots, chopped
Two garlic cloves smashed and sliced thin
Chili pepper (1/2 to one jalapeño or similar peppers to taste) chopped into thin slivers (you can also slice up some regular peppers, or other vegetables; I like to add sliced carrots and cabbage, for example, just because I usually have them in the fridge)
One teaspoon salt
One teaspoon pepper
One tablespoon – or more to taste – kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce) or a mixture of one to two tablespoons each good New Hampshire maple syrup and soy sauce (instead of soy sauce I use Bragg Liquid Aminos, a natural soy sauce alternative)

First, fry the tempeh:
In small sauce pan add the coconut oil, heat on medium high. Sometimes I add a few drops of sesame oil, too. Carefully spoon in tempeh when oil is nice and hot. Cook and stir five to seven minutes or when tempeh gets brown and crispy. Remove tempeh from oil and place on a paper towel. Reduce heat to low. Save some of the heated oil in the pan for sautéing the vegetables.

Next, to finish it all:
Add shallots and chili pepper (and any other vegetables), saute and stir for five or so minutes until soft.
Add garlic, salt and pepper, stirring for half a minute.
Return tempeh to pan and stir together.
Add kecap manis or syrup/soy sauce mixture, stirring in and heating the mixture.
Turn off burner, scoop everything onto your plate (or over rice).


I was a vegetarian about 98% of my two months in Bali. The meat eating 2% occurred because a nice woman from Singapore asked me quietly one afternoon to have ribs with her at Naughty Nuri’s in Ubud. She was tired of no meat day after day at Jiwa Damai. Sure, of course. I also ordered a dirty martini with the ribs, primarily because Anthony Bourdain said it was the best he ever enjoyed outside New York, and Bali is really way outside NYC so that’s saying something. We went to an Ubud spa and got massages before Naughty Nori’s and I was calm and relaxed at the picnic table we sat at outside in front of the restaurant. The smoke floated quietly into the tranquil and warm Ubud afternoon off their well used grill where ribs cooked slowly, sizzling. She sat next to me, laughing, happy, which made me happy, close enough that I could smell sweet Balinese lotion or conditioner in her hair or something I don’t know what but it doesn’t matter because it’s really just very alright whatever it is. Tempeh, ribs, either way there are some really fine lunches out there. I hope you enjoy each and every one of them!


Love and peace, Dave.

6 thoughts on “Cooking and Eating in Bali

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