There are many reasons to pack your bags and escape to Bali. It seems to be the kind of island paradise that caters to an array of needs; to party, to isolate, to engross in culture, to seek spirituality, to do drugs, to surf, to hike, and to have a little wellness retreat. All reasons are valid, and Bali is big enough to be compartmentalized to meet these needs.
In my earlier visits to Bali I spent them wandering around, trying to figure out its charm. These days, I go to Bali for a very specific purpose only; and that is to do yoga and to eat vegan food. Ubud, the central area of the island is the mecca of veganism on this side of the world, and over the years it has grown to become the ultimate wellness hub. There are yoga studios, spiritual retreats and vegan restaurants everywhere in the area, dotted along the tiny streets and in between lush green paddy fields. Ubud is the epicenter of hippies, environmentally-conscious communities (and some borderline fanatics), and Yoga-loving, clean-eating, chakra-aligning enthusiasts.
Over the years I have enjoyed exploring vegan restaurants and cafes here, and this time around I'd love to share some reviews of places I've been to and eaten at, should you ever feel like indulging your inner vegan-self when you are in Ubud, Bali.
1.) Moksa Plant-Based Restaurant
Puskesmas Ubud II, Gg. Damai, Sayan, Kec. Ubud, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80571, Indonesia
In a nutshell, if you only have time to go to one vegan restaurant, then say no more. This is the place. Set in a higher elevation from the rest of the town which provides a beautiful breeze, Moksa is a farm-to-table concept restaurant – meaning that they have a farm just next to it, and pretty much everything you consume there is grown organically next door. The ambience is chill, the hospitality amazing, and I found myself sitting there for almost four hours eating non-stop while writing on my laptop, set in the beautiful green garden.
Now let’s talk about the food. Lead by Chef Made Runatha, the menu is enticing, imaginative and extensive – think lasagna made with cashew cheese, burger patties made from jackfruit (the ‘vegan’ meat, as they call it), eggplant rendang (if you’ve never had rendang, you’re missing out on life), and vegan ‘ribs’ and mash (made by juicy, flavourful tempeh). I started off my meal with a tall cold glass of coconut water, and had a plate of the vegan ‘ribs’. The tempeh was braised in home-made BBQ sauce, retaining its juicy interior and barbecue-y taste. They temped slices were served on a bed of creamy sweet potato mash and a side salad.
Another dish I'd highly recommend is the Mongolian BBQ crispy cauliflower. The texture of the crispy veg is perfect against the creamy sweet potato mash, and the marinade was tangy, sweet with a little bit of spice.
PS: They also have morning markets every Wednesday and Saturday, as well as yoga classes (you can check the schedule on their official website)
Tempeh 'ribs' - slathered with homemade BBQ sauce, with a side of sweet potato mash and salad
Mongolian BBQ Crispy Cauliflower, served with a sweet potato mash
There is a Farmer's Market next to Moksa Restaurant every Saturday morning, but note that there much cheaper options of produce if you go to the local morning market at the city center instead.
2.) The Seeds Of Life
Jalan Gautama No.2, Ubud, Gianyar, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80571, Indonesia
If you want to take it up a notch, why not try a vegan, raw restaurant? Yes, you read that right. Nothing is cooked over fire in this cozy little place (the concept is that raw food retains more nutrients), but despite that, the menu is exciting and extensive. They have a whole separate menu for jamu (health shots made from fresh herbs and spices) and drinks, and then a whole menu for meals. And let’s not forget the dessert counter with so many delicious, raw and vegan delicacies such as energy balls, carrot cakes and vegan cheese cakes.
But isn't raw food boring? Fret not, because the Seeds of Life are inventive. In fact, it’s so inventive that I came here 3 times just so that I could try a little bit of everything, from the breakfast menu, to brunch, and lunch. I had a dehydrated papaya crepe stuffed with ‘nutella’ which was such a treat, a vegan version of the classic breakfast made of scrambled corn ‘eggs’, stuffed mushrooms, marinated spinach, eggplant 'bacon‘ and live bread, a plate of raw lasagna made from cashew cheese, avocado, mango, tomato, beetroot and spinach, and cauliflower ‘buffalo wings’ which was served raw, slathered with spicy harissa and vegan cheese sauce.
The desserts and juices are also extensive, and the cafe even has a separate tonic bar with all sorts of health concoctions. This cafe is also located right in the center of town, so it’s not hard to find.
If you’ve never tried eating raw before, The Seeds Of Life is definitely a place to start.
Raw caulifower 'buffalo' - slathered with harissa, dipped in vegan cheese dip
Mushrooms stuffed with scrambled 'eggs' made from corn with black salt, topped with spinach, tomato salsa and eggplant 'bacon'. Served with raw bread.
A twist on the 'lasagna' - layers of beetroot, spinach, tomatoes, mango, cashew cheese, zucchini and avocado
Dehydrated papaya stuffed with raw cocoa and hazelnut cream - tastes like Nutella!
Jl. Nyuh Bulan No. 1, Banjar Nyuh Kuning, Ubud
Before we get to the food, let’s talk about the interior and setting. It’s away from town, in a small building painted white and sapphire blue. Kind of like something you’d see in Santorini. There are large windows which means it’s not stuffy inside, and the seating style is cozy, making full use of the nooks and crannies of the building.
Sage doesn’t necessarily boast a long list of menu like Moksa, but it certainly has a delicious line of vegan options to choose from. The ‘pulled pork’ jackfruit burrito seems to be a fairly popular choice from the blogs online, and so that was what I ordered. It was delicious. The jackfruit was somehow cured to give it a different, spicier taste, and the texture was sturdy, almost like very soft meat. The burrito was stuffed with rice, cashew cheese, tomatoes and cilantro, served with a refreshing homemade tomato salsa and nut cream dip.
I also had a small shot of a jamu (health shot made from ginger, turmeric and other fresh herbs). It was pretty intense in flavor, although there is a warm feeling in the stomach after, which I guess is a sign that the jamu is good for your digestion. After the meal I tried out a cold glass of coconut milk latte, and although I’m not really a coffee fan I’d say that it was a great pick-me-up especially in the hot midday Bali weather.
Sage also serves dessert, and although I didn’t order any because I was full, the girl who sat at the table next to me claimed that their coconut cake was the best she has ever had, and she has been eating them almost every day for 2 weeks (in hindsight, maybe it's just low self-control?)
Jamu - there are many variations, but this one is made with tumeric and ginger
Burrito stuffed with rice, herbs, tomatoes and pulled jackfuit 'meat'. Cashew cheese and salsa dip.
Jl. Penestanan Kelod No. 75, 80571, Ubud
If you’re looking for a great breakfast or brunch spot, look no further than Alchemy. What I like about this café is that it provides both a savoury and sweet spread for a build-your-own breakfast bowl. The sweet option comes in the form of a smoothie bowl, where you can pick your base and up to five selection of toppings, consisting of fruits, nuts and granola. For the savoury bowl, there is an array of raw salad, hot cakes and dipping sauce. I personally love the kale salad, fresh and appropriately massaged to ensure that the greens are tender and well marinated. Finish you breakfast or brunch feast with some good coffee and a delicious choices of vegan, raw cakes and dessert bars.
Build-your-own savoury breakfast platter; marinated kale, marinated raw mushrooms, coconut scrambled 'eggs', hotcakes, broccoli salad, hummus
Jl. Sukma Kesuma No.2, Peliatan, Ubud
If you’re thinking about when to go to Sayuri, here’s a tip – go there for lunch! There are not a lot of lunch spots in Ubud that has air-conditioning, and if there is one downside to Bali, it’s that the afternoons are hot and humid (you’ll sweat just by lifting your arm haha).
But airconditioning aside, Sayuri has a lovely menu for lunch, consisting of raw meals and heated ones. Try the ‘smoked salmon’ sandwich, where the ‘salmon’ is actually dehydrated, smoked papaya – it’s divine. For a fresher take, indulge in some zuchhini pad thai where the noodles are made from raw zucchini and served with a mild sambal for that extra kick. A Korean BBQ jackfruit burger set is deeply satisfying with a meaty patty.
Sayuri also has some great dessert choices, and I highly recommend the banoffee pie if it’s available. Nothing quite like a cold fresh slice of it on a sunny day.
A refreshing raw spin of the pad thai, made with zuchini zoodles, served with Bali's sambal matah, shredded veg and coconut chips.
A cold and delicious banoffee pie, made with a granola dust crust, bananas and banana cream, and topped with coconut 'meringue'
Jl. Raya Penestanan No.8, Ubud
Zest perhaps has one of the most beautiful settings for a restaurant in Ubud. Set on top of a hill next to a gorgeous temple, it has an semi-outdoor setting, with fairy lights, large windows, plush cushions and quiet corners for a serene dining experience. The notable mention from the starts list would be the crispy roasted baby potatoes, fluffy on the inside with a crispy exterior. The mains vary from local delights to international palettes. In particular, I love the jackfruit steak and mama’s meatballs with crispy polenta. Seasonal delights are also available – I absolutely enjoyed their durian waffles.
Zest is great to go to for both lunch and dinner, either one giving you a different kind of dining experience.
Zest has delicious starters, such as the crispy roasted baby potatoes with spicy cashew cheese (left) and Thai-style stir fried broccoli with chilis and cashews (right)
Delicious cozy meatballs made with jackfruit, served with crispy polenta, crispy spinach and a refreshing coriander sauce
Jl. Raya Sanggingan No. 45 Ubud
Dharma is a wonderful, cheaper option for a smoothie bowl. Being cheaper than most breakfast bars, it doesn’t skimp on tastes at all, with a few delicious options to delight your taste buds. They also offer delicious refreshing drinks and juices, which are a balm for hot afternoons.
A value for money smoothie-bowl. This one is a peanut butter smoothie bowl, with granola, dragonfruits and banana.
8. Ubud Yoga Center
Jl. Raya Singakerta no. 108, Banjar Dangin Labak, Jembatan Nyuh Kuning 80571 Ubud
Mainly a yoga center located beautifully next to a river, Ubud Yoga Center also has a wonderful café located in the ground floor of the building. The interior is open and cozy, with large swings, plush chairs and wide wooden tables to sit around. It’s not a full vegan café (they also serve chicken and fish), but the vegan/vegetarian options are variable.
To start, get a glass of one of their refreshing smoothies to ease you up for your meal. Vegan options include both Western and local delights, and the pesto lasagna and zucchini pasta are both exceptional. The lasagna is a ‘deconstructed’ version of this Italian dish, with a green pesto sauce and large sheets of pasta weaved around spinach, peas and nuts. The zuchhini pesto is made using zucchini zoodles (processed through a spiralizer to look like noodles), tossed in pesto, mint, spinach, nuts and pickled vegetables.
Zucchini Pesto zoodles with a delicious basil and mint pesto, fresh peas, tomatoes, spinach, lime and pickled vegetables
Deconstructed lasagna with a nutty pesto sauce, spinach, peas and nuts
Other Notable Mentions:
There are many other vegetarian cafes/warungs/restaurants around Ubud that you would be spoiled for choice. I had a plate of local Indonesian mixed vegetarian platter at Café Wayan, which was amazing and cheap. Warung Semesta makes a delicious mixed rice platter too, but more importantly you should try its Urap, which is basically a type of Indonesian salad. I also had hotcakes with fruits at Watercress Café, and although it was fluffy and delicious, I thought it was a bit pricey. Meguna Ubud also has local-style vegetarian dishes, and interesting one is its coriander fried rice which uses no oil at all. Ubud Raw Chocolate Bar makes amazing raw hot cocoa, and I also had a bowl of raw chocolate smoothie with fruits and granola at Radiantly Alive Café – it was very good and filling.
One of the temples around Uluwatu
Cycling in Ubud
Seafood in Jimbaran
Shops by the roadside along Legian, Seminyak and Kuta
South Bali was hot, humid, noisy and crowded. Did I enjoy it? Absolutely. Will I go there again? Probably not.
South Bali felt to me like a tourist’s place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a tourist myself. But I’ve always loved traveling because I like discovering culture, and the best feeling in the world is when you find yourself wandering in a place where locals are going about their daily business and you’re just observing in amazement. Here in South Bali, it seemed like everything was catered for tourists. The beach was filled with tourists, the shops sold imported things, and the restaurants served hamburgers. Most of the shops sold overpriced souvenirs and it felt like a tropical Westernized city, in a way. Which is fine if that’s what you were hoping for, but I was personally looking forward to see the real authentic Bali. The traffic was horrendous too.
I wanted to discover this part of Bali on foot, so I made a point to walk along the stretch of Seminyak, Legian and Kuta, ending my walk at Kuta beach. The shops were interesting, and there were plenty of art galleries displaying works from local Balinese artists to some more established European ones. There were nice cafes open all day, and I spent a good day going in and out of shops with a bottled ice tea in hand. For every six shops I passed I was bound to find a massage parlor, and for as cheap as USD20 you can get an hour’s worth of good, Balinese massage. Which I did. A couple of times.
A common misconception of Bali is that it is famous for its beaches. It is not. The beaches are average, and truth be told you can get better ones in Malaysia. But the appeal was definitely there. We had dinner at Jimbaran, a famous place to have seafood right by the shore of the beach, and the energy was quite good. We went to see the Kecak dance at Uluwatu, which was a pretty good show, and later visited the many temples around Nusa Dua. If you put aside the fact that there were herds of people visiting that place all day everyday, you could imagine that once upon a time, Bali was a mystical place with high cliffs and temples in a faraway land.
A good way to explore the more local side of Bali would be on bicycle around Ubud. The route takes you through local villages, paddy fields and temples. It was good fun, and the weather was sunny with a chilly wind, which makes the perfect condition for a bike ride. Most of the routes were downhill, so I wasn’t all sweaty and disgusting by the end of it.
Overall, I could see why Bali would appeal to a lot of people. It has the wonderment of an exotic place with the convenience for all kinds of tourists. Aside from the nightlife, which was a bit too wild and noisy for my liking, I quite enjoyed discovering it, while hotel-hopping every single night. It certainly brings a lot to the table in terms of what you can do on vacation at a single island.
Where to Eat: There are plenty of restaurants offering both local and Western delicacies. Try Flapjacks if you’re looking for really good pancakes, both sweet and savory. If you walk into a local diner, try the fish satays which are really amazing. Food prices can range from as cheap as USD4 (local places) to pretty steep (Hard Rock Café, Kuta Beach). If you’re having seafood at Jimbaran, do NOT overlook those small hawker stalls selling grilled corn. They are out of this world!