Top 8 Vegetarian Food to Eat in Bali and Indonesia

Indonesia is not often considered a vegetarian paradise, which is a shame because one may find many choices here, especially in Bali. It may be true that Indonesians like meat, especially fish, but it is also true that meat in Indonesia can be quite expensive. As such, an Indonesian’s everyday diet is most likely to be rice with meat used sparingly as an accompaniment, as well as a range of vegetable dishes that deliver punchy flavors and boost the nutritional value.

Moreover, with the popularity of tourism in Bali, there are also more international vegetarian dishes to choose from here. But I suggest trying local vegetarian food, and you will be delighted. You’ll be surprised by the vegetarian choices you can find here in Bali or anywhere in Indonesia. Here are some of the best Indonesian vegetarian dishes that I recommend:

Gado-Gado

Indonesian food is (sadly) not a very popular cuisine, but if people can name any dishes found here, they usually mention Indonesia’s most famous salad, Gado-Gado. It is a dish of vegetables that generally includes lettuce, cabbage leaves, steamed carrots and potatoes, and often tofu and bean sprouts. The whole thing is then drenched in a thick and delicious peanut sauce and is often topped with extras like egg or prawn crackers. If you avoid these crackers, however, the entire dish is vegetarian, and in Indonesia’s heat, this salad is a welcome break from yet another plate of steaming rice. It can be found in almost any local restaurant or warungs in Bali.

Gado-gado, a vegetarian's favourite in Bali and rest of Indonesia. Fried Tempe on the bottom right

Gado-gado, a vegetarian’s favourite in Bali and rest of Indonesia. Fried Tempe on the bottom right. Photo by eltpics

Tempe Goreng/Sambal

Tempeh is probably the grande dame of vegan and vegetarian food in Bali and Indonesia, evolved as a cheap way of adding protein to a meal. Tempeh is essentially soybeans that have been compressed into the shape of a bar, which is then sliced into strips and fried until it darkens, and the flavor becomes deliciously nutty. Tempeh is so tasty that it is sometimes fried until crisp and then served that way (tempe goreng), or it is often fried with chili paste to give it some kick (tempe balado or tempe sambal).

Nasi Padang

Nasi Padang means ‘Padang rice’ as it originated in the Padang area of West Sumatra. Due to the distinct stacked plates in the window, you will spot Padang restaurants (all over Bali and Indonesia). Once inside, you will be served a plate of white rice, and a selection of smaller dishes (sometimes as many as 20) will be brought to your table. You choose what you want to eat and ignore the rest. Therefore, this is a dream scenario for vegetarians as you can easily spot and avoid meat and stick to the wide range of vegetarian options available. Some of the veggie highlights of a Padang restaurant are dishes such as daun singkong, which are cooked cassava leaves, and other items like telur balado, hard-boiled eggs coated with fried chili paste. Other favorites are eggplant (terong) cooked until falling apart and mixed with chili paste or potato cakes called perkedel. Tahu (tofu) is common, served in large blocks, and usually fried.

A plate full of Nasi Padang, Bali, Indonesia

A plate full of Nasi Padang. Photo by Kai Hendry

Sayur Asem

Sayur asem translates as ‘Sour Vegetables’, and in this way, this dish is slightly reminiscent of something like Tom Yam soup in Thailand. The sourness in this soup comes from tamarind, and you will usually find veggies like snake beans, corn, and melinjo (a local plant). The soup is served over rice and is entirely meat-free, so it is a safe one for both vegetarians and vegans alike. This can also be found in Bali restaurants, especially where you order dishes to go with your rice.

Sayur Lodeh

A firm favorite in Indonesia is sayur lodeh, a coconut milk-based soup that uses gourd and carrot to add some heartiness and is served with rice. Other additions can be things like tofu depending on who is making it, or sometimes other vegetables will be added into the mix as well. In some varieties of sayur lodeh (like in Sumatra), small shrimps are usually used to enhance the flavor. Still, the Javanese and Balinese version usually makes it without, which means it will be vegetarian.

Nasi Goreng

Perhaps Bali’s and even so, Indonesia’s best-known dish would be nasi goreng. This dish is simply a plate of fried rice with various things added to make it more exciting. You can, in theory, cook nasi goreng with pretty much anything, and you will find it with meat, fish, and seafood in it, although in its purest form, it is made of fried rice with some vegetables like carrots added to it and topped with a fried egg. If you ask for it to be made ‘tanpa daging’ (without meat), this is usually what you will get, and it will be safe for vegetarians. Watch out for the toppings, often sprinkled with peanuts and small salted anchovies (ikan teri). If you don’t eat fish or seafood, ask it to be ‘tanpa daging dan tanpa ikan’ (without meat or fish).

Indonesian Nasi Goreng, Bali, Indonesia

Indonesian Nasi Goreng, Bali. Photo by RStacker

Mie Goreng

Mie goreng is the partner of nasi goreng, but where ‘nasi’ means rice and ‘goreng’ means fried, ‘mie’ refers to the noodles in this dish. It is the next most popular one-dish meal in Bali and Indonesia. Mie goreng or fried noodles is a vague name because the dish itself is also somewhat vague, and it can be made with a variety of different noodles and with a range of things mixed in depending on what the cook has to hand. In its purest form again, however, it will be meat and seafood-free, so ‘tanpa daging dan ikan’ should ensure that you get a plate of steaming fried noodles with fresh crunchy veggies and sometimes an egg scrambled in.

mie goreng
Indonesian Mie Goreng. Photo by suhseal.

Rujak

If you are not used to it, then rujak can be strange. It is a fruit and vegetable salad served with a thick sauce made of chili and peanuts, and it can be something of an acquired taste. Each part of Indonesia appears to make rujak differently, but some things you might find in it include water apples, raw unripe mango, pineapple, cucumber, or sweet potato. In Bali, the rujak is sweet and sour with various fruits. This mix is then doused with a savory sauce, often cooked to a glutinous consistency that can be almost like toffee. Sometimes the sauce will use small amounts of terasi, a shrimp paste, so if you want to check, you can ask, ‘Pakai terasi?’ (‘Does it have terasi in it?’). If you get a ‘no,’ then you are good to go, and it will be vegetarian and vegan. Rujak is often eaten more as a snack than as part of the main meal, and you will find it sold from many a cart or small stall at the side of the road.

Rujak in Bali, Indonesia Food

Rujak in Bali, Indonesia Food. Photo by Sue

Indonesian food should be better known, as there is a vast amount of variety on offer here, and much of it features diverse, complex flavors that are simply delicious. Indonesians love meat, fish, and seafood unashamedly, and vegetarianism is uncommon here. Still, if you pick and choose, you will find a vast range of fresh, tasty vegetarian and vegan dishes between meat curries and barbecued seafood anywhere in Indonesia and Bali. Let us know if you know more about vegetarian food in Bali and Indonesia!

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