This post is so long overdue, I was almost tempted not to write it. But Ubud is so gorgeous, so special and, despite its popularity, so true to itself, that I just couldn’t let it go.
If you’ve never heard the name, Ubud is a little oasis in the center of Bali, known for its artisan shops, macrobiotic fare, yoga retreats and lush rice fields. Among artists, hippies, yogis, and boho adventurers, this is “the” place to be.
I planned my trip so that I would spend three full days in Ubud, and decided to focus mostly on relaxation (i.e., spas and body treatments) and food exploration.
Probably the first thing to note about the food in Ubud, and Bali in general, is that it is much more geared toward vegetarians/vegans than paleo/primal folks. For one, local dishes are generally built wish rice and veggies and some sort of meat or tofu. In terms of local dishes, you find a lot of stir fries and curries with rice, for instance. And then you also have a lot of westernized healthy food options geared primarily toward the Zen, yogi and bohemian crowds that flock on the island for its retreats and wellness programs.
Gluten-free isn’t an issue, there are tons of options – especially in Ubud – for the gluten-free folks. But grain-free and low-carb, I found to be a real challenge. I was paleo at the time of my visit, but had a really hard time staying away from the rice, so I ultimately gave in. I know rice isn’t technically paleo, but it was either that or going hungry. Plus, I knew that it didn’t bother me, at least not visibly.
The first food spot I visited upon arrival was Clear Cafe, a cute little health food hangout with a western boho flair. Colorful, spacious and chill, it’s a nice place to bring a laptop and do some work (if you have to!), or some quiet reading. They have some really yummy smoothies, health shots and other concoctions (if you eat natural sugars), and they even have keto options for food. I had their “green hornet cooler”, a smoothie with raw cacao, coconut, cashew milk, spirulina and mint, and it was delicious.
I also tried one of their tonics with aloe, turmeric, honey and sea salt (“diamond detox”), which I liked even better than the smoothie, as well as one of their omelettes without toast. The omelette was average, but I was just really happy I found something paleo to enjoy.
Next stop was Fair Warung Bale, a place that came highly recommended by a friend, my Airbnb host, and probably every tourist guide out there. It’s a super popular spot that’s pretty much always busy. Seating is limited and the space is designed in a way that’s best suited for solo travelers. Definitely no the kind of place where you would linger, but the food is really, really good, and they have some terrific seafood options. I tried a shrimp dish cooked in a spicy tomato broth and thought it was outstanding. Went back on my last day and had a mixed seafood curry, which also blew my socks off.
Another little jewel I stumbled across by accident was Dayus Warung. It’s located on Jl. Surgiwa, a street worth checking out if you wanna get a feel for local life (as much as possible). Jl. Surgiwa is occupied mostly by warungs, local mini marts and food stands, and a few yoga studios, but it’s surprisingly non-touristy given its location in the center of Ubud. It was also the only place I saw the (in)famous balinese cocks in the backyards of locals, which frankly got me quite excited, but also a little sad that I wouldn’t be witnessing a cockfight myself (because once an anthropologist, always an anthropologist people!)
Anyway, back to Dayus Warung. I had an egg and vegetable scramble (“Sun scramble”) that was pretty basic, but I also tried an iced turmeric chai latte that was hands down THE BEST I have ever had in my life. It was called “Coco Chai Detox” and was a mix of fresh coconut milk, chai spicer, fresh turmeric, aloe vera and sea salt. I’ve been working on recreating it, so stay tuned for a recipe. They’re pretty much exclusively geared toward vegetarians/vegans I should add, but they have some great raw/ gluten-free/ dairy-free dessert and fat bomb options that will be of interest to paleo folks as well. I tried one of their Ayurvedic almond macca butter cups and was liking my fingers. They also sell packaged snacks and treats that are worth checking out. Oh, and make sure to sit on the upper level, the view is beautiful!
If you need a break from rice and noodles and don’t mind paying a little extra, Celts & Spells is a lovely little dairy & gluten-free creperie nestled on Jl. Gootama, in the center of Ubud. I stumbled upon it on my way back from Monkey Forest and was fascinated by the fact that its name and graphic design was celtic, its furniture Indian and its cuisine healthy-fied French. Which I know sounds like a recipe for disaster, but turned out more than fine. I chose a sweet crepe (they also offer galettes) and topped it off with fresh papaya, coconut cream and coconut chocolate sauce.
Sari Organic was the most paleo-friendly place I found, and it’s located in the middle of the rice paddies in northern Ubud, in the most beautiful setting. I didn’t think it had the best food per se, but the hike up was so stunning, and the sunset view at the restaurant so special, that I didn’t mind all that much. It’s also the place I would come to if I was on a stricter protocol, like AIP. Their menu isn’t paleo or AIP per se, but it’s easily adapted. They have for instance quite a few grilled meat dishes with veggies and rice, where you could just omit the rice, as well as various veggie soups that are dairy and gluten-free, as well as – and that I found pretty extraordinary – a menu of salad dressings.
I opted for the Balinese nasi campur with chicken, which was veggies stir fry with meat pretty much, because I didn’t wanna have “western” food. It was, however, a little too sweet for my liking, and it took forever to arrive despite the fact that the place wasn’t too crowded.
A hole in the wall that is worth checking out if you are looking for a more authentic ambience, is Warung Boga Sari. It’s a tiny little restaurant with only a handful of tables inside what I believe is the owner’s backyard. It’s the closet you’ll get to being fed by a Balinese family and the prices truly are phenomenal, even for Indonesian standards. I had their nasi goreng with a chicken satay on the side and it was yummy, although it didn’t feel as clean in terms of ingredients as the other places I ate at. Based on the condiments I saw on the tables, I would assume they are using sauces and spice-mixs that contain gluten, sugar and other no-nos, so I wouldn’t eat here if I had severe food allergies or food sensitivities. But if you’re more flexible with your diet, this is a great spot to have a quiet, unpretentious dinner and enjoy the true “zen” of Bali.
A fitting end to my trip to Bali was BLANCO par Mandif, a fine dining spot with vegan and gluten-free options, that does a terrific job of using local ingredients to reimagine traditional dishes. It’s an unpretentious space with countertop seating, an open kitchen and top-notch service. I did the 9 course tasting menu, it was the perfect amount of food and the presentation was stunning. My favorite dishes were the fruit salad with edible flowers, apple, star fruit and pineapple; the crab soup with corn, spinach and lemongrass (not paleo); and the mango sorbet with passionflower sauce. One thing that stood out for me is that they used a lot of tart and sour vinaigrettes and broths. That’s something that worked really well with the flavors and textures they use. I also loved how light I felt afterward, which is quite atypical for tasting menus.
Spas and wellness
Quite frankly, I still dream about the massages I got in Indonesia, and the fact that they averaged US $10-30 makes it even more extraordinary. In Ubud, you could literally “waste” days walking from spa to spa, getting some of the best massages and body treatments of your life.
If you are looking for an affordable massage, look no further than Funny Monkey Spa & Juicebar. The shop is conveniently located in central Ubud and they offer an hour of traditional Balinese massage for less than US$8. It’s a no-frills place but it’s clean and the therapists are terrific. I had my first treatment in Ubud here and enjoyed it so much that I came back on my last day to prep for my grueling 27-hour trip back home.
I also got a pedi at Fresh Spa, but found the facilities and ambience a little too western for my liking. Back in LA I would have loved this place, but I guess I was after a more original Balinese experience. It is super polished though and the service is excellent, so if you are looking for a higher-end spa this place is definitely worth checking out. They greet you with infused water and also offer ginger tea and coco rice pops after the treatment, which is very nice. Plus, they have wifi, which never hurts!
Of course I also had to visit the famous Bodyworks Center. I initially was hoping for a consultation, but didn’t know that you have to book those at least a month in advance (do your homework folks!), so I opted for their Lymphatic Treatment instead. The treatment took place in a modest setting, but it was incredibly comforting and I loved the oil blend they used. I was literally like in a trance afterwards (no idea what they did to me!) and I remembering vowing that I would make sure to book a consultation with founder and healer Ketut Arsana if I ever came back to Ubud. The center also has a lovely garden with koi ponds and water fountains were you can relax after your treatment while you’re served with tea and fruit.
I consciously decided not to get involved in too much shopping therapy while on Bali and was almost relieved when most of the shops I encountered in Ubud didn’t appeal to me. I guess the more you travel, especially to these type of boho hot-spots like Bali, the more stuff starts looking the same. Of course, I couldn’t resist getting a few things.
If you’re after luxury textiles and/or weavings, Threads of Life is worth stopping by. Jalan Kajeng, the road Threads of Life is situated on, is also a great place to look for handcrafted balinese dolls, wood masks and other knick-knacks. Because of tourism, it’s becoming harder and harder to find anything truly original anymore, but there are several smaller shops on this road that seem forgotten in time. A few have vintage and one-of-a-kind artifacts, which they sell along with newer, mass-produced memorabilia. It takes time and patience, but I stumbled upon a nameless shop here where I bought the most stunning vintage wood masks for my collection.
For more upscale boutiques and cute cafes in-between to rest, I’d head to Jl. Dewi Sita. It’s a nice stroll and a good place to find a little higher-end presents (if you want something beyond the $1 souvenir). I made a stop at BlueStone Botanicals where I got some local essential oils and a sleep balm that I enjoyed very much, but there are many, many other places on this road that are worth checking out.
I also got some cute baby clothes at BaliZen, but I have a feeling that one is a hit or miss. It’s actually a home decor and gift shop, which is organized according to colors. They had quite a few nice things for the house, but it’s the kind of aesthetic you can easily find at Anthropologie, West Elm etc.
A place that really stood out for me was UBUDahh, a small jewelry/homeware/purse shop on Jl. Hanoman no 46. I don’t know why this place isn’t more famous, their jewelry in particular is stunning. It’s like an affordable version of Sheryl Lowe Jewelry, if that is your thing – it most certainly is mine! I bought about six bracelets for myself, as well as several gifts for my closest friends. The bracelets have become some of my most worn pieces, and people always notice them.