Bali Island Guide: Gluten-Free Travel
Posted by Lisa on August 22, 2016 / 11 Comments
A healthy, gluten-free travel guide to Bali, Indonesia, with recommended restaurants, tips and advice for Ubud, Seminyak, Canguu and the Bukhit Peninsula.
When I asked you guys which city guide you’d like to see next, Bali, Syndey or Chiang Mai…Bali was the clear favorite (and I can’t say that I’m surprised). I mean, who doesn’t want to travel to a gorgeous, tropical, exotic island? But last year I did more than travel. I spent two glorious, rejuvenating, adventure-filled months in Bali. Two whole months – which seemed liked a dream!
So what did I do in Bali? Oh, just about everything. From a soul-centering, blissful month in Ubud to Amed, a sleepy fishing village on the northeast coast, to a few motorbike trips up and down volcanos. After that, I headed south to the beach town of Canggu and chilled out at several popular surf spots. With Canggu as my base, I explored Balinese temples and the stunning Jatiluwih Rice Terraces. I also ventured out to Nusa Lembongan island (and said hello to all the seaweed fisherman) while snorkeling alongside Nemo and some puffer fish.
Back on mainland Bali, I headed down the Bukit Peninsula and “discovered” the most postcard-picture-perfect beaches of Bingin and Balangan (my faves). I’m not gonna lie, I kinda lived it up on the Bukit as well, hitting up 5-star resorts for gastronomic, fine-dining delights in Uluwatu and Jimbaran. With my two months coming to an end, I finished up in Seminyak, did some last-minute souvenir shopping and took in a handful of amazing Balinese sunsets at the chic and trendy (you gotta do it) beach clubs.
So this city guide is really a comprehensive island guide…for healthy food lovers. Are you ready? Let’s dive in!
(Note: my city guides do not go into the planning and preparation necessary for a safe and healthy, gluten-free trip. For that information, please see my ebook, Roaming Free).
Where to Stay
So many options! Are you keen to splurge on a 5-star resort, rent a villa, or book a retreat? Are you looking for a beach/surf getaway or yoga/spiritual getaway? Odds are you won’t have the time flexibility that I had in Bali, so I’d recommend picking one or two areas to check out. As long as you steer clear of Kuta (where the young, drunken, party peeps hang) you’ll have a wonderful time. Here’s what I loved about some of the best areas of Bali:
Ubud // If you’re into yoga, meditation and spirituality, Ubud is THE place for you. Away from the chaos of Bali beach tourism, Ubud is a sanctuary in the mountains. You’ll find beautiful Balinese culture, the famous Monkey Forest and excellent restaurants, from fine dining to clean-eating, casual cafes (gluten-free, vegan, paleo…it’s all easy here!).
Seminyak // The further west you head from Kuta, the nicer the beaches, accommodations and shopping. Seminyak is upscale and refined (compared to the surrounding towns) with an abundance of resorts, villas and apartments. You’ll also find great restaurants, nightlife and beach clubs to choose from. If it’s your first time to Bali and you’re looking for a little bit of everything, this may be the spot for you.
Canggu // Canggu is a hop-skip-and-jump from Seminyak, but not yet as developed (though, quickly heading that direction). It’s a popular surf spot with some notable restaurants and gorgeous villa rentals. I personally loved Canggu for it’s relaxed vibe, clean beaches and the surrounding rural area.
Amed // Amed is a sleepy little fishing village on the north east coast that I found to be enchanting. I understand most of you won’t make it that far north (it is remote), but if you do and you’d like some “tune out the world” time, Amed is your place. It’s also a popular spot for divers and snorkelers.
The Bukit // The southwestern area on the Bukit Peninsula is where I found all my favorite beaches, Padang Padang, Bingin and Balangan along with some pretty dramatic cliffs. There’s much less tourism/shopping and accommodations seem to be either ultra-luxury resorts or budget and surfer-friendly. If exploring stunning Bali beaches and world-class surfing is your thing, I’d recommend the Bukit.
Jimbaran // Also on the Bukit but closer to Denpasar, you’ll find beautiful coastal resorts and delicious seafood restaurants in Jimbaran, where you literally dine on the beach. I found Jimbaran a great place to visit for a brunch, dinner or a sunset cocktail, but honestly, once you venture out it seems to fall flat compared to other areas.
Nusa Lembongan // If you’re looking for a great snorkel day trip (or overnight), Nusa Lembongan is where it’s at. Many people describe Nusa Lembongan as Bali 50 years ago, and I’d have to agree. There’s not much to keep you busy on the island, other than snorkeling and watching seaweed fisherman, so I wouldn’t recommend more than a day or two.
Eating in Ubud
No matter your dietary preference, you’ll find more than enough to keep your stomach happy in Ubud. It’s a gastronomic paradise! From an abundance of casual cafes (many of which are vegan) to 8-course chef’s tasting menus (worth the splurge) Ubud is all about quality food and healthy living. Here’s some of my favorite restaurants:
(Note – Just remember that vegan does not mean gluten-free, so always double check ingredients).
Atman Kafe // Located on popular Hanoman Street, Atman Kafe has an extensive menu, offering organic coffee (including cold brew), kombucha, organic eggs and plenty of gluten-free soups, salads, tapas and Balinese favorites – all clearly marked GF. With so many options, I ate here a lot!
Kafe // Just down the street from Atman Kafe you’ll find Kafe (where motorbikes overflow out front). Kafe is all about relaxing ambience and filling you up with healthy food. Two of my best meals here were a grilled tuna steak salad and butternut squash salad (plus lots of smoothies).
The Garden Kafe (at The Yoga Barn) // Embarking on 30 days of yoga at The Yoga Barn meant that I ate here quite a bit. Though you can easily pop-in without the exercise. Make sure to try the gluten-free pandan crepes or any of their delicious omelettes.
Alchemy Bali // Alchemy is a 100% raw vegan cafe and juice bar with a mini organic health food store tucked inside. I highly recommend going for breakfast and enjoying a bowl of fruit, gluten-free granola and coconut yogurt. The lunch salad bar, tapas and delicious raw desserts are fab as well.
Soma Cafe // At Soma you’ll find some of the most creative and flavorful vegan and raw food in Ubud. Even better is the fact that they deliver (which I enjoyed during a thunderstorm). The grilled cheese on rice and cassava flatbread was better than I imagined – and you must try the anahata soup!
Sari Organik // It took me a while to find Sari Organik (it’s a bit of a walk/hike through gorgeous rice paddies), but the view and food is absolutely worth the effort. Enjoy a variety of organic salads, smoothies and cold drinks.
Earth Cafe // Earth Cafe is an organic, non-GMO, vegetarian restaurant with items marked gluten-free (not to be confused with those marked wheat-free). You’ll find plenty of salads, GF pancakes and raw dessert nibbles.
Bali Buda // As champions of the slow food/slow life concept, Bali Buda is an eco-friendly place and wants you to relax and enjoy your food. Gluten-free items are clearly labeled and sandwiches come on red rice bread or almond buns.
Seeds of Life // Seeds of Life is a raw food cafe and tonic bar situated between the busy streets of Hanoman and Monkey Forest. The chai chia porridge was the perfect breakfast, though I really wanted to try the gluten-free buckwheat waffles with butterscotch ice cream!
Seniman Coffee Studio // For a high quality cup of coffee (or cold brew) make sure to hit up Seniman Coffee Studio. And if you need a break from raw, vegan food, they serve up some some yummy eggs over easy and bacon.
Clear Cafe // If you’re on the western side of town (near Bridges Bali), make sure to hit up Clear Cafe. You’ll find every tonic, elixir and smoothie imaginable, and their spinach and grilled veggie omelette hits the spot.
Dayu’s Warung // Dayu’s Warung serves up raw, Balinese-fusion foods with warm ambience and plenty of gluten-free options to choose from. I enjoyed the purple sweet potato, veggie and coconut sandwich.
The Elephant // The Elephant is a 100% vegetarian restaurant, though many items can be modified gluten-free. It’s a bit more stylish that the other cafes mentioned and has an amazing view of the Campuhan Ridge.
If you’re looking for “the best of the best” upscale dining to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or simply the fact that you’re in Bali (as I did!), make sure to check out my post, 3 Best Restaurants in Ubud for a Top-Notch Dining Experience (which highlights Bridges Bali, Locavore and Mozaic).
Health Stores in Ubud
Even if you eat super clean in Ubud (and Bali in general), you may still encounter the dreaded “Bali Belly” – upset stomach and travelers diarrhea. Thankfully, there’s several health stores in Ubud stocked with herbal medicine, healthy food and other healing products. The best are located inside Alchemy Cafe, Bali Buda and Earth Cafe.
Eating in Canggu
Deus ex Machina // Deus ex Machina is a motorcyle enthusiast concept store meets Bali surfer hangout. But attached to the concept store is one darn good restaurant. Not only is the chicken avocado salad amazing, but one night the chef whipped up some sweet potato falafel balls, after learning I was gluten-free. Now that’s customer service!
Avocado Cafe // Avocado Cafe was just down the street from my villa and my favorite spot for organic, fresh, well-balanced meals. I loved the chia/flax seed pudding, smoked salmon salad and spinach frittata. Their turmeric boost tonic also helped me heal after I got glutened.
Betelnut Cafe // The much-hyped Betelnut Cafe is a definite healthy hot spot, but not if you’re gluten-free (lots of whole wheat stuff here). The mango and pitaya smoothie bowls are wonderfully delicious (with no granola). Just don’t order a bun-less burger, as that’s what glutened me. For 100% meat burgers, visit The Butcher Social Habit (in Canggu) or The Butcher’s Club (in Seminyak). (*see my note about burgers at the end of the post)
The Butcher Social Habit // I quadrupled checked the burger ingredients here and spoke to the chef – all was good with the meat! But the fries are cross-contaminated, so I’d avoid. Also great on the menu was a roasted beetroot and orange salad.
Grocer and Grind // Grocer and Grind is perfectly located next to Echo Beach for a post-swim meal (and has 3 other locations in Bali). The menu has a little bit of everything, but I opted for a clean and healthy tuna nicoise salad.
Oka’s Bakery // The best gluten-free bakery in Bali! It was here at Oka’s that I first learned of cassava flour (after speaking with the owner), which then led me on a recipe-creation-bender when I returned home. Gluten-free loaves and muffins are baked fresh daily.
Not-to-be-Missed Canggu Beaches
After you’re all filled up with healthy food, make sure to visit the surfer-packed enclaves of Echo Beach, Berawa, Batu Bolong, and Pererenan Beach. And a Canggu stay wouldn’t be complete without a sunset cocktail at Old Man’s.
Eating in Seminyak & Kerobokan
Barbacoa // If you’re craving fresh barbecue food cooked on a massive wood fire, Barbacoa is your place. The pulled pork and braised beef brisket tacos are mouth-watering. And if you’ve been eating lots of salads, feel free to splurge on their divine gluten-free chocolate cake with cherry puree.
Sardine // The food at Sardine is perfection and the location (nestled amongst a rice paddy field) pushes it over the top. For a fine-dining meal of seafood and organic greens with lovely ambience, Sardine can’t be beat.
Sarong // Sarong is an upscale dinner restaurant with a focus on locally-sourced produce from eco-friendly farmers. Every item on the asian-fusion menu is bursting with flavor and many items can be modified gluten-free.
Biku // For a mix of traditional and modern Indonesian food, located in a 150 year-old teak Joglo from East Java, head to Biku for a hearty lunch or dinner. I enjoyed a yummy, spice-filled and aromatic beef rendang and the servers were very helpful at pointing out which items were naturally gluten-free.
Sea Circus // Sea Circus is a vibrant (oh, you’ll see!) cafe with several gluten-free menu items, including quinoa and chia seed coconut milk porridge, eggs any way you’d like and red fruit salad (which inspired my own recipe).
Zula Vegetarian Paradise // Owned by the same parent company as Earth Cafe, you’ll notice many similar menu items on Zula Cafe’s menu (which is a good thing!). I loved the powerhouse porridge of almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, flax, chia and other goodness.
The Butcher’s Club // If you want a clean, bun-less burger with quality, dry-aged beef (and no unnecessary “filler” ingredients) make sure to check out The Butcher’s Club. They also have duck-fat fries, cooked in a dedicated fryer, so so good.
La Lucciola // La Lucciola overlooks one of the prettiest beaches in Seminyak, which is perfect for an after brunch or dinner stroll. I opted for brunch with a mushroom, spinach omelette and gluten-free (and grain-free) cassava bread.
Bali Buda // The same Bali Buda that you’ll find in Ubud which offers up delicious organic, gluten-free fare. I ate tons of salads here and the health shop literally saved me after getting glutened in Canggu.
Corner House Bali // You’ll likely pass Corner House Bali several times if you’re out and about in Seminyak. I never ate there, but it is the go-to spot for coffee (which I had many times) and photo-perfect interiors.
Seminyak Beach Clubs
A trip to Seminyak wouldn’t be complete without at least one day of doing absolutely nothing except chilling, eating and drinking at one of the many beach clubs. After checking out all the hyped-about spots, my favorites were Potato Head Beach Club and Ku De Ta. Just make sure you reserve a beach bed in advance! And while it’s not a beach club, La Plancha wins for best sunset drinks and the coolest bean bags + umbrellas.
Eating on the Bukit (Uluwatu, Pecatu & Jimbaran)
The Cashew Tree // A local favorite and the perfect stop for scrambled eggs, an organic salad or pitaya smoothie bowl on your way to Bingin Beach…though you may find yourself lounging here a while. PS – this is where I shot the cover of my ebook, Roaming Free.
Lands End Cafe // If you’re heading to Uluwatu Temple make sure to eat at the vegetarian Lands End Cafe. The portion sizes are large and the smoothies are off the hook. But it’s claim to fame is the gluten-free super waffle which you must try (and which inspired my own recipe).
Buddha Soul // Buddha Soul is an organic fusion cafe with several gluten-free options, including an organic buckwheat waffle, baked eggs in avocado and veggie omelette. For afternoon fare, try the grilled prawns or tuna.
Om Burger // Ordering at Om Burger is a three-step process where you order the bun (or “naked” for gluten-free), burger type (beef, fish or vegetarian) and salad. I chowed down on the “padang padang” burger which was a naked beef burger with bacon and cheese – yum!
CIRE at Alila Villas Uluwatu // For an upscale, fine-dining, sunset meal, CIRE can’t be beat. Choose the 4-course tasting menu (which changes daily) and the chef will modify anything to be gluten-free. A true gastronomic delight, I indulged in hamachi and tiger prawns as well as seared Wagyu beef.
Ju-ma-na Restaurant at Banyan Tree Resort // At the very southern tip of the Bukit, high atop the cliffs, enjoy fine dining and a spectacular view at Ju-ma-na at the Banyan Tree Resort. I opted for appetizers and a drink, with delicious seared scallops in a potato mash.
Rock Bar at AYANA Resort // One of the most happening and glam places to watch a Balinese sunset is definitely the Rock Bar. I went for drinks, though also enjoyed white chocolate passion fruit truffles. If you plan on eating a meal, reservations are a must.
Sundara at Four Seasons Resort // Sundara offers excellent food and views for a weekend brunch, lunch or sunset dinner. I went seafood-happy with thai fish cakes (completely gluten-free) and grilled snapper filet. Though next time I’d stay and enjoy the pool-side day beds.
Made Bagus Cafe at Jimbaran Bay // Jimbaran Bay turns into a seafood restaurant extravaganza when the sun starts to set with dining tables placed on the sand. I ate at Made Bagus Cafe, but there are many cafes to choose from. Just order any fish simply grilled with no sauce and enjoy the twinkly lights.
Additional Food Recommendations Around the Island
A Few Extra Tips
- I highly recommend taking a Balinese cooking class to learn the local spices and ingredients. I attended this one in Ubud and loved it.
- Many traditional Balinese meals, such as nasi goreng and gado gado are not gluten-free due to soy sauce. Pepes Ikan (steamed fish + spices in banana leaves), bebek betutu (steamed duck + spices in banana leaves) and babi guling (suckling pig) are usually safer options, but always double check. When you do find a Balinese warung (i.e – restaurant) that clearly communicates an item is gluten-free, enjoy it – Balinese spices are divine!
- A gluten-free dining translation card for Indonesian (as mentioned in Roaming Free) was helpful in smaller, more traditional Balinese restaurants.
- Be very careful when ordering burgers in Bali. Many restaurants are owned or managed by Aussies and Kiwis and it’s common in those countries to add bread crumbs in burger meat.
- While raw, vegan desserts and fruit smoothies are plentiful on Bali, remember that it’s easy to overdue it on these sugar-laden treats.
- And the number one question I get asked is, “should I rent a motorbike?” I’ll be honest, driving a motorbike in Bali is a bit crazy town (more so than Chiang Mai, Thailand). So only rent one if you feel very comfortable, have likely driven one before and don’t get easily flustered. And always wear a helmet. If you do choose to rent a motorbike, enjoy exploring (the island is amazing)…but make sure to get an international driver’s license. Bali cops are notorious for pulling over foreigners, looking for “payment” (ie – bribes) if you don’t have registration and an international driver’s license on you. Case in point: I got pulled over three times, once on the Bukit, once in Sanur and once in a tiny, remote village atop a volcano (which I couldn’t believe) – over the course of two months.
(Note: many of my Instagram photos mention eating paleo. I was more paleo(ish) when I traveled a year ago, but today I just focus on whole foods that are naturally gluten-free).
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More Posts on Bali
A very special thanks to my dear friends Claude and Ulla from ONEWORLD Retreats in Ubud for their hospitality during my visit and continued friendship long after.
Have you traveled to Bali? If you’ve got additional tips or gluten-free advice, drop them in the comments below!