Scuba Diving and Good Eats in Bali

Our previous Bali articles described the culture and temples of Bali. We also described some of what we had been doing. During our five-week stay, we also spent a fair amount of money and time diving. And we know that many of you are interested in the food in Bali. Let’s take a look at some of the restaurants we enjoyed as well as a Balinese cooking class.

Getting our Advanced Open Water Certification

Diana and I enjoy scuba diving and we have been certified for about 30 years. We have dived all over the world, but in the last several years some dive shops have given us a hard time about going below 60 feet, which we have done many times. Apparently, in the years since we were certified, PADI, the dive organization, added a new revenue generation certification, Advanced Open Water. It became clear to us in the Maldives that we should get this certification. However, it was too expensive there so we opted to do it in Bali.

Advanced Open Water certification involved two full days of diving. Because we were not staying near the popular dive sites, each day there was a 1.5-hour or more drive before we could get started. On the first day, we did three dives in Padang Bai, each with a specific focus. We did the book study first and then headed out to dive. Diana was a little nervous about the Underwater Navigation dive, but all the dives turned out to be fun and relatively easy. On our dives, we saw several large eels and blue spotted rays in addition to the usual reef fish, coral, and colorful nudibranchs.

Diving a Shipwreck

On the second day, we drove even further to a place called Tulamben, where there is a WWII liberty shipwreck. Ironically, the name of the ship was Liberty. The dives at Tulamben were shore dives and Diana hates shore dives. Per Diana, “I find it very undignified to crawl out of the ocean onto the beach at the end of a dive.” Our instructor was great and helped get her gear off while she was in the surf zone, but it is still difficult to walk out via the rocky beach. We did have two good dives and there was a lot of coral and marine life on the wreck of the USAT Liberty because it has been in the ocean for so long. Overall, our certification journey was fairly painless and cost a lot less than it would have elsewhere.

Diving in Nusa Penida

When you research diving in Bali, the name Nusa Penida always comes up. So of course we had to go. After a fairly short 45-minute drive to Sanur, we got in a dive boat and went across the channel to the first dive site, Manta Point. Sometimes dive sites are named for some kind of animal that is usually there and your sightings can be hit or miss. But our experience on this occasion was very good. We were at a manta ray cleaning station where the rays swim from the bottom up to the top of a coral outcrop where they picked up the little fish that clean their outer skin. There were many individuals with really different markings, even one that was nearly black.

We did a second dive in the channel between Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan. The reef was in really good shape and there was plenty of fish to see. But, I must apologize we don’t do underwater photography (yet) so I can’t show you pictures of what we saw. You’ll just have to go see for yourselves 🙂

Balinese Food

We didn’t choose to visit Bali for the food but it was actually pretty good. Because of all of the visitors from Australia, there were plenty of familiar foods like steak, burgers, and chicken sandwiches. Diana ate a lot of chicken sandwiches. I was a little more adventurous in my dining choices.

Rice is grown and consumed everywhere and every meal. In addition to white rice, brown and even red rice could be had. I particularly liked the red rice. It had a similar texture to brown rice but was a little more herbaceous. Fried rice, nasi goreng, is the most common rice dish around. Practically every restaurant serves it. It was a go-to staple for us, consistently good nearly everywhere.

Other common dishes are spit-roasted pig (babi guling), fried noodles (mie goreng), chicken meatball soup (bakso ayam), chicken satay, and street roasted corn on the cob.  All of it is flavorful and inexpensive, most dishes cost $5-$8. For reference, 100k Indonesian rupiah is about $6.50 USD. The wine was quite expensive, beer moderately priced at $2/btl in a restaurant, and cocktails could be downright cheap, starting at $3.50 for a Long Island iced tea.  Great time to enjoy some cocktails by the beach!

Neighborhood Restaurants

Within a 5 to 10-minute walk from our hotel, there were at least 15 different places to eat. There were three notable places. First, right next door was a place called The Sand where all of the tables were outside under beautiful old trees. But what made this place notable was the well-executed $7 tenderloin steak that Mike had no fewer than three times. Practically next door to The Sand is the Pavilion Surf Club. They have an upstairs with a view of the beach and sunset, good drinks, decent food, and a pretty good live band. Those $3.50 iced teas were hard to resist, too.

In the other direction was the Burger Buzz, a burger/pizza joint run by a native Italian inside a shipping container across from the beach. Their $6 pizzas were pretty damned good. The last of the neighborhood places worth mentioning is Niksoma. A little more upscale than most other places in the neighborhood and on Friday nights they had a drag queen show that was very entertaining. The food and drinks were good too.


About 10 minutes walk away was a really good Greek restaurant. They had a special wrap with any meat you want for about $3. Additionally, they made the best pita bread I have ever had. They had a special every night and you had to get a reservation. One evening we drove by at about 7 pm and there was a line of people waiting to get in.

Ku De Ta

Diana did a bunch of research on beach clubs and restaurants in Seminyak because some people we met had recommended we check them out. She was also looking for a nice place to meet our friends on Thanksgiving. We had to check it out first though and see if it was any good. The pool, the bars, and the views were fabulous. They also happened to make the best/strongest Long Island iced tea Diana ever had. (In Bali, the cocktails were sometimes a little weird, so we settled on ordering Long Islands because they were pretty consistent.) When we returned for Thanksgiving, we had cocktails by the beach and a lovely dinner in the courtyard. This was one of the few times we ordered wine too, but they knew what they were doing.

Ginger Moon

This restaurant was recommended by someone and had really good ratings so we decided to give it a try. Diana was still tipsy from the aforementioned Long Island iced tea, so her memory is a little foggy on it. The food was interesting and very tasty. I would definitely go there again if only to get the bill in the coconut monkey’s mouth once more.

Nia Seminyak Balinese Cooking Class

We often seek out a cooking class when we find ourselves in a place for an extended time, especially if the cuisine is new to us. In 2022 alone, we did two others in Sicily and Bologna. The Nia Seminyak Balinese Cooking Class we took was huge, covering 12 different things over 3 hours. It was a bit hard to keep up with everything we were being shown. Happily, our instructor seemed to have learned English from watching TV. As such, his pronunciation and vocabulary were very informal and familiar.

Market Visit

Our first stop was at a local produce market, where our guide showed us and let us taste many of the regional herbs, spices, fruits, and vegetables. Many items were similar to produce I knew, but with a slightly different, more pronounced, and often floral taste, probably from the soil content. One takeaway I had from the experience was that it could be difficult to truly reproduce these flavors elsewhere since these specific ingredients wouldn’t be matched in produce grown elsewhere. All the more reason to return for more sampling…

Balinese Spices

We started making smaller items: spice pastes, one for chicken and one for seafood. Then we made peanut sauce and a sweet corn coconut snack that is popular on the island. I won’t go into detail about the ingredients, but I will mention they include peppers, fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, and shallots. Whole seeds were the only dried ingredients with which we started. The peanut sauce was spicy and chunky, nothing like the peanut butter-like versions we often see in the US. The corn snack was refreshing and not overly sweet.

Next were a green papaya salad and vegetable salad in peanut sauce. These were followed by both chicken and seafood satays, using the pastes we had made earlier. The flavor was bursting out of everything. These items alone would have made for an interesting class.

Balinese Main Dishes

We finished with the main dishes: roast chicken in banana leaf and minced chicken in banana leaf, pork in a sweet soy sauce, and finally fried rice with chicken and fried noodles, staples on every menu. All of these were substantial and flavorful. The banana leaves are folded differently depending on the contents so diners can tell what it contains before they open it.

The prep time for these dishes was considerable, but they all came together and cooked quickly, except for the pork, which was roasted for a while. The prep burden was shared among the students so none of us worked too hard. At the end of our class, we all enjoyed the fruits of our labors over lunch.

The class was only about $38pp and included pick-up from our hotel. There was also a lot of food left at the end. None of the other students had a fridge or kitchen, so they didn’t mind if we took leftovers. We enjoyed the food for another couple of days. All in all, a great fun, informative, and tasty experience I highly recommend.

Why Bali was our 2022 Roamie MVP

I think it comes down to cheap, fast, and good with a measure of beauty thrown in. The people were so kind and helpful that we were truly able to relax. My only complaint is the distance from the US. Once you get there, it can be a difficult place to leave.

What places have you found difficult to leave?

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1 comment

  1. OK now I’m hungry and it is just 9am.

    I’ve never been to Bali, just Java and Sumatra where you don’t see pork dishes on the menu. The exchange rate was very in favor of the dollar at that time. A plate of nasi goreng was about 25 cents and you had to try hard to spend over a dollar on a meal.

    There were some food surprises too. Yogya was famous for their fried chicken (Ayam goreng) so I had to try that, but kept being served pieces that were more bone than meat. Then at a Padang style place where they serve buffet style, I spied a huge piece that looked meaty. Once I started munching, I noticed a beak poking out of the batter: I had chosen the head and neck piece! Ugh.

    And the neck came back to haunt me when I was very hungry out in the countryside. A restaurant with a huge sign stating SATE KAMBING beckoned. I knew sate was grilled meat but what was kambing? Turns out it is the boney neck of some critter. I left hungry.

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