When the Night Falls in Bali : Markets, Streetfood and Local Culture
Bali is enchanting with her hidden beaches, rolling hills, and its plethora of activities under the sun. When the night falls, the excitement does not mellow down, for Bali transforms into a destination that affords equally many things to many people.
Nightlife in Bali is celebrated for its ethereal charm. During auspicious nights, temples throughout the island are flooded by pilgrims dressed in their traditional attirecomplete with incense and offerings to pay homage to their gods and ancestors. Temple speakers echo sacred chantings, breaking the calmness and silence that sweep through the night.
Outside the temples, residents and visitors alike flock the streets for buzzing night markets, and assortment of cultural attractions as well as cool hangouts.
When talking about nightlife in Bali outside the temples or clubs, night markets are probably the biggest draw, a destination that attracts residents and visitors alike in search of dinner, groceries, or even photo opportunities.
One such market is Pasar Kumbasari, found just next to the Badung Bridge, a wet market that comes to life in the night, taking over business from the street’s shops that are generally closed early. But different from the shops, the market offers fresh meats, chicken, vegetables, a number of seafood products, fruits, traditional snacks, and even flowers used for offerings. It’s very vibrant and colourful here; and observing the nightly trade taking place at the market provides the visitor’s to Bali a glimpse of traditional life here on the island.
When the sun has set, the actions get hotter here at Kumbasari. An interesting sight inat night is the women carrying big woven baskets on their heads. These women are personal porters that you can hire. They’ll follow you around the market and put your groceries in the basket until you’re done with your shopping session. In addition to the women with their baskets, Pasar Kumbasari is made lively with shoppers haggling for the best price, colourful displays of fresh fruits, and even Balinese Hindu pilgrims looking to buy canang sari offerings.
Next to Kumbasari, the river that runs under the Badung Bridge has been developed into a nightlife attraction. Benches, colourful lights, and fountains have now decorated the river banks, providing a space for those looking to lounge under the colourful lights and, of course, canopy of stars.
Another Denpasar night market offering a thriving night scene is Pasar Kreneng. Only a 10-minute drive east from Kumbasari and passing the Puputan Square, Pasar Kreneng is where you can find not only fresh fruits and food supplies, but also shoes and sandals, t-shirts and shorts, electronics, homewares, women’s accessories, you name it!Local children love this market, known for a number of toy vendors, in addition to mini carousels that they can ride.
As the moon rises in Bali, so do the street food carts. Nightlife in Bali provides ample opportunities for visitors to the island to feast like a local. And just like the night markets, Denpasar is a haven for those looking to sample the most authentic flavours not only of Bali, but also of neighbouring Java.
Amongst the items to be found are the famous Balinese Babi Guling, or suckling pig. The pig’s belly is filled with cassava leafs and herbs such as ginger and lemongrass. The whole pig is roasted, leaving the skin crunchy, while the meat remains soft and succulent, flavoured with some spices and zest that are infused through the cooking process. Then there’s Bebek Betutu, a duck dish that is very hot and spicy. The whole duck is boiled together with a mix of grinder spices, then wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed.
In addition to the typical Balinese, Indonesian dishes from the across the archipelago, too, are a familiar to be found at street food carts. Items such as Soto Ayam, chicken with Indonesian herbs and seasoning, as well as the famous Nasi Goreng and Mie Goreng, fried rice and fried noodles respectively, can be found throughout the island.
And where to find these items? Pasar Kreneng is also where countless food hawkers offer all sorts of inviting local dishes. From chicken noodles to bakso meatball soup and satays, and suckling pig and “halal” Javanese delicacies to traditional snacks, cakes, desserts, and fruits; you’re seriously spoilt for choice at Kreneng. For visitors, these meals-on-wheels can serve as an introduction and opportunity to unravel various local foods, served in a totally different atmosphere.
On Jalan Marlboro in West Denpasar, the locals flock to get their fix of nightly meals. Here you’ll find most sides of the street lined with food stalls, offering the typical Indonesian fried chicken served with sambal chilli paste and raw vegetables, the Jakartan nasi uduk rice steamed with coconut, the West Sumatran lontong sayur padang rice cakes served with the famous rendang and vegetable soup, the Acehnese version of fried rice and noodles, the typical food stall from Jogjakarta called angkringan that serves skewers of among other beef and chicken skins as well as chicken wings, and many more!
In the popular tourist hub of Sanur, Sindhu Night Market is an amusing break from eating at high-end restaurants. While gorging on street food offered here, there is no compromise on anything with taste and quality. But surprisingly, you get to enjoy unimaginable varieties of food at immensely reasonable prices that will ignite your taste buds. The charm of standing in front of the stalls, ordering over the counter, interacting with the friendly locals who treat you as people rather than ‘tourists’ and watching your fried rice or even fresh juice getting prepared right in front of you is simply an authentic experience you can’t recreate. Away from the posh and luxurious, the street food here gives you every reason to devour and indulge into true Indonesian flavours without burning a hole in your pocket.
In Gianyar, some 10 kilometres southeast from the main Ubud hub, you’ll find the capital of the Gianyar regency, which is also named Gianyar. Old Balinese buildings line the two sides of the town’s Jalan Ngurah Rai main strip. These buildings, mostly shop houses, sell various goods that range from electronic appliances, handmade music instruments (they have seriously nice guitars here), watches, clothes, and groceries. And to add to that charming, traditional rural atmosphere is the Gianyar Night Market, also located on the street. Though known as a night market, Gianyar Night Market is already bustling at around 4pm. As a thriving traditional market scene, Gianyar Night Market is the place to indulge in the sumptuous local dishes that range from suckling pig, satays, spicy fruit salad or known as rujak, typical Indonesian fritters, nasi campur, and seriously many more.
From Gianyar to the southwest of the island, the busy town of Tabanan is a melting pot, with migrants from Java establishing a community here. And the blending of the cultures is very obvious especially at night time on the street food stalls at Pasar Senggol Tabanan. Most of the food sellers at the night market, if not all, are muslim migrants from Java, offering a plethora of dishes typical to their Java hometowns such as Bakso Solo meatballs and Sate Madura chicken and goat satays. And whenever there’s a ceremony taking place in the nearby Hindu temple, you can see the local Balinese residents in their traditional attires flocking the market, having their meal served by their veiled Muslim friends.
Bali Safari and Marine Park in east Gianyar ups the Bali nightlife ante with their Night Safari tour that allows you to get as close as you would ever be to some of the most dangerous, rarest, and fascinating animals from around the world. Although the daytime Safari Journey is fun in itself, it keeps you a littlefurther away from the animals.
The night safari on the other hand, begins after dark with minimum lighting, where the wild animals are at their nocturnal best. Not only that, you are taken around the safari trek on nothing more than a caged truck that, while safe, heightens the sense of human vulnerability to the natural environment. There’s nothing like the feeling of hearing the roar of a couple of adult tigers in the dark from a close distance. If you haven’t experienced that, then this ride is definitely for you.
The safari journey starts at the front of the Mara River Safari Lodge’s lobby at the park, and the African lion quarters will be your first stop. Bali Safari keeps a pair of adult lions outside the Tsavo Lion Restaurant, which is situated next to the lodge’s lobby. you can see them through a surrounding large glass wall while having your meal at anytime of the day. The view from inside the restaurant is spectacular, but seeing the lions no more than a few metres away from the truck is even more incredible. The truck will stop for a few minutes for you to take pictures of the king of the jungle before continuing the ride.
From the surrounding darkness wild animals appear before you. A group of Sumatran elephants would normally approach the truck and you get to feed them with carrots, all the while a knowledgeable guide imparts all the important information on the animals that makes the trip more enjoyable. But soon you’ll become anxious when the truck approaches a gated compound that would probably remind you of the movie Jurassic Park. Inside the walled compound are a pair of adult male Bengal tigers ; they are kept away from the other animals because they’re, well, tigers! As the mechanical gates open slowly you’ll quickly hear their roars. There will be a couple of tiger trainers on two SUVs waiting by the gates ready to keep the tigers in check if needed. And as you cruise the tigers will suddenly turn up from their hiding places looking excited at the sight of you! But before you’re completely aware of their whereabouts, they would’ve probably jumped onto the truck and landed on top of your cage. Sure, you know the iron bars between you and these curious cats will hold, but being that close to the ferocious feline won’t stop your heart from beating!
Bali Safari and Marine Park
Address : Jalan By Pass Prof. Dr. Ida Bagus Mantra, Gianyar
Phone : +62 361 95 0000
Website : www.balisafarimarinepark.com
NIGHTLY CULTURAL PERFORMANCES
An evening of cultural appreciation is a must in your Bali travel plans. There are countless nightly traditional Balinese dance performances held on many corners of the island for you to come and watch.
So much more than just a form of art, traditional dances in Bali are welcoming rituals, performed to mark the start of religious ceremonies or rituals that take place in the temples, to welcome the deities and ancestors that come down to the earth whenever the ceremonies take place and also to show gratitude to the gods for their blessings. In addition to their religious purpose, traditional Balinese dances also serves as entertainment, performed in the homes of the Balinese people, especially when they’re inviting neighbours and relatives for a celebration.
Now that Bali has become one of the top holiday destinations in the world, Balinese dances have also become not only entertainment for the vacationers, but also a performing art that serves as an introduction to the island’s rich culture and history.
If you haven’t watched a nightly Balinese dance performance, here’s some of the best places to go:
The Kecak show at Uluwatu Temple starts at sunset time. The show here is made more dramatic with the colourful gradients of the famous Uluwatu sunset. Come here early so you enjoy the breathtaking bird’s eye view of the Indian Ocean, and tour the temple’s premises.
GWK Cultural Park
The Garuda Wisnu Kencana in Ungasan is currently in the spotlight with the recent completion of the Garuda Wisnu Kencana statue, the biggest and third tallest statue in the world. In addition to the statue, the cultural park also hosts nightly captivating Balinese dance and traditional music at the park’s amphitheater.
Address : Jalan Raya Uluwatu, Ungasan
Phone : +62 361 700 808
Website : www.gwkbali.com
Nightly Kecak and Fire Dance performances also takes place at Sahadewa in Batubulan near Sukawati. The Kecak starts at 6.30pm and ends at 7.30pm.
Address : Jalan SMKI No. 25 Batu Bulan, Gianyar
Phone : +62 361 298 607
Website : www.sahadewabarongdance.com
Taman Kaja Village
In Ubud, Kecak Dance is best observed at the village temple of Taman Kaja. The temple, Pura Dalem Taman Kaja, has recently been renovated, going through a series of two-week long big ceremonies to complete the whole renovation process. The Kecak Fire and Trance Dance at the temple is held on Wednesday and Saturday nights at 7.30pm.
Address : Taman Kaja village, Ubud
Phone : +62 361 970 508
Website : www.kecakdance.com
Nestled on a corner at the intersection in downtown Ubud, the Ubud Royal Palace is one of the most renowned places of interest in Bali. Here the Legong of Mahabharata traditional dance performance starts nightly at 7pm, with a backdrop of ornate angkul-angkul traditional Balinese gate and guardian statues.