While traveling throughout South Eastern Asia I have found one rule to be true; if you’re in search of good food, follow the locals to the local market.
The majority of locals will not be seen eating or shopping in the more touristy cafes or eateries, they go to where the fresh food is abundant, made exactly how they want it and made right in front of their eyes. The Sanur Night Markets in Bali are no exception to this rule. It takes getting up with the sun or venturing out after dark to really connect with the flavours of Bali and it is worth it.
Set back from the main drag of Sanur and hidden at the end of a small road is a space buzzing with people, noises and delicious aromas (ok so maybe not all of them are delicious- yeah I’m talking to you fish sauce), from the early morning to the late evening.
Early in the morning the market is a hive of activity, sellers come from near and far to peddle their fresh produce. Everything from fresh chicken and fish (don't expect refrigeration, just a little ice if you’re lucky), vegetables and fruit, coffee and all of the necessary ingredients for offerings, even scooters piled impossibly high with trays of fresh eggs; all selling to the housewives, restaurant operators and chefs from within the modest car park.
And because you woke at the crack of dawn to experience the carefully orchestrated madness you can also satiate your hunger with a little breakfast. Fancy something savoury like nasi campur? A mix of rice, meats, vegetables and peanuts. Maybe it’s the sweet flavours you’re after, like fried bananas or a personal favourite, lak-lak, a Balinese rice cake served on a banana leaf with grated coconut and palm sugar syrup.
In the evenings, 7 days a week, the market car park transforms again. Raging turbo fired woks and smouldering charcoal burners emit a wave of aromas to tempt the hungry hoards. A dozen or more stalls serve a variety of local and broader Indonesian foods from martabak, a sensational crispy pancake filled with egg, green onion and chicken, or if you want to save some room for dessert then order one with banana and nutella. It is just sin on a plate and you’re welcome!
Feel like some sates? You will not be disappointed, as beef, chicken or even goat is marinated in a mix of sauces, spices and crushed herbs, all cooked over smouldering coconut husks then served with the velvety peanut sauce and perfectly steamed rice.
One stall you can’t walk by is the soto ayam with hand-made noodles. The dark broth has a depth of flavour I didn’t think possible. Served with a boiled egg and various greens, it is an interesting Indonesian take on the Vietnamese pho. There is so much more to choose from. I recommend you come hungry or just come back night after night - I mean hey, you’re on holiday and you deserve it.
Seating is available but you will need to be quick, because as soon as a seat is free it’s just as quickly occupied, so keep your eyed peeled and your thongs (a.k.a flip-flops) ready to move.
If you want authentic Indonesian food, a taste of the local culture and to immerse yourself into a food-lovers haven, then go where the locals go and eat what the locals eat. Except the little green chillies. Those things are just mean. Don’t eat them.
Written by Tim Ressom and edited by Clare Srdarov.