By Honey Writer
If you’re looking for gluten free options in Bali I have some good news for you. It will take a bit of work, but it is very doable! We’ve travelled a lot as a couple, and taking a fussy tummy on tour, especially in a non-English speaking country is…well, it’s a challenge.
My stomach is especially fussy, having fructose malabsorption means I react to a host of naturally occurring products, such as wheat, honey, almost all fruits, (especially tropical), some vegetables, most noticeably onions, tomatoes, leeks and eggplant as well as fibre supplements, such as chicory root and manufactured high fructose corn syrup. I have also found I do better if I avoid coconut products.
I dare you to order food in a restaurant that doesn’t have any of those things….it’s tricky, even in Australia. Sometimes reading a menu is the most depressing thing I can do, when the “Oh, yum, but No.” comes up everywhere from entrée to dessert.
I’m not a fussy eater, not by choice. I adore food, all of it. I will devour a bowl of lightly steamed fresh broccoli just as happily as a ½ a block of chocolate. I’m also one of those terrible people who get excited over other people’s meals. What everyone else has on their plate is purely fascinating.
Tragically my tummy has decided it’s going to make sure my eyes don’t dictate what I eat.
I can spend hours in a supermarket just reading package labels. Once I give a brand product the all clear, I stick to it. There is hell to pay when they tamper with the recipe. “Barley, why do you suddenly need a new and improved recipe with barley?!”
When travelling around Asia, getting a full list of ingredients on the menu is rare, asking for alterations to the menu is confusing to wait staff, and trying to explain “I get sick” leaves blank faces. They honestly do not know what food allergies or irritable stomachs are. Unlike us Westerners who are 30%- 40% afflicted with some form of eating restrictions, in Asia the affected population is less than 3%, and even then, it’s not as intense. I envy them, I really do.
After years of carefully learning how to say “No onion” “No wheat” “No tomato,” in a variety of languages with no benefit, I now surrender to the fact that when we travel, I’ll probably get sick.
Ordering local produce is usually more effective, as the ingredients are fresh and simple. The more “like home” my food choices are the more “add-ins” are needed to compensate for not having access to our supermarkets.
In Cambodia, I got excited one morning at the prospect of oats. I hadn’t seen any oats in weeks and was craving some fibre (that wasn’t laced with chicory root). After 30 minutes of waiting, I was finally presented with a plate of chopped tropical fruit, drizzled with yoghurt and honey. Um, thank you, but where are the oats? After confusing the poor sweet girl for some time in my attempt to be understood, I eventually took a menu and pointed to the word printed there.
“Oh, so sorry I don’t know what this is.”
Okay, no oats and no breakfast, which was normal.
Breakfast is my favourite meal, however, when the only choices are ‘toast’ – plain dry bread that’s warm but not brown that will make me unwell, or fruit that will make me unwell, I prefer to wait for lunch, when I can have chicken and rice that probably will be digested.
Even if I get the main ingredients right, there are spices, sauce bases and sweeteners hiding nasties that will leave me bloated, skin sensitive and back to bed an hour after eating.
In Japan, I gained 15kgs in 9 days, and that’s not from being naughty. Our holidays involve lots of walking, usually a strenuous hike up something large, and healthy food on-the-go. What I didn’t realise was the Japanese LOVE fructose syrup. Unbeknownst to me, it was in EVERYTHING. It was a difficult, painful and unhappy lesson. I even said no more travel after that experience. It just wasn’t worth it. I was too sick to enjoy the surrounds, too sick to hike up anything large, I was becoming scared to eat and none of my clothes fit. I pushed myself through a one month detox to clear my system back home and threw a tantrum. No more travelling! Of course that’s not what I really wanted, I want to be able to travel and enjoy different food and cultures. But how?
Gluten-free and vegetarian options are becoming more and of a daily occurrence. Fructose malabsorption is not something you see catered for, well, not yet anyway. I tend to ask for Gluten free options in Bali as the meals are simpler and generally more digestible. Gluten free is excitingly cropping up everywhere. Especially in tourist-dense destinations like Thailand and Bali.
It’s still a bit of a minefield though. GF might not actually mean GF. Just as you might see chicken stir-fry listed in the vegetarian items, you might be given a GF option which is actually a sandwich. “Is this regular bread?” “Yes, yes ma’am.” “Same as that?” I point to my husband’s plate, which is not GF. “Yes ma’am, yes same bread.” I suspected as much, given that it looks identical.
As with oats, GF is a sexy lure to get people in the door and ordering. So you might be graciously delivered a sandwich, that you didn’t want in the first place, then you look like a tyrant on a rampage when you refuse to eat it or refuse to pay.
It’s not always intentional or designed though, sometimes it mostly is gluten free and they honestly didn’t think that little bit of wheat (from flour) in the sauces mattered. You can’t see it, you can’t taste it, but boy will the impact be felt!
My desire, when we opened UpShift Tours, our business of cycling tours of Bali was to have our own, carefully picked in-home chef do all the cooking. That way I could personally oversee the meal preparation and KNOW that what was being presented at the table truly was, from top to bottom, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, fructose friendly, low carb, paleo, coeliac friendly, whatever our guests desired. I would give them fresh fantastic meal options that work.
As someone who loves food and loves travel and loves activity, my aim was to provide anyone who wanted to do, DO. No questions or hesitations or misunderstandings.
You know what they say about best-laid plans? Mine came unstuck our first tour. It turns out, what people want is to go out to the restaurants. I don’t blame them, the restaurants are so delectable.
Now that we live in Bali, I’m forever straining my neck going, “Oh, that looks SO nice.” The food is incredible, there are exotic lights hung and atmosphere and choices that will make your taste buds zing. I don’t go inside though, it’s just too dangerous.
Luckily my husband is more of a risk taker than I am and he went in search of places that could help. I was doubtful, as always, there are too many traps.
I was proven wrong. When you know where to look, there are treasures for even the fussiest tummies to enjoy.
Old Man’s – Canggu
Not only is Old Man’s one of the hottest beach bars in Canggu, and a top spot to watch the sunset, it also has an incredible array of food options on the menu that cater to a gluten-free traveller.
They have a grill, so you can get a nice big steak with veggies or salad. The fish can be grilled rather than battered, and they have some great salads from Greek to Caesar to Roast Duck. There are also plenty of local foods such as Nasi Goreng or Pad Thai, but depending on your level of sensitivity you may be better skipping these for a plainer option.
Bali Buda – Ubud
Bali Buda in Ubud is an incredible restaurant in Ubud that understands organic foods, gluten free and vegetarian options, and is working to create a sustainable food supply in Bali, amongst other community initiatives.
Their menu is clearly labelled with a red GF on their gluten free meals, and when you order toast, you can be sure it really is gluten free as it is a red rice bread that comes from their own bakery. They have some delicious gluten free foods on their menu, such as Balinese style chia pudding, organic fruit salad, Spanish potato pie, chocolate mousse cake, plus burgers, sandwiches, and pasta. Yum!
Soul In A Bowl – Sanur
Call us biased, but we believe Soul in a Bowl makes some of the best coffee in Bali, which is reason alone to visit this cool little café in Sanur. And that’s without their delicious breakfast options which are available until 3pm.
Many items on the breakfast menu do come with oats or toast, but in our experience, the staff have always been happy to remove these for people who want a complete gluten free meal. One of their best breakfasts is the quirkily named ‘I Love Me’ which has chia seed pudding, coconut milk, vanilla, banana, almonds, blueberries, bee pollen, and granola that can be left out when ordering.
Canteen – Canggu
No good day on the bike is complete without coffee, so we spend more time in Canggu’s Canteen café than we probably should. Their menu options all have the option to switch to gluten free bread, but you need to double check this at the time of ordering to ensure staff understand. This does mean meals like the big breakfast and to-die-for eggs with signature tomato relish are all available to you.
If they’re out of gluten free bread, the fruit salad with lime garnish, honey, and yoghurt is amazing. Similar to Soul in a Bowl, they also have a delicious vanilla bean granola that, depending on your sensitivity, may be worth a look.
These are just some of the places that we visit on our cycling tours that have great gluten free options in Bali. Keeping you feeling fit and well to pedal the roads of Bali is our job, so please don’t let a fear of food stopping you from enjoying everything this tropical paradise has to offer on two wheels!
If you have any questions or concerns, please send us an email.