Anybody who might walk out of the Bali airport anticipating steamy green terraced rice fields shaded by elegant palms, or crinkley-eyed Balinese grandparents that offer wisdom in flowery temples, should keep walking. Eat Pray Love brazenly ignored Kuta.
Yes, if you follow the road out of the Bali airport for two kilometers, you will find yourself in Kuta. You will lumber down the narrow grey sidewalks amongst sunburnt Australians nursing their hangovers, politely (at first) decline massages and taxis, dodge motorbikes, and perhaps use the free wifi at Starbucks to figure out where the hell you are.
The streets lined with identical shops selling elephant pants, bumper stickers reading “[Insert name here] IS GAY”, and large phallic ornaments carved into cheaply stained wood will leave you disheartened. You adamantly refuse to partake in the one activity that everyone else is here for… the nightlife. No, you came to Bali to save your soul, not to lose it in cheap thrills.
When you finally leave, you begin to realize that Kuta is but an ugly yet non-cancerous mole on the otherwise unflawed face of beautiful Bali; it is not dangerous unless it’s ideologies metastasize. The rest of the island remains wholesome and unscathed from the toxic tourist bait of immoral Kuta.
But if you find yourself in Kuta for longer than planned, perhaps as a victim of alcohol-induced “Kuta vortex”, then let thy food be thy medicine. Indonesia has some of the healthiest, most flavorful cooking in the world, and even this debauched little town offers plenty of the fare.
I found myself off the busy main road at a small, local restaurant called Warung Nikmat every day for every meal. On my first visit, I got rice, tempeh (the very best meat alternative) and vegetables for $1 from the big, aromatic buffet. The next day I was more adventurous and ordered three different types of tempeh with peanut sauce and vegetables. It still cost $1.
Besides tempeh, they have wide assortment of fish, chicken, and tofu. They have soup, noodles, more rice, vegetables on vegetables, and at least four giant pots of sauce. They have dragon fruit, mango juice, and avocado smoothies. Each bite sends you on a flavor adventure, and it’s all served by same smiling, patient women that cooked it.
Food is one of the best ways to understand a culture. If Kuta has to be your first impression of Indonesia, eat. While tourists and locals divide into their roles as the consumers and the hawkers, each hungry to take from the other, food is the one thing that everyone genuinely wants to share.