Sunday, 27 December 2015

South-East Asian Adventures: Shopping, eating and templing in Ubud, Bali

In recent years, Ubud has become one of the most popular tourist spots in Bali. I don't know about your Instagram feed, but mine always seems to feature at least one person gramming from Ubud.

One of the reasons for this, however, may be that I follow a lot of healthy foodies on Insta (such great inspo, trust), and Ubud is now something of a wellness destination and pilgrimage-worthy holiday location for keen vegans and yoga bunnies.

Whilst I may not be the best yogi around, I am passionate about delicious, nourishing food, and so I always knew I wanted to spend some time in Ubud during my final few days in Bali by myself.

Although Ubud's transformation into a healthy heaven is quite recent, its been regarded as Bali's cultural capital for yonks. And I do like a spot of culture every now and then.

I've already told you about my glorious hotel, Anumana, and harped on about the incredible healthy foodie haven that is the Yoga Barn, but I wanted to share a little more with you about Ubud.

OK, you caught me. I mainly want to tell you about the other places I ate. But if you're anything like me, you'll have done your research and made a plan of where you're going to eat for each meal during your stay. (Is that not normal? Should I have kept that to myself? Meh. We've known each other long enough now, chums. Take me as I am.)

There's such an exciting food scene in Ubud - not just raw, vegan cafés, promise - and I couldn't wait to have my tastebuds tickled.

However that's not to say that all there is to do in Ubud is eat. One of the top tourist attractions of the town is the Monkey Forest, which was conveniently right by my hotel. The thing is, I'd seen so many monkeys over the previous couple of months that I was absolutely not bothered about going into the Monkey Forest. Plus, the cheeky lil chaps can be found around the entrance anyway so if you're desperate to see some but don't want to pay to go into the forest it can be done.

There are little temples all over the town just waiting to distract you en route to your lunch destination...

The architecture is absolutely stunning. Big fan of Hindu temples, I am.

And even more impressive is the royal palace (Puri Saren Agung to the locals)...

As you can see, I paid it a visit at night. The lighting made it look magical, if a little eery, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a touch scared as the only person there.

And almost directly opposite the palace is Ubud's main market which is bursting with colourful souvenirs, fresh fruit and haggling tourists. Probably Australians. Because there seemed to be more Australians then Balinese in Ubud.

Oh, and on the subject of shopping, the shops in Ubud are fab.

Over my whole two months travelling through South-East Asia, when it came to shops it seemed to be a case of either tourist tat or international high street chains, so it was an absolute delight to reach Ubud and find so many lovely little boutiques. I could've spent a fortune had I not been feeling so poor as it was the end of my trip.

The shops all stay open into the evening too, which I love.

So, as I may have mentioned, there are some good eateries in Bali. We're talking everything from pizza and burgers to veggie and Balinese cuisine. One feels a tad spoilt for choice.

After two months of eating largely fried rice and noodles, however, I was especially keen to make the most of Ubud's incredible healthy eateries.

In my opinion, the absolute number one has to be Garden Kafe at the Yoga Barn, but allow me to share my other experiences with you too.

I ate my first dinner at Kafe, which is run by the same people as Garden Kafe but is a little less hardcore on the health food.

I had Meg's Big Salad Bowl: loads of veggies, tofu-tempe crunch, toasted seeds and a lemon-tahini dressing, with little toasts on the side. It looked incredible and was nice and tasty, if not mind-blowing.

Lunch on day two in Ubud took place at Bali Buda (soon to be Bali Bunda).

Bali Buda prides itself on serving top-quality, chemical-free, healthy, delicious food. Although there's a raw vegan section of the menu, you also find sandwiches and pizzas. Oh, and if you don't find a menu for their wheat-free wraps on your table, ask for one. I wasn't given one and then had major food envy when I saw the wraps being served to another group.

However, that's not to say I didn't enjoy my choice: raw flax pizza crackers with cashew cheese, sundried tomatoes and avocado.

It was unlike anything I'd ever had and really tasty actually. I treated myself to a banana chai shake too.

Just round the corner from the restaurant is Bali Buda's health food shop which is well worth a visit if you're into that kind of shiz.

That evening, I hit up one of Ubud's other top healthy restaurants, Alchemy, known for its raw vegan salad bar. (Try and contain your excitement.) I'd heard such good things so had really high hopes.

It's a little out of the centre of town, so when the driver dropped me off in the dark outside a boarded-up building, a slight wave of panic washed over me.

It transpired that Alchemy was being renovated. Hmm. However all was not lost - the restaurant had set up shop (well, kitchen) in the hotel just behind their usual spot.

Unfortunately this meant that I didn't get the full Alchemy experience - there was no salad bar! - but I decided to stay anyway.

The menu was small and a little pricier than what I'd become used to. However it was probably a bit fancier to match. I ordered the California Maki Nori: rolls filled with veggies and cauliflower rice.

They were beautifully presented, but to be perfectly honest I didn't love them. Isn't it disappointing when you order (and pay for) food and end up not liking it? Such a shame. But then again no-one can like everything all the time.

Feeling dissatisfied after my meal I was pleased to stumble upon a froyo place whilst having a post-dinner wander through town: Frozen Yogi. (The name seems very appropriate for Ubud too.)

Natural froyo, raspberries, strawberries, nutella and peanut butter sauce. Ohhhh yes! I think it cost more than my dinner but it was worth it.

I know there's lots more to do in and around Ubud too, but my time in the culture/wellness capital of Bali was up... And I had a pretty sensational final destination coming up.

If you've ever been to Ubud (or even if you haven't) I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, 24 December 2015

RECIPE: Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars), vegan and gluten-free

I interrupt this series of South-East Asian adventures to bring you a little festive deliciousness because OMG IT'S CHRISTMAS DAY TOMORROW!!!

How did that spring up on us? I don't even know.

Not having had the whole build-up to the big day back in the UK this year, I've had to try and go intense on my Christmas cheer after getting home. Understandably, Asia ain't the most Christmassy of places. D'you know where does Christmas the best though? Germany.

Yes, my beloved Germany.

And if you're going to go to Germany at Christmastime, I'm going to insist you go to Bavaria (remember all the magical places I showed you on my year abroad?).

Twinkly lights, cobbled streets, delicious treats... it's the best. Everyone knows about the joys of Glühwein, Lebkuchen and Stollen (right? Correct me if I'm wrong), but I believe most Brits are a little less familiar with Zimtsterne.

The name translates literally as "cinnamon stars", which I rather like.

My days, these are so delicious.

I remember the first time I tried them at Nuremberg Christmas market and the love affair began. They're soft, chewy, nutty and bursting with Christmassy flavour - yes, cinnamon, but with a hint of orange too.

Not only are they delicious but they could not be simpler or quicker to make. Mix everything together, roll out, cut stars, bake for five minutes (not a typo, it's genuinely that quick), ice and you're done!

Perfect for a bit of spontaneous Christmas Eve baking.

And they're also vegan and gluten-free, so there's that. What with being largely nuts, they're also pretty good for you. Well, as baked goods go. We can just ignore all the sugar because Christmas.

It's not super easy to find ground hazelnuts in the UK, but if you have a food processor you can just make your own in minutes.

So crank up the Christmas tunes, whack out your rolling pin and get some Zimtsterne in your life. You won't regret it!

This recipe make 20-22 stars, depending on how much of the dough you eat. (Guilty.)


For the stars:

100g icing sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
4 tbsp water
100g ground hazelnuts
75g ground almonds
1/2 tbsp orange zest (about half an orange)

For the icing:

75g icing sugar
A sprinkle of cinnamon


1. Preheat the oven to 220C and mix together all the ingredients for the stars until a dough forms - I started with a spoon then used my hands.

2. Between two sheets of baking parchment, roll out the dough until it's about 5mm thick. Cut out star shapes and place them on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Re-roll the scraps and keep going until all the dough has been used up.

3. Bake for just five minutes until firmed up but still a bit soft when gently pressed with your fingertip. Leave to cool on the tray for at least five minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool fully.

4. Once fully cool, you can ice your stars. Simply mix together the icing sugar and cinnamon and gradually add water in little drops until you reach the desired consistency - it should be thick enough that it looks opaque and won't run off the stars. Carefully spread the icing onto the stars and leave to set fully.

And there you have it! Traditional German Zimtsterne. Guten Appetit!

Oh, and I wish you all the merriest of merry Christmases! May your days be filled with love and joy and peace (and presents and food and drink...)

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Healthy foodie heaven at the Garden Kafe in the Yoga Barn, Ubud, Bali

The Yoga Barn is an Ubud institution - yogis from all over the world make the pilgrimage to its humble walls to contort themselves into incredible poses and find their inner zen. Yogis, yes, but also just people like me - I was there for the food (perhaps unsurprisingly).

The Garden Kafe is pretty much as famous as the Yoga Barn itself. Ubud is quite the destination for the healthy foodie (I've got another blog post coming soon all about the town and its various eateries), but Garden Kafe is largely considered the best of the bunch.

Upon arriving in Ubud, Garden Kafe was my first stop (and conveniently, it was just round the corner from my charming hotel.) Aaaand I loved it so much that it was almost my last stop before leaving the town two days later.

Located off the main road, you have to walk down a little path to find Yoga Barn, which creates the impression of being in a little oasis in the middle of the lush Balinese jungle.

There's a lovely chilled vibe and a fab traditional interior - think bamboo, thatched roofs, palm trees all around. Diners can sit on floor cushions or chairs, depending on how yogi-esque you're feeling.

The cafe was full of hippy yogis and travellers, young and old, each time I visited. There were lots of people there alone, like moi, and I'm pretty sure everyone was a tourist.

But let's talk about the food now, shall we?

The menu is, to put it simply, INCREDIBLE!

Well, if you're into healthy food, anyway.

After a month of choosing between fried noodles and fried rice, I was so excited to see all the yummy offerings, with lots of raw, vegan and veggie options. (The whole menu is here, if you, like me, enjoy stalking food online.)

What's more, the prices are amazing, especially when compared to the likes of Tanya's in Chelsea who do the same sort of food for about six times the price. You're looking at under £3 for a main at the Garden Kafe. I KNOW! Why does Ubud have to be so far away from home!?


On both my visits, I kicked things off with a smoothie.

There was the super-antioxidant shake (raw organic cashews, cacao, honey, flax & banana blended
with hand pressed soy milk):

This was absolutely dreamy. So creamy, thick and rich! Oof, I could drink that every day.

The smoothies aren't served with straws (to save the planet and whatnot) but rather with spoons, which I enjoyed.

On my second visit I had the fruit lassi (coconut yoghurt blended with mixed fruits):

It was good, for sure, but not quite as good as my first smoothie and, although I was excited by the prospect of a dairy-free lassi, didn't taste as yummy as the regular yogurty lassis I'd grown used to on my travels. I was glad to have tried it though and it was delightfully refreshing.

Food-wise, there was so much I wanted to eat. I could've eaten there for a week and still not got through everything that appealed to me!

My first Garden Kafe experience was an absolute winner. Behold, raw vegan lasagne:

It was basically layers of courgette, tomato sauce, vegan pesto, cashew cheese and tomato and it was so damn tasty. It might sound weird if you're not used to raw food, but you're just going to have to take my word for it. SO delish.

On visit number two I chose the macro bowl but with tempe rather than tofu.

Basically ALL the steamed veggies, roasted seeds and tempe on a bed of red rice with a lemon-tahini dressing. Yuuuuum!

(Never heard of tempe? I've only come across it once in the UK but it's EVERYWHERE in Indonesia and I developed quite the taste for it. Soy beans are basically fermented and turned into a cake, and that's tempe. I like it far more than tofu, that's for sure, and it's a great veggie protein source.)

As well as the eat-in menu, Garden Kafe has a selection of baked goods and nourishing treats to take away. I couldn't resist a slice of banana bread which I then proceeded to smother in peanut butter and eat for breakfast the following day. Because everything is better smothered in peanut butter, amiright?

The service at Yoga Barn was quick and the staff were friendly - I wasn't at all rushed to leave after finishing my food, which was great.

So there you have it! I'd go back to Garden Kafe in a heartbeat if it wasn't a bajillion miles away. And I suggest you do too.
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