My Love Hate Relationship with Ubud
If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll have realised that I’m just a little bit obsessed with really good vegan food… But I also have a serious love of yoga and a shopping habit that I’m trying hard to kick. I love places that are peaceful and beautiful and I love pondering the universe with like-minded people, whoever they are or wherever they’re from. Ubud was one of the places on this trip that I had been waiting for as I thought it would be a perfect mix of all my favourite things.
As it turns out, it’s not so much a beautiful, peaceful place but more of a melting pot of people ‘finding’ themselves, crowds of Japanese tourists, backpackers, expats, yogis, artists, taxi drivers, tour guides and women begging on the street. There seem to be about 4 million scooters on the road at all times. The main street is a challenge but there is some respite in the smaller side streets, lined with shops and restaurants and galleries. All of the above led to me having a sort of love/hate relationship with Ubud…
There are lots of places to eat hippy vegan food in quirky cafés where chairs seem outlawed and cushions on the floor rule the roost. There are musical instruments, art and expensive ‘natural products’ for sale in every direction. I blow our budget with my initial excitement, giddy with the thought of having a new style of food on my doorstep for a while and ready to dive in, head first and discover the meaning of life whilst drinking an organic juice somewhere.
We eat small but tasty raw things in Soma, made from flax seeds and organic vegetables. The dips taste amazing; creamy coconut citrus, cashew cheese and kafir lime peanut… So good that I ignore the chipped crockery in an attempt at being laid back and going with the flow.
I have raw vegan mochalate ‘cake’ and slip into dessert heaven with its creamy chocolately texture.
But the excitement wears off quickly as our Ubud days move on. I’m underwhelmed by my salad from The Seeds of Life promised to “blow me away” (or some claim like that) on the menu and find myself admiring the coconut wood spoons more than the contents of the bowl (which is just an ordinary salad).
My best friend happens to have a special talent for for making salads and they are legendary so a salad has to be pretty awesome to really get me excited and this was just a salad (although it did have two teeny-tiny wafers of dehydrated banana which although a bit unusual were too stingy-small for my liking).
I was disappointed with the food at the Down to Earth cafe, sister restaurant of the fabulous Zula in Seminyak. A friend orders the falafels on our recommendation and they are nowhere near as good… Oh woe… Sigh.
I share some sweet potato fries and a black bean stew with TravelMush, the fries have a weirdly dry texture and the beans are ok but half way through eating I realise that I’m basically having posh chips and beans for dinner…
Generally all this food is either small, expensive or worse: small and expensive and it’s leaving me a bit hungry. I also start to feel uneasy when I compare the cost of a small snack in a vegan cafe to an entire meal in the local warungs. Plus everyone seems to be having a spiritual crisis, experiencing bad energy somewhere or involved in an intensely blissful embrace with another person. I try to find my place in it all but I just don’t fit in.
The main street is lined with taxi drivers (who are actually less hassle than in Sanur as they just hold up signs suggesting you might want a taxi today or “tomorrow maybe?”) and women holding sleeping babies in one hand and begging with the other which makes me feel sad and angry on a few different levels, all at the same time.
Then there’s the shopping opportunities. There are yoga shops everywhere and I actually find the number of shops selling bamboo or organic cotton yoga clothes overwhelming (not to mention the price). I’m in serious danger of having a shopping habit relapse and filling several bags with floaty clothes made from thin stretchy expensive fabric.
All this makes Ubud an exhausting place for me.
But the one thing Ubud does have is culture. Lots of it, bursting out from behind the tourist traps and it’s unavoidable. We are lucky enough to see a cremation ceremony, it’s crazy and nothing like anything either of us have ever seen before. I’m glad we are in Ubud for this experience alone. It’s energising to witness such a vibrant and real ceremony.
Its also a good place to escape to see some beautiful scenery and with adventure in our hearts we set off to walk along the Kampung Ridge which is not only a nice break from all the hassle (we only get accosted once by a tour guide wanting to sell us his services) but is so green and lush that we can’t help but smile and feel energised.
Back in Ubud central, we eat in some great local warungs which are cheap and cheerful and filling and all have resident dogs of varying friendliness.
We also visited a lovely restaurant (called Fair Warung Bale) where all the proceeds go towards providing medical care for local people and ate one of the tastiest curries of our trip so far, rich with the usual turmeric, galangal, ginger, lemon (or lime?) leaves, peppercorns and coconut milk but also containing ground up candlenuts which I now know give a distinctive richness to a dish. I asked the name of this dish but she just said it’s called ‘Balinese sauce’ so I’m really none the wiser.
It was memorable though and I’d highly recommend anyone finding themselves in Ubud get themselves to this restaurant. The people were friendly too one of the people who spoke to us had been volunteering as a nurse all day in one of the medical centres and come along to support the restaurant in the evening. There were no spiritual crises here, only generosity, purpose and great tasting food.
The other redeeming feature of Ubud are the many opportunities to buy vegan ice cream or ‘sorbettos’. I opt for lime-ginger, coconut or lemongrass mainly but made sure I sample all the other flavours (strawberry, dragon fruit, mango) whilst ordering.
I think I’m developing a kind of love-hate relationship with Ubud, I begin to hate going into the centre but I love the idea of the place and there vegan ice cream to be found so I know I’ll be back…