Here are some local drinks you should try in Bali, especially when you’re considering something other than water or canned sodas to quench your thirst on a sunny day around the island. Actually, there are too many traditional drinks on the island, as varied as its different village communities located throughout the highlands and its coastal areas. But here we’ve rounded up a shortlist of the most popular, and which you can try as exotic sweet refreshments as well.
Exotic food and drinks are often a big part of the exciting experience, as you discover new flavours and at most times their interesting cultural aspects, and ingredients and processes you’ve never heard of before. You can find most of these refreshing drinks and dessert drinks at local roadside warung stalls or food carts near the beach, certainly in the big resorts of Kuta and Legian, or at more modern restaurants serving Indonesian cuisine.
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Es cincau – black glass jelly, on ice
Popular throughout most of Southeast Asia, black jelly, otherwise known locally in Bali as cincau, is a common addition to dessert drinks. The jelly is made from the leaves of the Chinese mesona plant, and is usually sold in markets in instant powdered form, just like carrageenan (seaweed) jelly. After it is processed, the jelly is cut in slices or cubes, then served with coconut milk, syrup and ice, or with condensed milk. The texture is not as viscous as green grass jelly. It is known among locals to aid in easing fevers, hypertension, and constipations. Sold less than a dollar a glass in local restaurants.
Es daluman – green grass jelly, on ice
A refreshing jelly drink made from the leaves of the Cyclea barbata plant, prepared in a similar fashion to es cincau, es daluman is commonly sold at warungs and Indonesian restaurants. The taste may be bland on its own, but when prepared with coconut milk and sugar syrup, it serves as a great dessert drink for any occasion. Besides great for aiding digestion, just like carrageenan (seaweed) jelly, the drink is known to have remedial properties such as easing hypertension, and the leaves are rich in antioxidants. A glass at a local restaurant starts from IDR 12,000 (around US$ 1).
Es kelapa muda – iced coconut water
Typically one of the best natural drinks you could get on any tropical beach, coconuts (particularly the young ones) are readily available, truly refreshing and healthy. You can have your young coconut cut at the top, stick in a straw and sip away. However, Bali locals have their young coconut specially prepared, with the soft flesh thinly scooped and mixed with its water, and a half slice and squeezed lime, sugar syrup and ice added. All helps to enhance its taste. It’s sold on wheel carts, roadside warung stalls, and even at Indonesian restaurants from IDR 10,000 (less than a dollar).
Jamu – Javanese herbal drink
This traditionally Javanese herbal drink is throughout Indonesia and comes in a wide variety of recipes, each for a specific remedy, from digestive disorders to enhancing virility. It is made from natural ingredients, such as roots, barks, flowers, seeds and leaves of certain plants. Honey, milk and eggs are sometimes added for taste and to enrich its curative properties. Brand stalls such as Nyonya Meneer and Djamu Djago can be found at traditional markets selling packets from IDR 5,000 each – choose your ingredients, then add hot water. Caution: some are very pungent!
Loloh – Balinese herbal drink
Balinese herbal drinks or loloh are made from various types of leaves and fruits. It is usually taken to maintain health with ingredients that are known for their therapeutic benefits. Some of the most commonly used are tibah or morinda fruit, hibiscus flower, daun kayumanis or leaves of the star gooseberry tree, together with herbs and spices to taste, such as salt, roast shallots, ginger and turmeric. A bottled and ready-to-buy variant in Bali supermarkets is known as loloh cemcem, sold from a very cheap IDR 5,000 or less than US 50 cents a bottle.
Sari Temulawak – Java ginger soda
Before sugary American soft drink brands such as Coca-Cola became widespread, there was this carbonated drink produced in Surabaya and Banyuwangi in East Java in the 80s, which is still popular today. The soft drink has its roots (pun intended) in the traditional herbal ingredient, Curcuma zanthorrhiza or Java ginger, known to aid digestion, cure fatigue and a whole lot of other ailments. Widely sold in warungs, at IDR 10,000-16,000 or USD 1.25 per bottle, and served in ice, it’s sweet and refreshing with no herbal aftertastes whatsoever. Pairs great with spicy satay!
Arak - (white) rice wine
High in alcohol content, caution is to be taken when trying arak, Bali’s traditional spirit made from fermented white rice. We recommend trying bottled and labelled versions of arak that are now manufactured in modern distilleries and factories on the island, such as the Dewi Sri label (produced in Sanur). A swig can be quite strong on its own, and arak is usually mixed with chilled cocktails, most commonly as Arak Attack. Traditionally, together with brem, versions of arak are used in religious ceremonies as part of offerings.
Brem – (red) rice wine
Brem is the red liqueur counterpart of arak, widely known in Bali and the Nusa Tenggara islands. Brem has more velvety flavour than arak, sweet to tart thanks to it being processed from fermented black sticky rice. While mostly used for religious ceremonies, you can still try out the safer bottled versions produced by modern distilleries such as the Sanur-based Dewi Sri, which is also the producer of the Bali-based Hatten Wines. Traditional brem has alcohol content of around 10-25%. Locals say that when consumed moderately, it helps maintain a healthy heart, much like red wine. A large 630ml bottle of Dewi Sri’s brem (found at souvenir shops and supermarkets) are from IDR 70,000 or USD 5.50.
Tuak – palm toddy
Often considered a rurally produced moonshine in Bali, you can find this drink sold in villages in north, central and east Bali, where it is mostly produced. Unlike the better known Balinese rice wine of arak, tuak is a milky palm toddy that comes in two variants: sour and sweet, although both offer a sour aftertaste. Tuak usually has a lesser alcohol content than arak, but doesn’t keep fresh for long, hence its scarcity in the wild. When you do come across a warung selling it, they are usually sold by one-litre plastic jerry cans, or by the glass (with or without ice) just under a dollar.
Bintang – Indonesia’s favourite beer
We simply had to include this one on the list. Most people on holiday in Bali often consider that this pilsner goes well with a sunny day out on the beach in Bali – even though it’s not one that’s produced on the island! With its brewery based in Tangerang, just outside Jakarta, Bintang (established as Heineken during Dutch colonial rule in 1929) produces this smooth, light-bodied and refreshing beer, which repeat visitors love and habitually ask for at bars, restaurants or from peddlers at the beach. A small 330ml bottle is around IDR 30,000 or USD 2.30, and higher at fancier venues.