Quick Guide to Ubud Food Festival, Set for 12 – 14 May 2017

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Food + Beverage

Indonesian cuisine will be in the spotlight as foodies from around the region and throughout the world descend on Bali for the third annual Ubud Food Festival, which will run from 12 to 14 May 2017.


Included will be celebrity chefs and restauranteurs, environmental advocates and social innovators, food photographers and restaurant critics.

In celebration of Indonesia’s rich culinary heritage, the theme of this year’s Ubud Food Festival will be “Every Flavor Is a Story”, with every ingredient, recipe, and culinary tradition playing a key role.

Culinary Super Power?

Is Indonesian cuisine one of the world’s best kept culinary secrets?

While rendang, nasi goreng, and satay have gained global repute in recent years, there is far more coming out of Indonesian kitchens than these three stereotypical Indonesian dishes.

Indonesia is a vast country of more than 18,000 islands, of which roughly 6,000 islands are populated.

The country also has about 300 ethnicities, and each one of them has its own unique culture and culinary tradition.


Restaurant Review: Nomad Restaurant in Bali Serves Mouthwatering Cuisine>>


And then there is the impact that trade and colonialism have had on the country’s cuisine.

You will find Chinese, Polynesian, Melanesian, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch culinary influences in various parts of the world’s largest archipelago.

Members of Indonesia’s culinary industry will explain the traditions and regional influences of the country’s varied cuisines to deepen festival attendees’ understanding of not just what food tells us – but also of the stories we tell through food.

There will be cooking demonstrations, special events, food forums, workshops, food tours, market visits, live performances – the list goes on.

Think, Talk, Taste

Included will be a host of free events including a series of sessions led by food industry insiders called Think, Talk Taste.

Indigenous food diversity and some of Indonesia’s most pressing ecological and health concerns are among the issues that will be addressed at these sessions.

Speakers will include …

  • Helianti Hilman of Javara, which seeks to preserve Indonesia’s biodiversity while bringing community-based organic products to a broader market;
  • Yasmine Simbolon of the Communities and Fisheries Foundation;
  • Arimbi Nimpuno, co-founder of Lifestyle Studio and owner of ArimiKitchen and Tree Food Concept;
  • Sophie Navita, a lifestyle coach.

Master Classes

Industry leaders will present a series of master classes on a range of fascinating food-related topics.

Here are a few highlights …

  • A language school will present a Bahasa Indonesia language lesson in food basics over a bowl of rice porridge;
  • A chocolate expert will teach chocoholics how to differentiate beans from different parts of Indonesia exclusively based on their smell;
  • Professional food photographers will share their tips on how to elevate your Instagram quality food photos to something that can appear in print.

The list goes on …

Rounding out the programme will be for activities for children as well as musical and other kinds of performances.


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While most activities will be conducted in English, free cooking demonstrations will be served up in Bahasa Indonesia, the country’s official language.

Co-starring alongside Indonesian chefs, restaurateurs, producers, and food professionals, culinary icons from around the world will play a supporting role.

Headlining this year’s international lineup will be …

  • Chele González of Gallery VASK – the only restaurant in the Philippines to make Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2017 list;
  • Joannès Rivière of Cuisine Wat Damnak in Siem Reap, Cambodia; and
  • Lion Sauro, Sicilian-born owner/chef of  Gattopardo Ristorante di Mare in Singapore and Olio Kensington Street in Sydney, Australia.

Most events will be held at the Festival Hub at Taman Kuliner on Jalan Raya Sanggingan, Ubud.

But several special events, fringe events, and workshops will be held at other venues around town.

In the month before and after the Ubud Food Festival, UFF will host a series of Fringe Events at restaurants in Southern Bali including Jimbaran, Seminyak, and Sanur.

Topics will include the Best of Bali, Flora and Fauna of Jimbaran, Seminyak Meets Sydney, a Feast of Fruits de Mer, Sharpen Your Senses, and Balinese Palm Sugar Sweet Sensations.

“We’re so excited to bringing together more than 100 speakers to dish up our third Ubud Food Festival programme, which is rich in culinary heritage, innovation and, of course, taste!” says Founder and Director, Janet DeNeefe.

“More than just good food, our programme unites chefs and foodies alike for a whole-of-industry look at the food landscape – from the hardworking farmers and growers to our much-loved culinary icons, there is something to excite every appetite.”

Before You Book

Should you buy a one day, two-day, or three-day pass? Or is it better to purchase tickets to individual events?

It really depends on what you expect to get out of the festival.

My advice is to go through the festival’s schedule with a fine tooth comb before booking tickets or buying a pass.

Find out which events are complimentary and which events require tickets – and if the events you want to attend are included in the price of a daily or multi-day pass.

I attended the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival a couple of years back and purchased a three-day pass thinking it would give me more flexibility.


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I was disappointed to discover, however, that some of the events I was most interested in attending were complimentary.

And other events that I wanted to attend were not included in the pass. You still had to buy tickets to attend them.

In the final analysis, I paid more than I needed spend – and didn’t get to attend many of the activities I was most interested in attending.

I would have been better off to purchase individual tickets to the events I was really interested in.

Where to Stay in Ubud

Ubud has all manner of accommodation, from multi-bedroom private villas to drop-dead gorgeous resorts to inexpensive home-stays.

Some of them are within walking distance of most of the events, others would have to be reached by hotel shuttle or by taxi (see below).

You might want to check with your hotel if they will be offering a shuttle service to the festival – and if there will be a charge.

Five Star Luxury

If you want to indulge, Ubud will spoil you for choice. 

I’ve stayed at some drop-dead gorgeous resorts in and about Ubud, and each one had its own very special Unique Selling Proposition.

But some of these resorts stick out more in your memory than others, and if I had to name the one property that I fantasize most about, it would have to be The Chedi Club, a collection of villas set amid undulating rice paddies on the outskirts of town.


Hotel Review: The Chedi Club>>


Make sure to have dinner at the hotel's fine-dining restaurant at least once  - and make sure you are hungry.

Your dishes will arrive balanced on the heads of staff, and second and third servings are encouraged.

How to Save Money on Accommodation

If you want to save money – and you plan on spending most of your time attending events and won’t have time to laze around the swimming pool anyway – consider a home stay.

Many Balinese families live in fenced-in courtyards with a temple and shrines and individual quarters for different branches of the extended family – all scattered amid gorgeous gardens.

An increasing number of families are turning unused quarters into rooms that they rent out to visitors.

Some are adding rooms built in accordance with traditional architectural styles in unused parts of the garden. 

Accommodation at home stays can be surprisingly comfortable and amazingly affordable.

From the intricately carved doors and window frames to the beautiful bed spreads and wall hangings, there are all of those lovely artistic touches that you can only expect in Bali thanks to the intrinsic artistic nature of the Balinese.

Best of all, a home stay offers a rare peak at Balinese family life.

When I attended the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival a couple of years ago, I spent a couple of nights at a friend’s villa.

Having to make a move, I went on line and discovered a home stay at a place called Nick's Homestay on Hotels.com, whose location turned out to be far more convenient than my friend’s villa.

There were numerous cafes, pubs, and day spas lining the street just outside the entrance. A full-service supermarket was just a walk away.


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Based on the low price – less than US$15 a night – my expectations were pretty low. My main concerns were location and cleanliness, and I was NOT disappointed on either count.

When I arrived,  I was blown away at how beautiful the grounds were!

The room, meanwhile, was comfortable and tastefully furnished. There was even a small front porch, where I could read in the evening and enjoy the complimentary breakfast in the morning (warning: Balinese coffee can be unbelievably weak).

The only short-comings were the rather basic bathroom and the lack of air-conditioning.

But there was a very powerful ceiling fan. I ended up staying an entire week, and I totally enjoyed my stay.

I must add: the low price was partially due to the fact that my stay was during the off-season. The room would probably have cost about twice that amount during peak season.

While staying at Nick's, I took a walk around the immediate neighborhood and discovered numerous other home stays, some of them better than others – but all of them acceptable.

Some had only one or two units. Others had several. A few had air-conditioning and swimming pools, and – not surprisingly – they rented for a higher price – but still reasonable.

A simple breakfast was usually included in the room rate, and it was usually served to you at your room.

How Not to Get Ripped Off

I would be remiss to write about Ubud without issuing a warning about unscrupulous taxi drivers.

The taxis in Ubud don't have meters so it is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY to negotiate a fare before you embark.

And  MAKE SURE to get an idea how much you should expect to pay before entering into negotiations with a taxi driver.

Don't be shy! Tell a trusted local where you want to go and ask what the fare should be. They will probably give you a range, which could vary by the time of day.

I wouldn't nitpick over small change, but …

Indonesian rupiah are VASTLY inflated, which means there are LOTS of zeroes so it can be VERY easy to get confused.

Try to come up with an easy to remember approximate formula to convert rupiah into a currency you are familiar with.

That formula is easiest to remember if you simply drop the last four digits.

To prevent misunderstandings, key in the amount on your smart phone or write it out on a piece of paper and show it to the driver – lest you discover one or more extra digits upon arrival.


All's Well That Ends Well (with Unscrupulous Taxi Driver)>>


Ubud is known as the cultural heart of the Island of the Gods. Other high-profile events include the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival and Bali Emerging Voices Festival.

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