Asam Garam
16 Oct 2021

A New Wave of Vegan Warung in Bali

Nourishing locals through plant-based and vegan food.

Prinka Saraswati
Ephraim Tan
vegan food
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The serenity of doing yoga while looking upon the rice paddies, the allure of washing off your bad luck through ceremony, and the promise of healing through healthy vegan food are just a few out of many oriental promises of Bali. But, promises to whom? Since the 1970s where new hotels are built by the coast of Sanur to attract tourists, Bali’s been claimed as a sanctuary for the lost ones, the uninspired ones, or simply for the Western tourists hungry for spiritual summer.

These days, this gaze of spirituality is translated into rows of smoothie bowls, Mediterranean bowls, andgluten-free vegan desserts, served in vegan restaurants over Canggu and Ubud. All these meals are sold for around Rp. 30.000 to over Rp.  100.000 for customers who are mainly tourists from Australia, Europe, United States and China. With over 6.275.210 tourists coming to Bali in 2019* and the demand of vegan food in hospitality, it’s been much easier to find establishments that cater to this new lifestyle.

A Nourishments for Locals

But, is it only tourists that need vegan and healthy food? With a minimum salary (Upah Minimum Provinsi) of Rp. 2.494.000 for Bali, eating out in those restaurants is luxury for locals. Since COVID-19 pandemic was reported as early as January 2020, the economic development in Bali that had been relying on tourism has shrunk by 9.31% , as reported by Badan Pusat Statistik Bali. Many hotels and. restaurants are left with no choice but to send their staff home creating an unemployment rate that edged up to 5.63% in 2020. With a dormant economy, who gets the privilege to eat?

Since 2019, Kolaborasi untuk Desa (KOOD) has been serving vegan food that’s accessible for the people of Denpasar. “It’s not merely about serving vegan food, but to achieve inclusive health”. KOOD’s launch in 2019 has made a wave not just in Denpasar, but all over the surrounding areas. Young people were posting photos of their menu that consists of Mie Yamin, sandwich, sourdough breads, and ice cream – all made with no oil, no white sugar, and no animal protein. “Our mission is to make whole foods affordable to locals in Denpasar”, Masuria of KOOD explained their mission and their choices of menu.

For KOOD, a canteen that supports local farmers and serves locals, rice is something that they don’t serve. Serving rice means adding pressure on our farmers that’ve been struggling to plant rice. The choice was noodle, an ingredient versatile enough to create a bunch of variations using different kinds of toppings. With combinations of greens, plant-based sauce, and plant proteins, a portion of noodles starts from Rp.13.000.

“Our mission is to bring healthy food closer to people. If we start from a higher price, then they would only eat (healthy food) once in a while. But it takes time to get used to so we start it low and slow with the hope that it will make embracing a healthier option much easier”,

The same mission is carried out by Heny Yanuarti, owner of Define Plantbased in Renon, Denpasar, after seeing the reputation of vegan food that seems strange, foreign, and expensive to locals.

“We want to debunk the notion that vegan food is an expensive foreign lifestyle by creating meals that feels familiar with local ingredients”

Define Plantbased offers food that tastes like home. From Gado – Gado, Teriyaki Mushroom, Empal, to Rendang – mostly made with mushroom as the main ingredient. They offer dine-in and catering that caters to Denpasar and the surrounding area. Define Plantbased was actually started as a vegan bakery. Sourdough, donuts, croissants, and any bread you could think of. You could also enjoy their buns and flatbread like their pizza or their latest menu, Tempe Gembus Burger. “Running a vegan and plant based restaurant means you need a lot of time to do research. From making your own buns to creating a juicy tasty patty”. Still, this Tempe Gembus Burger costs Rp.18.000 for dine-in. As a business owner, it’s not merely about creating an inclusive menu, but also about being honest. By sourcing local ingredients from traditional markets, it’s easier to make the cost affordable for locals. “Let’s just be real about that”, added Heny.

The Vegans Next Door

Health is often not enough of a reason for people to give up meat. It’s also spiritual. For Vaishnavist, Guan Yin Buddhist, Taoist and Hare Krishna, being vegan is a part of the devotion. With over 20 temples of these religions in Denpasar, the devotees are parts of the vegan community. Their existence makes crafting menus a higher challenge as they do not consume allium. The allium family such as garlic, onion, chive, scallion, and leek are Five Pungent Spices that distract the mind with anger and passion. For some Hindu that follow Brahmana-style of cooking, like Vaishnava and Hare Krishna, this allium spice increases ignorance (tamasic) and agitation (rajasic).

For some vegan restaurants in Denpasar, this means cooking using two types of Bumbu (ingredient mix). The usual Bumbu for Indonesian food with all the garlic, shallots, chillies, and spice; and the other one with all the spice but garlic and shallots. However, there are other restaurants that cater to this need by going full
drive without the alliums. To these restaurants, trust is essential.

Yulmi Hari Fandi, is amongst a new generation of vegan cooks who digs deeper into local delicacy, said that his Padang Vegan restaurant was established out of trust. His memorable moment was when he served Buddhist customers, his main customers, for the first time, “There was only me and my uncle at that time
and we only prepared 1 rice cooker of rice. At first, there was only a group. But slowly, more people from the Vihara were coming and we were running out of rice”. After more than 2 years of rantau (migrating to a new and further place) and being questioned by his family about his choice of making vegan padang restaurant, Yulmi was sure that there were more people who need an easy and affordable choice to eat vegan.

Classic Padang dishes are veganized in his hands. Dendeng Jamur, Rendang Jengkol, Sambal Lado Mudo, are only a few out of stacks of plates displayed symmetrically in the warung’s window. The location of the warung that’s around the border between Denpasar and Kerobokan of Badung makes Padang Vegan famous for both locals and tourists. Some warung might offer a higher price for tourists, but Yulmi sees there’s no need for that. “I just want to help people to love each other, including animals”. For him, love is the main currency in his warung. As seen through his choice of menu and pictures of all religious icons you could think of. Jesus on the wall, Ganesha in the doorway.

The impact of Pandemic and PPKM for veganwarung

With the recent PPKM and pandemic, vegan warung are facing obstacles to run their mission while staying open. While there’s an increasing awareness of eating more greens and having a vegan diet to protect yourself from sickness; the curfew, the fear of going outside for customers, and the recent deflation in June has made
selling a bowl of food just about to get harder everyday. “Sometimes there’s not a single customer at all”, said Heny.

The choice to expand to delivery options adds complexity for both customers and warung. With additional cost paid to the delivery application, warung have to put a higher price to be able to keep up with production cost. “It also increases waste from packaging”, said Masuria.

Yulmi never closes the door of Padang Vegan to let people know that his place is here to stay. “We’re open for bungkus”. Bungkus or takeout seems to be a fair choice. Customers can come and get their food, while business can run. The existence of affordable vegan warung has helped so many locals. Sakura is one of them, “I’d prefer clean vegan-based restaurants, but these warungs help a lot when I want to eat out without spending a lot of money. ”. While others, like Ayu Melati, find it as a go-to when she has no time to cook. Often disguised as Vegetarian, she finds it easy to spot these warung amongst the traffic of Lapas Kerobokan or Pasar Badung.

“I would just ride my motorbike and spot a green banner with big fonts that say ‘Vegetarian’. They’re always so bright!”

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