There are two nouns synonymous with "Bali"; "paradise"
and "belly". To be fair "Bali belly" is
often caused by foreign visitors experiencing a change in
diet with more fruit and / or a reaction to many herbs and
spices used in traditional Balinese and Indonesian food. But
clearly, as everyone who hears that expression knows, much
is to do with bad food and poor food hygiene (washing salad
items with unsterilized water, cross contamination between
cooked and uncooked meats, food preparers being unsanitary,
food left uncovered, food being kept longer than it should,
etc.). And bacteria laden food is only part of the problem.
BLTF believes the Indonesian Government and Authorities have
a culture of covering up health problems, possibly because
they feel it might negatively impact their tourism industry
or undermine their claims to be running their various departments
effectively; but health cover ups are a recorded fact of life
in Indonesia. With the spread of drug resistant malaria strains
(malaria is believed to infect 15 million and kill 30,000
Indonesians each year) and tuberculosis throughout tropical
climates, in particular SE Asia, not to mention chicken flu
viruses, unfortunately this culture actually puts the foreign
visitor at increased risk.
Regarding mosquito born disease, the cleaner the area the
less chance the mosquitoes will carry the deadly viruses.
The less stagnant water there is around, the less chance mosquitoes
have to breed. Unfortunately Bali is often a very dirty place
where litter is dropped wherever what is inside it was consumed;
it is the plastic and polystyrene litter particularly that
creates perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes. So the cleaner
the area, the lesser the risk. It is also prudent to find
out what hotels anti-mosquito measures are; some will spray
or smoke the grounds (best not to come in contact with what
they put down however), many offer mosquito nets. Mosquito
coils are potentially hazardous to your health and should
be avoided. Electric mosquito deterrents do not work at all.
Western high (tropical) strength mosquito sprays, etc. are
essential in most cases although people with sensitive skins
may suffer from their use. Avon Skin So Soft is a moisturizing
cream which many people report is also an effective mosquito
Tropical climates such as Bali's, especially during the monsoon
(rainy) season create natural prolific breeding grounds for
bacteria and viruses. The problem is made worse by ineffective
policing most probably due to laziness and corruption. For
example the illegal dumping of effluence and other unsavory
waste in and around the Bukit Peninsula creates a credible
health risk for the whole tourism area (Tanjung Benoa, Nusa
Dua, Sanur, Jimbaran). The discharge of raw sewerage into
the sea, especially in the mass tourism areas, creates a health
problem for bathers and the marine life immediately offshore,
which is why the local fisherman are meant to fish miles out
to sea but reports indicate they do not always do this. Even
if fish is caught from clean waters, it only takes a drive
past a roadside stall with the vendor swishing the flies away
from fish left to stagnate without ice or any form of refrigeration
in the tropical heat to begin to understand the risks. In
addition, because of the impoverished state of many farmers,
etc. reports state that infected meat, often from animals
which die from disease, plus fruit and vegetables grown with
the use of pesticides and insecticides that are not permitted
in other countries are sold into the human food chain.
The use of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG AKA "Fetzin"
/ "Fetsin" locally) is widespread throughout Bali
where many people believe it to be a spice; it is often referred
to as "Super seasoning". MSG affects the nervous
system and many food sellers in Bali add large amounts of
this cheap chemical to enhance the flavour of otherwise bland
food due mostly to it being well past its "sell by date".
Finding good restaurants is therefore difficult and it is
not a simple case of how much you pay, BLTF has seen credible
reports of customers at one of the island's most fashionable
restaurants contracting Typhoid; reported by one of the chefs
no less. It is often therefore best to order something grilled
and well cooked, even if it is not your first menu choice.
BLTF believes it is also highly prudent to ask to inspect
a restaurant's kitchen before eating there, even if it is
the restaurant of a 5 star hotel. In many cases you will be
glad you checked first, not just for the number which clearly
are unclean or disorganized, but also for the many that use
bulk pack tasteless food products "enhanced" with
MSG. Of course official restaurant inspections are much rarer
and less stringent than in western countries, and whatever
inspections there may be are still subject to the same old
intrinsic Indonesian problem, corruption; paying a bribe in
order for health offences to be ignored, which is why you
need to check kitchens yourselves.
Despite having said this, Bali can and does offer some spectacular
food, but you really have to be careful in finding the right
place. BLTF considered offering suggestions to certain restaurants
but decided it could not, as what is good one day can go horribly
wrong the next. BLTF used to suggest finding popular western
targeted restaurants in order to find safe ones, but we know
of examples where that really does not apply and the restaurants
seem only to be busy based on previous standards or fashion.
BLTF does believe however that finding busy restaurants filled
with Indonesians is generally a very good sign that the food
will be excellent, authentic, cheaper and safer (less likely
to be targeted by terrorists). But be warned, the local population
accept monosodium glutamate seemingly without question and
will have a tolerance to locally prominent food bacteria,
so be prepared to look hard for restaurants that offer food
with MSG and expect a rough first few nights until your stomach
becomes used to the local everyday bacteria too! And of course,
Indonesian customers at restaurants generally spend a lot
less money then foreign tourists do when they eat out, so
you will likely not find fashionable decor and / or prime
locations if you decide to go it local style.
If you want to eat at a western standard restaurant BLTF
believes a quick kitchen inspection and careful questioning
such as "How long do you boil the water to sterilize
it?" will yield results both in the quality and safety
of the food you eat while on holiday in Bali & Lombok.
Don't be put off by BLTF's general warnings, just remember
you are eating in a tropical climate often without the same
high and rigorously enforced food standards as western countries.
Find the clean kitchens with fresh foods and enjoy a Balinese
culinary experience you will choose to remember rather than
one your would rather forget!
To understand some of the safety problems that result from
corruption that affect foreign travellers to Bali, please
see: Bali Safety Risks.