Where to eat and drink: Gilimanuk

Gilimanuk: Where to eat and drink

While you can always grab a meal from the usual array of warungs serving local food around Gilimanuk, Warung Men Tempeh is actually worth going out of your way for -- even if you’re not in Gilimanuk!

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This warung is known for its ayam betutu, a spicy smoked chicken dish found all over Bali. The recipe used here though was reputedly invented by the late Ibu Tempeh and it’s the one that has made Gilimanuk the ayam betutu capital of Bali. Many copycats have joined the bandwagon — you can’t go more than a few hundred metres without coming across an ayam betutu warung, including imposters named Warung “Men Tempeh”, sometimes with the included quotation marks. They are probably also good, but we tried the original.

The chook getting readied. Photo by: Sally Arnold.
The chook getting readied. Photo: Sally Arnold

Warung Men Tempeh’s ayam betutu is chicken marinated in a fragrant mix of fresh chilli, lemongrass, garlic, turmeric, ginger, galangal, tamarind and black pepper, among other spices, until it is well infused down to the bone. The chicken is then wrapped and steamed over a wood fire. The mix here is heavy on the chilli and lemongrass, giving a freshness to that spicy bite that will have your mouth singing with joy and perhaps reaching for a sweet iced tea to sooth the sting. Served with plecing kangkung (water spinach with bean sprouts and more zesty spicy flavours) crispy-fried peanuts, sambal terasi (tomato and shrimp paste sambal), sambal mata (a fresh blend of red shallots, garlic, chilli, lime and salt) and of course steamed rice.

You can choose a one-person portion which includes one quarter of a chicken, and all the side dishes for 35,000 rupiah, or a whole chicken with accompanying peanuts and sambals for 95,000 rupiah, with vegetables are an additional 5,000 rupiah per person and rice 5,000 rupiah per person.

Even the plecing kangkung is done well. Photo by: Sally Arnold.
Even the plecing kangkung is done well. Photo: Sally Arnold

The succulent chicken falls off the bone and both the plecing kangkung and sambal terasi are a piquant mix, but not too heavy or overpowering on the shrimp paste. Adding the freshness of the sambal mata makes the dish fit for the gods. Even the rice is good.

The warung is rightfully busy, and when we visited early at about 11:30, it was already packed to the rafters with staff from the department of health, so even if the surroundings don’t look too spotlessly clean, the health inspectors are happy to eat here.

The original and true Warung Men Tempeh is located in the old bus terminal or “terminal lama” as it’s locally known, less than one kilometre from the ferry. Beware of the copycats -- even in the terminal! The original is in the middle up a wide set of tiled stairs in a green building flanked by Balinese umbrellas. A photo of Ibu Tempeh graces the wall high in the corner next to a sign declaring that it is “asli” — the original. If you’re feeling down about having to wait for the ferry, eating here will brighten your mood.

Men Tempeh: Terminal Lama (old bus terminal), Gilimanuk; T: (0852) 3844 4335; (0878) 6036 5393; open daily: 07:00-21:00.

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Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.