Ducking great: Eating roast duck in Bali’s rice fields at a kitschy Indonesian chain is the touristic experience we didn’t know we needed

 

Taking a seat in the rice fields and sinking our teeth into some roast duck at Bebek Tepi Sawah is a touristic experience that we regret not having tried sooner.

The road to the elephant temple, Goa Gajah, is just south of Ubud. It’s filled with restaurants catering to day-tripping tourists. Most of these offer lush rice field views. Many of them serve duck dishes as their main attraction.

One of the best known, however, is Bebek Tepi Sawah. We figured if we’re going to embrace the tourist experience, we’re going to commit all the way through.

Only ducks can sit here. Photo: Coconuts Bali
Only ducks can sit here. Photo: Coconuts Bali

The restaurant is a chain in Bali, with outlets in South Bali at Beachwalk, Kartika Plaza, Nusa Dua, and Tuban, but the flagship — opened up years ago by local artist Nyoman Sumerta — is in Ubud, at the villa and gallery complex it shares a name with: Bebek Tepi Sawah.

We haven’t been to any of the other Bebek Tepi locations, so we can’t fairly speak on them, but last time we checked, urban Tuban and shopping mall Beachwalk weren’t saturated with rice paddies, so if you want the full ambient experience, better try the one in Ubud. Also, if it’s good enough for President Jokowi

The scene. Photo: Coconuts Bali
The scene. Photo: Coconuts Bali
Traditional dancers at Bebek Tepi Sawah. Photo: Coconuts Bali
Traditional dancers at Bebek Tepi Sawah. Photo: Coconuts Bali
Oh hey. Photo: Coconuts Bali
Oh hey, friends. Photo: Coconuts Bali

Entering the restaurant, we almost felt like we were in the theme park version of Bali, like if Disney World’s Epcot had a Bali station.

We’re talking perfectly landscaped paddies decorated with palms, tedung Balinese umbrellas with saput-poleng checkered cloth, alang-alang thatched roofs, Hindu stone sculptures, and a network of carefully positioned tables going around the border of the “park.” Servers dressed in traditional kebaya and kamben (sarong) walked gracefully through the paddy on little trails intersecting the field.

There was even a show up front featuring two little girls performing traditional Balinese dance to gamelan in full makeup and costume.

A plate of duck. Photo: Coconuts Bali
A plate of duck. Photo: Coconuts Bali

A flock of three free-roaming ducks waddled by as we ate, a slightly guilt-inducing, ironic reminder of where the food in front of us came from.

In all its kitsch and glory, the restaurant seems to cater to Asian tourists. We noticed most of the guests were predominantly Chinese and Indonesian visitors — we even spotted a player from Indonesia’s national team dining at a nearby table.

Indicated by its entirely accurate name, the specialty of Bebek (which translates to duck) Tepi Sawah (on the edge of the rice field), is duck, but the rest of the menu is surprisingly massive.

The book they handed us looked more like an encyclopedia than a menu. It even had full color pictures. Listed within was the full span of Indonesian classics, from gado-gado to nasi goreng, to soto ayam and oh-so-much more. There was also a general “Asian” section with options of various curries and a range of “Western” items like fettuccine carbonara and spaghetti Thai (we kid you not).

Apparently the mainstay is the crispy duck, but it was the photo of the roasted version that had us drooling. (We love our Indonesian fried food, but in general, you’re just going to get a deeper flavor from bakar over-the-grill cooking than deep-fried in the pan, goreng cooking.)

The Tepi Sawah Bebek Bakar (IDR135k/US$9.11) was everything we hoped it would be, and the portion was a heck of a lot more generous than we anticipated. The dark, tender meat was coming right off the bone, and the skin, coated in sweet soy sauce, had a nice, subtle crisp going from its time on the grill.

The sambal lombok ijo. Photo: Coconuts Bali
The sambal lombok ijo. Photo: Coconuts Bali

We usually don’t reach for duck when we’re really hungry. It’s not the meatiest bird, so it’s hard to get full from typical street-side portions of duck-centric meals. The size of the cut here, however, helps justify how they can charge so much more than a stall on the road, which would cost closer to IDR30k (US$2.02). It looked like we got about half of the duck per plate.

Besides the duck itself, the plate includes a standard-sized mound of white rice, a side of urap (Balinese-style mixed vegetables topped with grated coconut). Since we were dining as two, one of us swapped out the urap for a side of green beans for the sake of variety.

Also on the plate: Three types of sambal, Indonesian chili paste condiments that make everything extra delicious: sambal matah (also Balinese-style, featuring raw chopped chili with shallots), sambal kecap (sweet soy sauce), and a tomato-based sambal. 

You can also order extra sambal on the side, so we sprang for an additional order of one of our usual favorites: sambal lombok ijo (green chili; IDR10k/US$0.68). Our jaws dropped when they walked out with that extra sambal: We had thought they would come in the small dipping dishes like the ones served with the entrees, but the lombok ijo was presented in deep, cavernous bowls. Look, we love sambal — but even for us, this was a lot.

Being Bebek Tepi Sawah first-timers, we didn’t realize how large the duck plates were, and ordered an extra side of onion rings (IDR28k/US$1.89). They weren’t anything special, but we were, at least, grateful to have something to put all that extra sambal on.

The onion rings. Photo: Coconuts Bali
Onion rings. Photo: Coconuts Bali

Overall, the food itself was so good — that succulent meat and its deeply flavorful skin, spicy and sweet notes from the marinade and the sambal sauces blending beautifully together — made all the kitsch of the dining experience so worth it. Feeling high from the delicious meal of duck, it started to make the tackiness of Disney Bali feel a little endearing, even.

FIND IT:

Bebek Tepi Sawah
Jl. Raya Goa Gajah, Banjar Teges, Peliatan, Ubud
Open only for lunch & dinner, 10am-1opm

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