A sleepy hollow by day, Jimbaran Bay turns into a frenetic dining spectacle by sunset, as tourist buses, mini vans and taxis descend on the place, disgorging passengers onto the broad sandy stretch for a big night out eating barbecued fish. It’s amusing to watch.
At around 5pm, smoke begin to rise along the fringe of the bay as restaurants light their coconut shell charcoal fires. The front row tables are dragged out to the sandy berm, the demarcation line for each restaurant. Front row sunset seats are apparently sought after: we are happy sitting back a few rows, under a shady umbrella, a cold Bintang beer in hand, watching the madness unfold before us.
Each narrow restaurant can be accessed from the beach or from the back lane running behind the buildings on the shore. What looks like a confusing enterprise is well-managed in typically Balinese fashion with different coloured tablecloths signifying each enterprise. There isn’t much point in reading all the menus, they are generally all the same. Each place offers barbecued platters of fish and seafood at various prices, depending on your appetite or greed. More expensive platters will include lobster. The Bintang beer prices are standard but the wine price differs enormously. I do like a drop of Two Islands wine, a cooperative wine venture between Australia and Bali, so I know which one I’ll choose.
It is probably best to avoid the places with very long tables joined together. This indicates the restaurant specialises in tour groups.
After the glorious sunset fades, the umbrellas are removed and tea light candles appear on all the tables. The wandering minstrels appear but fortunately for us, they favour large groups.
It is probably best to choose what is known here as a Packet which is a meal deal of fish and seafood, at various prices and sizes, as well as a small serve of acar (a pickled salad), some steamed kangkung, rice and a small serving of fruit. If you choose your own fish, be prepared for an amusing experience. The scales are totally rigged and some of the fish looks a little water-logged. But by the time they are gutted, basted in spicy sauce and barbecued on hot charcoal, you won’t know the difference.
The best way to guarantee a great seafood meal is to buy your own fish at the Pasar Ikan, the Jimbaran seafood market and take it to a restaurant up that way, where they prepare and grill it for you at a very reasonable price. This assumes you are staying locally for a while and feel confident in buying fish, as well as having a little Bahasa Indonesian under your belt. The Jimbaran Fish Market provides fish and seafood for all the major restaurants and resorts in Bali.