BALI: With a menu in her hand, a waitress sat idly at the main entrance of a restaurant in Ubud, a Balinese town famous for its thriving art scene and stunning landscapes.
It was lunchtime and the street in front of her was quiet, as it has been since the pandemic began.
Along the once busy street, waiters and waitresses from other restaurants stood or sit in front of their establishments, trying to woo the handful of tourists.
Inside, the restaurants were completely vacant and for some, it would stay that way until they closed their doors for the day.
Tourism is the backbone of Bali’s economy and COVID-19 has devastated the livelihoods of residents on the Island of the Gods.
Bali, which recorded the first COVID-19 death in Indonesia in March, has a total of 7,380 cases so far, while the national tally now stands at over 225,000.
Cases in Bali has more than doubled since Jul 31, when the government eased restrictions for domestic tourists. On that day, the island’s total caseload was 3,407.
Although Bali has never formally imposed a lockdown and continues to allow businesses to remain open, travel restrictions across the globe has reduced international tourist arrival to almost zero.
With Indonesia suspending its visa-free and visa-on-arrival policies for international travellers, tourists are effectively dissuaded from coming into the country.
Last month, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Panjaitan said the policy would likely remain in place until the end of the year, adding that the tourism industry would probably return to the way it was before the pandemic by the end of 2021.
Meanwhile, domestic tourists are still nervous about travelling by air – the main way to get to Bali – choosing instead to vacation somewhere they can get to by car.
The dramatic drop in tourists has affected restaurants, big and small, all across Bali from the hilly towns of Ubud and Kintamani to the beaches of Kuta and Seminyak.
More than half of the restaurants on the resort island have to reduce their employees’ salaries and working hours by 75 per cent, while some have to downscale their operations, according to the business operators.
The rest chose to close their doors temporarily and put their staff on unpaid leave, including some well established and award-winning eateries.
Here are five popular restaurants in Bali which have been struggling since the pandemic hit:
IBU OKA’S BABI GULING
Before the pandemic, tourists and locals would crowd all three outlets of Ibu Oka’s babi guling (spit-roasted pig) restaurant with queues snaking down the pavements of downtown Ubud.
The restaurant, opened in 1979, has a reputation of being the place to savour Balinese-style suckling pig stuffed with a combination of spices like turmeric, lemongrass and coriander seeds and roasted until the skin is crispy.
Ibu Oka’s babi guling is so famous it has attracted food writers, bloggers and television hosts from all over the world, including the late Anthony Bourdain. But the pandemic changed that almost overnight.
“It has been very quiet,” one staffer told CNA as she cleaned rows of empty tables and chairs during what would otherwise be a bustling lunch hour.
It usually took just a few hours for the dish to be sold out after the outlets opened at 11am, but now they have to stay open until 6pm.
The original small shop in front of the Ubud Palace appeared deserted last week, with only a few waiters waiting for customers to come.
It was the same for the outlet on Jalan Tegal Sari, tucked behind a crowded housing area just a few hundred meters away and Jalan Raya Mas on the edge of town.
The restaurants were deprived of its usual hustle and bustle, the chatter of hungry customers and the hurried scene of fire pit masters preparing the dish.
With its signature nasi campur (rice with mixed meat and vegetables), Made’s Warung, established in 1969, was among the first eateries in Bali to put the island on the world’s culinary map.
The establishment has come a long way from its humble beginnings, a small shop made from wood and woven bamboo with no flooring near the popular Kuta Beach.
It has since become a restaurant chain with four restaurants in Bali – including one at the Ngurah Rai airport – and a franchised outlet in Jakarta.
But when the pandemic hit, Made’s Warung…