Gili Trawangan Night Market: Tasty, Budget Food with No Frills (literally)

I would like to discuss a theory I have about restaurants with you. It’s a philosophy that Matty and I carry, perhaps controversially, across the world on our travels. It’s not about what warrants chefs to throw toenails into stews, nor is it about judging a waitress by the number of wine glasses she can carry in one hand (I can carry five since your asking) – or even a conclusive theory about tipping. Although I admit all of those would be helpful. No, no, I believe you can judge a restaurant by its tablecloths alone.

And when I say a restaurant, I really mean the price of its menu. It’s a simple theory really – the skankier and more threadbare the cloth; the cheaper the bill. Here’s a quick guide to restaurant prices based on this scientifically proven (well I have eaten a lot) theory.

White linen tablecloths – Woah there Billy Big Bollocks, you are going to be flashing your cash. Just how much will depend on the quality of that linen, if it’s matched with big heavy, sparkling silverware you could be paying in excess of £10 for a cocktail. And that’s just my aperitif…

‘Funky’ wooden tables with no cloth – You could be in a bistro, a gastropub, a carpenter’s studio. But either way you’ll be paying a fair whack… It’s all about the girth ladies, the chunkier the wood the more you’re paying. Fact.

Dark coloured cotton – You’re probably in an Indian restaurant. It disguises the curry you see. But it’s a popular choice in other cuisines too and a reliable sign of a low-mid price restaurant. Be prepared to pay anything from £8-15 for your main course.

The patterned tablecloth – It’s very likely you’re either in a vegetarian art-covered cafe or a tea shop. Either way the price is coming down and you can potentially enjoy an afternoon tea or falafel burger for about £5.

The plastic tablecloth – If you don’t leave your elbows on the table too long you’ll be fine, especially if you’re on a first date. There’s something decisively awkward about the sound of skin ripping off a plastic-covered table, ‘She had heavy arms,’ he’ll tell his mates. But hell, he’ll get a cheap bill.

No tablecloth – And we’re talking about revealing a naked, ugly table underneath; possibly something resembling a decorator’s table, a plastic table or some scratchy metal surface. We’re entering serious no frills here. If you’ve got less than £5 in your pocket and need a feast this is the place to pull up a pew.

Matty and I have walked streets across the world, from Ibiza to Lebanon, exclaiming, ‘Oh no, look at the tablecloth on that, we can’t afford to eat there.’ You actually don’t need to look at the menu after a while, a quick glance at the tables is all you need.

I would like to add that we have often had some of our best food on plastic tablecloths and at bare, naked plastic tables, so I’m afraid this chart is not much use in judging the quality of food. However, it can be a lifesaver when backpacking on a shoestring.

On our recent trip to Gili Trawangan we found the perfect spot for these special tablecloth free evenings, and I’m not talking about girth now. The Gili T food market is a brilliant find if you’re looking for cheap grub. I say ‘find’ but you can’t really miss it; a huge square, which stands empty by day, turns into a hive of plastic tables, bucket chairs, wooden benches and hungry tourists by nightfall. Big simmering cauldrons of soups sit on hob rings on food carts while fish lay in ice ready to be barbecued and traditional Balinese black rice pudding is whipped up for afters. There is barely a tablecloth in sight – and the ones that are present are both plastic and stapled to the table.


Our favourite stall was one that belonged to a woman who had trays of marinated fish and meats next to a huge barbecue.


Here she is, the woman in green.

This, my friends, is where you can pick up five skewers of barbecued chicken, beef or prawns with an assortment of delicious salads and a side portion of rice for just 25,000 Indonesian Rupiahs, which is about £1.70. What a bargain! The chicken was succulent and the salads were delicious, my favourite being a fresh green bean number, dressed in a soy sauce based dressing.

And the stall behind her, with the yellow and red lettering, prepares what might just be the best pancakes in the Southern Hemisphere. These little beauties really put the cake in pancake. Huge folds of fried batter came drizzled in melted chocolate, bananas and condensed milk. Served in a cardboard box it was like a huge chunk of sweet, pancake flavoured cake, costing just 15,000 Rupiahs (about £1). It was beautiful. I queued for about half an hour, much to Matty’s disgust, but it was worth every minute. And I’m a bad blogger because I just inhaled it, without even taking a picture.

We actually couldn’t finish it between us. It was that big. But I do hate to see good food go to waste so we offered to another couple on our table, who turned out to be from Lincolnshire.

Fortunately they didn’t think we were crazy (or at least not at that stage anyway) and the pancake sharing soon turned into Bintang drinking with our newfound friends Jane and Simon. And as we sat there exchanging tales and drinking the chilled beers (available from ice boxes at all good food carts) I couldn’t help but think it would have all turned out differently if there had been white linen tablecloths involved.

So there’s my secret, what’s yours? If you have any tips about finding good budget eats when travelling, or any restaurant recommendations, please share!


14 Top Tips on How to Save for Travelling

So you’ve got a car, you’ve got a house, you’ve got friends (that like drinking and going out for dinner), and you know what, you don’t really fancy putting your life on hold. But you want to travel… and somehow you need to find those extra pennies. I’m no Money Saving Martin (I think that’s his name, some bloke my mum regularly quotes, “Well in Martin’s latest email…”) but nevertheless I am getting quite good at making my less-than-the-national-average-salary get me where I want to be.

Here’s how…

  1. Work out your budget. Dull, dull, dull – but sadly necessary. By all means pur yourself a glass of wine to help you through it (I’ll come to alcohol savings later!) Look at your bank statements from the last three months, get a blank piece of paper and draw up three columns with the titles: “Direct debits/outgoings”, “Things I don’t want to give up” and “Naughty”. The first column is fairly obvious – include all bills and regualr payments, column two for me had things like haircuts, dinners out, drinks, magazine subscriptions etc, while my column three featured naughty names like H&M, Zara and Topshop. Next, add up column one – plus your weekly food bill and look at that against your salary. It made me realise how much I was actually spending on things I didn’t want to give up/naughty purchases. This is the key stage – work out what you want to save against how much your willing to sacrifice. Then set up a direct debit so your savings are transferred the day after you are paid into another account you can’t touch. I find it helpful to then withdraw my weekly spending money every Monday so I can see it disappearing in my purse, plastic is deceiving but when your notes disappear you get a little bit more tight!
  2. What else can you give up? Be reasonable about this – remember if it’s a long-term savings plan you still need to enjoy life. I cancelled my contact lense direct debit as I had a surplus of lenses and my partner quit his gym membership and bought some weights, which he combines with running. I’d like to say we stopped drinking but we didn’t… each to their own.
  3. Can you get rid of your car? I did – got a bike instead – and now I travel everywhere for free!
  4. Use TopCashBack whenever you buy anything online – it’s a website that will transfer you to the page you want to go to (almost like a search engine) but it pays you a small percentage of whatever you buy in commission. While I only make about £50 a year, I know someone who books a lot of hotels through work and made over £1,000. Quidco is another popular site but they charge £5 a year.
  5. Everytime you’re about to buy something online go to – there is almost always a discount code you can use. For example, when we hired a car recently we went on this website and found an 11% discount, then we paid for it via TopCashBack and got 8 per cent cash back – we saved about £10.
  6. Get a second job. Sounds rubbish but doing one night’s work a week could make the difference between you staying on budget rather than going into your overdraft by £100 every month. I couldn’t get a bar job or restaurant work due to the nature of my day job, so found work copy-writing online a few hours a week. There will be something that suits your life… find it.
  7. Check your energy bills – are you in credit with your gas and electricity provider? If so call them and ask for the money – why should they make interest on it? It’s yours! Put it straight into that ISA…
  8. What do you do with your “free council tax” months? Every Feb and March you are council tax free! But you’ve budgeted for it so transfer it into that tax-free ISA you’ve set up before you are tempted to spend it…
  9. Put a pound in a pot every day. This one is priceless, I promise. Buy a pot you cannot get into (we once had a metal tin with a big tacky £50 note image wrapped around it and we currently have one of those posh pottery numbers that you have to smash on a ceremonial occasion) and put £1 in every day. The last time it provided all our spending money for a weekend in Sovenia and by the time we break into the next one we should have about £600 for our forthcoming Bali trip.
  10. When it comes to food shopping – set a budget and stick to it. Ours is £50 a week – it makes cooking imaginative and we don’t eat any worse for it at all.
  11. Don’t stop doing things – just do them cheaper. Living in Nottingham, I visit my friends in London about once a month and rarely spend more than £15 on a return ticket – book in advance with Megabus (which is actually a train) and National Express buses are often £5.
  12. eBay. Enough said. Everything you don’t want, or don’t need – stick on eBay (make sure pics are super, descriptions are enticing) and everything you do need – buy it on eBay!! I unashamedly love clothes but cannot justify fashion as an outgoing at the moment so I recycle clothes on eBay. For example, I bought a beautiful French Connection dress (retails at £130 bought on eBay for £30), whcih I intend to wear to a glitzy London hen do, then I will re-sell it to buy a beautiful dress for a wedding a month later. I will then re-sell that for the next wedding – and so it goes on. Make sure you buy labels because you are guaranteed to sell them on at the same sort of price – I normally make a profit actually. I think eBay tips might be worthy of their very own blog space soon. Watch this space!
  13. If you own your own house can you have a lodger? We had a great lodger for a while that stayed with us during the week and went back home at weekends, giving us the space and privacy we were used to on the most important days of the week! There are websites for these kind of arrangements, one of which is – but there’s loads more.
  14. Want a weekend away? Do it! Camp or find a dirt cheap B&B… take homemade sandwiches for the road and work out where you want to splash your cash – one night posh dinner, cheap grub the rest of the time? Trust me, it can be done!

I’m sure there are more – I might have to come back to this topic, but if you have any more tips leave them below – I’m always on the lookout for more ways of saving cash. My motto is Live it Like you Love it…. but sadly that often comes at a price (flights to Bali were not cheap) so the cash has to be found!

Happy savings! x