Roast Pig, Bali

10 Dec

Bali isn’t really known for its food, delicious and unique though it is, but more for its culture and/or fabulous beaches. (Note that Elizabeth Gilbert did her eating in Italy and her loving in Bali.) Despite the thriving tourist industry, Balinese culture remains, at its core, family and community oriented, and most Balinese don’t seem to eat out, unlike in Kuala Lumpur, where people don’t seem to do anything but. As a result, the majority of restaurants cater to tourists and other visitors, and it’s difficult to find Balinese food amidst all the Indonesian and Western staples. (Though I will say: I had a surprisingly satisfying calzone, made all the better by the fact that I was eating it on a tropical beach.)

Still, there are Balinese dishes that are easier to order out than try to make at home: for example, roast suckling pig, or babi guling. “Wait,” you’re probably saying, “isn’t Bali part of Indonesia? You know, the largest Muslim country in the world?” Yes, but Bali itself is majority Hindu. “…and aren’t most Hindus vegetarian?” Only in India (and California). It’s like Thailand; vegetarianism is a major component of Buddhist practice in some places, but you’d be hard-pressed to find Thai food that doesn’t contain fish sauce (which is, of course, made from fish, which is an animal and has a face). Anyway, roast suckling pig is a classic Balinese dish, one that used to be reserved for village feasts. (Even a suckling pig is quite large, so it feeds more than just your family of ten.) Nowadays you can get it from restaurants and warungs (glorified hawker stalls) like the famous Ibu Oka Babi Guling in Ubud, where my friend and I spent two nights. (Anthony Bourdain called it the best roast pork he’s ever eaten.)

Not that I knew this when I dragged my friend there; I just remembered wanting to try it during my honeymoon six years ago, but we were put off by the hordes of stray dogs. That evening, mercifully, Ibu Oka was dog-free.

A whole mess o' pig

The specialty at Ibu Oka is the mix plate: there’s some meat, some skin, some crispy bits, a Balinese version of black pudding, and a mysterious but tasty concoction with vegetables. There’s even a bowl of pig-based soup to round out your meal. The lot is served with some sort of chili-lime sauce.

I don’t know if I agree with Anthony Bourdain that it’s the best suckling pig in the world; clearly, the man has not had a carnitas taco from the El Norte in north Chicago after a long night. (According to Madde, our host at the homestay, Ibu Oka’s secret is copious amounts of MSG.) But it was probably the best meal I had in Bali, ambiance (or lack thereof) notwithstanding. Now if I could only figure out what that vegetable thing was…

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One Response to “Roast Pig, Bali”

  1. Megara December 15, 2010 at 4:31 am #

    I would personally say that Ibu Oka Babi Guling tied for 1st place in the sucking pig contest, along with a porcheddu I had in Santa Teresa de Gallura in Sardinia in 2002. The ambience, however, was second to none: red plastic chairs, the smell of incense everywhere and the good company of a gourmand. Priceless.

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