Babi guling is one of the Balinese dishes. Historically, it’s a celebration dish but it’s now something that is readily available in warungs all over, possibly due to the demand created by tourism on this small, Indonesian Island. Think hog roast meets curry house, and you’re sort of there.
Indonesian food has the familiar South East Asian flavours; chilli, ginger, lemongrass, but with some differing flavors brought with merchants and traders from India. Coriander seed and turmeric are also used in the preparation of babi guling.
In the interests of fairness, we tried babi guling in two places. A roadside warung in Sanur and also at Ibu Oka in Ubud, famed as the go-to place after Anthony Bourdain visited for a TV show.
The warung was clean and filled with Indonesians tucking into their porky lunches. The cheerful lady just looked at us and said “Babi guling?” Enthusiastic nodding followed.
Part of the charm, for me is the usage of the whole animal for food. the plate includes a little bit of all different parts, including a blood sausage. Personally, I appreciate the sacrifice and animal makes in dying for you to have dinner, so the least you can do is eat it all and not be picky.
The plate was an orchestra of flavour, my mouth was doing star jumps and backflips and coming back for more as quick as possible. It’s a bit hard, as a westerner with a terrible grasp of Bahasa to be able to accurately tell what was actually on the plate, but it seemed to be lacking in offal, which may be due to us being ‘bules’. Westerners in general seem to be fairly picky about which bits of animals we will will eat so it’s possible she was sparing us from spicy tripe.
The plate did however have wonderfully fatty crispy skin, a pork scratching which was a welcomed textural change and both roasted and fried pork meat and a little chunk of blood sausage, much like a more robust black pudding. The little plate of meat is served with a side of rice, punchy sambal, and a spicy side salad of greens, coconut and chilli, known throughout Bali as urap, or urap sayur. It was fresh, but had clean spicy flavours and had a similar impact that a salsa or tabolueh would have.
Additional to all of this was a little bowl of soup, rich and flavoursome from the cooked down carcass, probably from the previous days roasting.
After I ate this magnificent feast, sweated my heart out and blew my nose constantly from the chili I wondered how the famous Ubud babi guling could top this.
Unfortunatley it couldnt.
Ibu Oka, ( I believe there are more than one, and we went to the one behind the palace) had a vast, open dining area that would probably sit over a hundred; almost the opposite of many warungs and I don’t think i saw more than a couple of Indonesians eating, just lots and lots of Chinese tourists and a few western backpackers.
The menu was broken down and compartmentalised into the various pieces and cuts, I opted for the ‘special’ which seemed to have all the important bits.
The roasted meat was to be fair like the best roast pork joint you’ve ever eaten, it was smooth and the quality of meat was first class with a sort of marinade, or sauce brushed on top. The fried chunks were tasty and again, provided a nice variation on texture and the crispy skin was possibly better. It had a good snap, but had a little too much fat on the other side.
The quality of meat may have been better but it was, for me wholly lacking in flavour, spice and the same level of love and attention at the warung.
We also found Ibu Oka did not offer any sambal (although there was a marinade on the meat, it lacked spice) and the soup was an additional extra. The urap sayer was excellent at Ibu Oka, and they advertised it as just ‘sayur’ which directly translates as vegetable.
Overall, Ibu Oka was slightly more expensive with less flavour and substance to the meal. I wanted it to make me feel like i’d just done several rounds with Mike Tyson who laced his gloves with sambal like the other place did, but it didn’t.
Try it for yourself, but make sure you try a local warung too, the one in Sanur is opposite the big Macdonalds near Sanur Beach and will set you back around 40’000 Rupiah for the whole hog, excuse the pun.
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