“Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”
~ Anthony Bourdain
I’m game for trying the national dish wherever I travel, and making a point to taste babi guling, or suckling pig, while in Bali was on our list. This local dish was featured on s, No Reservations show on the Travel Channel. After seeing the episode we took his recommendation to have lunch at Ibu Oka, located on a side street in Ubud across from the Palace. Once, just a place for the locals to get a quick, hot lunch, it has now become quite popular with tourists. Babi guling is served in roadside warungs (local food stalls) all over the island. ’
We arrived at Ibu Oka around noon. Adjacent to the sidewalk, in clear view of passers by, we watched two women without gloves or hairnets cut up the pig with huge cleavers and toss the meat into large pans and buckets while other workers assembled the orders for customers. Hot, greasy work, I’m thinking. No grade “A” sanitation rating here.
The place was crowded and there didn’t seem to be an organized way for seating people, so we independently positioned ourselves close to tables, on street level, inside the waist high wall and wait it out. We needed three seats together and we were ready to start grabbing.
Nothing like hovering over people while they are finishing up and asking them if the oinker was good and the usual “where are you from?” questions. About five Japanese tourists are doing the same. I am hoping we all remain polite. It is extremely hot and humid which doesn’t help.
Ron is the first to grab a table and we share it with two others who are already seated, eating.
We immediately begin asking each other questions. “Where are you from? What did you order? Is it good? How long have you been in Bali? Where are you staying? Where have you toured? What restaurants would you recommend?” Whew!
The woman tells us she is from the Philippines. Her partner is from Denmark but lives in Australia. We chattily exchange information on the above questions while waiting.
We order three babi guling combo platters and large Bintang Beers.
While waiting for the food, Ron goes over to the sink outside and washes up while Kim and I get out our hand sanitizer.
People are crammed everywhere and those on the upper level have to leave their shoes off on the lower level and sit on the floor around low tables.
At least we’re at a normal size table… under a red Coca Cola umbrella… now watching the people who are perched along the wall adjacent to the sidewalk as they stare at us.
Several homely dogs are wondering around the tables, sniffing our legs and waiting for someone to slip them some tasty morsel. Roosters crow near by and the ever constant sound of men yelling “taxi, taxi” to customers leaving this warung or restaurant adds to the character and confusion of this place.
Thankfully the beer comes first and then our combo platters. Spit roasted over wood and coconut husks in another location and brought to the warung on large planks, the inside of the suckling pig has been rubbed with a spice mixture of chilis, lemongrass, ginger, tumeric, coriander seeds, pepper and garlic. Sometimes candlenuts and shrimp paste are used. Our platter consisted of babi guling, rice, diced and cooked vegetables, highly seasoned with pieces of blood sausage added and cracklings, or crispy skin on the side. What a meal, all for less than $3.00. But I find myself sticking to the rice and pork. Although, greasy, the suckling pig is very tasty and definitely well seasoned. However, the blood sausage just doesn’t add anything and the cracklings still have hair attached and impossible for me to chew.
Truly a local custom.
Our table partners leave, and two young guys who have been hovering over us unhesitatingly take their seats. They are backpackers from Great Britain and just now arrived in Ubud and wanted to check out this favorite lunch spot. Only in town for a day, they ask us if we have been to the Sacred Monkey Forest. We tell them about our experience and recommend they go.
As we say goodbye, three young Asians claim our seats who have been patiently waiting for us to leave.
While paying our bill, two young men clad in sarongs and t-shirts part the crowds as they ceremoniously walk in, carrying yet another suckling pig. Probably the 8th one for the day.
Move over Anthony Bourdain.
I’ve traveled. I’ve written. And I’ve eaten babi guling.
For more on Bali see http://ronmayhewphotography.com/portfolio/galleries/travel/Bali/