A smiling, shirtless, tattooed man sits on a stool spinning four pigs over a searing fire. The fragrance of grilled pork is accompanied by intense heat from an open fire pit. Back in the courtyard, the pig was shoved onto an overlarge spit—a violent business that required running the spit (and pig) into a tree trunk as though it were a battering ram. Perhaps the lack of finesse had to do with the milky–white palm wine that was now in circulation, dispensed from a plastic teapot.
The Balinese culinary details were applied in just a few minutes, as the oldest man—the only one wearing a traditional sarong, and clearly the reigning expert on all things babi—smeared the inside of the pig with a fragrant paste of galanga, shallots, garlic and turmeric, among other things, then stuffed the cavity with cassava greens and trussed the feet, so that the animal seemed to be leaping merrily through the air. Finally, he smeared the skin with coconut oil and soundly thumped the pig all over with his fist—not so different from the massage I’d gotten the day before.
Babi guling, or suckling pig, is one of Bali’s most famed dishes. The pig is stuffed and infused with a spicy concoction typically involving turmeric, coriander seeds, lemongrass, black pepper and garlic, and traditionally spit-roasted. It’s also available at a range of warungs where locals flock for a quick lunch or dinner. Ibu Oka’s in Ubud is the most famed spot on the island to grab a plate — Anthony Bourdain recommended it a few years back — but Balinese friends have also suggested Pak Malen’s in Seminyak and Warung Babi Guling in Sanur.
Pak Malen is located on busy Sunset Road in Seminyak, just at the turn-off a block before Raya Kerobokan (heading from Simpang Siur). It’s a typical nondescript roadside warung, and is usually busy when we pass it. The plate boasted a single spicy minced pork sate-style stick, several small chunks of succulent pork flesh, a few pieces of beautifully crisp pork skin, some crunchy fried crackling, and a small spiced long bean salad (urap — the generic word for a Balinese vegetable salad in coconut chilli dressing), served over white steamed rice. I didn’t seem to get too much in the way of anything offal-y — but that’s possibly because they’re used to plenty of tourists. The soup on the side was watery with a few chunks of bone-gristle.
Warung Babi Guling Sanur, which is located just opposite McDonald’s on the bypass. If you’re heading to see one of Bali’s loveliest dentists, Dr Retno, you should definitely try to tie in a stop here (at Warung Babi Guling, not McDonald’s.)
Ibu Oka’s is an institution and widely recommended as the place one must try babi guling in Bali. In a central location in Ubud just near the palace, it’s easy to find and the few tables, split between a raised and covered platform you take your shoes off to sit at and a few under umbrellas, fill quickly after the 11:00am opening the place will full. Around five to six pigs are served daily; they stay open until they run out at about 15:00pm, so best to get in early.
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