The boyfriend and I went to Bali for a long weekend holiday. It was delicious. We fell in love with a few Balinese and Padang dishes, and I definitely have a new-found respect for Indonesian cuisine – or specifically, Balinese cuisine. I’m just waiting now for any old lovable prick on Hong Kong island to start up an overpriced ‘Indonesian tapas’ restaurant slash bar slash lounge slash club slash “Satay Saturdays but we’ll still charge way more than what’s moral ha ha” with, of course, a no-reservations policy. I might actually have to line up for this one. Seriously. You say sambal, I say how high.
We were after 3 things in Bali, so I’ll subhead the posts as follows for easy reading: pig, seafood and catpoop. All with the occasional mojito.
Bali, a Hindu province in a mostly-Muslim Indonesia, has become a foodie sanctuary for the most delicious suckling pig, better known in Bali as Babi Guling. We knew our first stop had to be Ibu Oka – an institution for the revered pork – that was popularized by Anthony Bourdain in No Reservations. The moment Andrew and I heard the ‘crack’ of that pork skin on the telly, it was nothing but belly on our minds.
Jalan Tegal Sari No. 2, Ubud, 80571
I would love to rave about this pig the same way dear Anthony did on No Reservations, but it just wasn’t as mind-blowing as we thought. We ordered the Special for RP40,000 (around HKD30) which meant we could have a bit of everything. Everything means: meat, fried innards, vegetables, blood sausage, and the famous crackling. Andrew’s crackling didn’t make the ‘crack’ sound so it was a bit of an anticlimax… I begged for another one (yes, I begged for more belly) but they had run out – before midday!
Mine did make the ‘crack’ sound (which made Andrew bitterly resentful) but it was rather thick and greasy. It wasn’t the highlight.
So maybe I’ve had better crackling, but suckling pig served like this with all these delectable pieces and sauces was above and beyond all my wildest dreams; in its entirety, it was delicious. And I was an absolute sucker for their sambal.
Everything was covered with this lip-smacking chili sauce, but each bit of the pork was seasoned differently too, with basic Balinese spices like turmeric, ginger, garlic, candlenuts, lemongrass. It all came together in a harmony of spicy, salty, (and slightly greasy) goodness. Beside the pork parts, the lawar,or spiced vegetables, were so well-seasoned and didn’t shy away from giving a respectful jolt to our palates as well. I was so happy with how Ibu Oka gave as much attention to the greens as they do to their popular pig.
The Special is portioned like a taster pack, so we didn’t feel stuffed and were already craving some items more than others.
An extra plate of fried innards (a whole plate, don’t worry, not just the two pictured here) is another RP60,000. I actually preferred the blood sausage, but it was a little too spicy for my fellow diner.
Satisfied by our late breakfast pig-out, we spent the rest of the day touring around Ubud, Bali’s cultural capital. But that babi guling was still haunting me.
We briefly considered making another one and a half hour car ride to Ubud for a meal here again, but then we had a stroke of genius- let’s Google a place in Seminyak that does babi guling. Doh.
Jalan Sunset Road, No. 5, Seminyak, Kuta
Across from Kuta point, Warung Pak Malen features a beautiful panorama of traffic at the busiest junction on Sunset Road in Seminyak, with a soundtrack of melodious car horns over a complex motorbike revving riff easing you gently into the urban Bali riddum. The natural ‘fog machine’ of car fumes adds to the mystery of this understated hole-in-the-wall. We immediately ordered the Special for RP25,000 (note how much cheaper this was than Ibu Oka), which was a mix of everything from the glass-front display of the warung.
Our first taste of the Pak Malen piggy was from a chipped ceramic bowl, with a delightfully complex pork-bone soup. The soup was spicy and packed with flavour – you could taste the rich pork flavour, as well as various Balinese spice staples that we noticed at Ibu Oka too. The soft potatoes absorbed all this flavour, and you could tell it had been cooking for hours, which only added to the already lovingly warm, homely sips.
The sambal here was not quite as spicy, but made up for the lack of chilis with loads of lemongrass, giving the rest of the plate a wonderfully fragrant aroma and flavour. The sate was a nice addition that we didn’t get at Ibu Oka, but there was no spicy blood sausage that had made my mouth water the Ganges.
But when it comes to the big things – the meat, the skin, the innards – it was all very similar; there was really no clear winner on the pig-front. The crackling of both were the same thick, crunchy piece – although perhaps Pak Malen’s would’ve taken a tooth out if you weren’t careful, and they also throw in some extra scratchings; the meat was mostly tender and well-seasoned; the innards were both deep-fried well and deliciously crunchy and salty…
For the price difference and distance, I’d probably give Ibu Oka a miss next time – if I’m around Seminyak or Kuta. But Ibu Oka, as well as Ubud in general, was a nice tourist spot to make time for on our first trip to Bali, without a doubt!
I think that’s all I have about getting piggy with it in Bali. Think I’ll have to make myself a bacon sandwich in a second to tide myself over.
Part II on Seafood shortly.