Apr 07 2011
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, so I tried those, for this first in a series of two posts…
First up, 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 I pass it. My plate was swiftly served up along with a lukewarm Teh Botol (I may have got a cold one if I’d specified.)
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. The dish was 20,000 rupiah, plus 3,000 for the Teh Botol. It’s open from around 11:00. I’d rate it, on the new Travelfish.org Bali Babgul Scale, at a 2.5/5.
A day later I ventured into 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.) It’s cleaner than Pak Malen’s, and the staff told me they usually go through three pigs a day, from 11:00 to closing time at 19:00 — it’s all done on the premises out the back.
This version clocked in at 25,000 rupiah, plus again 3,000 rupiah for the Teh Botol. It was much better than Pak Malen’s. The serving of pork slices was more generous, though the main crackling was about the same, but the accompaniments seemed to be made with much more love, if I can be so corny — even the urap, which had loads of mung beans and other green veggies in it, was exceptional, along with the extra crackling and even an amazing chunk of well, I think it was pork fat. A side of small sausage and one or two other additions rounded out the rice portion of the meal, but most delectable of all was the thick, flavoursome soup. Wow! The soup was really something, a thick, luscious broth with a variety of green veggies and flecks of pork meat that I imagine melted off large chunks of bone in a pot that simmered for a long time. Truly excellent. Rated: 4.5/5 on the scale.
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 — we were there at 11:20 and by the time we left, the place was 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.
Our plate had a generous serving of pork meat with a dollop of spicy sauce; but this was the only babi guling dish that did not require me to blow my nose and wipe my eyes while eating, it was so mild. The urap was crunchy but overall, the servings were on the greasy side and oversalted. The nasi babi guling special was 30,000 rupiah, and the Teh Botol a rather pricey 5,000.
It was a bit disappointing, but to be fair to Ibu Oka, everyone’s expectations have risen along with the reputation of this place, so if it was still a roadside warung, I’d probably have been far more impressed. Also: no soup?! Rated: 3.5/5 on the scale.
Warung Putu Sanchia is located about 50 metres from Simpang Siur. This area looks kind of unappealing — let’s face it, it can be an eight-lane highway when motorists get enthusiastic. But you could actually eke out a pleasant enough afternoon here — a lunch of babi, a scalp sensation at Cozy 100 metres away and then an excellent coffee at no-frills Caswell’s. Unfortunately though, the babi here wasn’t the best.
Putu Sanchia was empty at late lunchtime when I popped by and come to think of it, I’ve never seen it busy — not a good sign. The tables are all a bit grimy from being right next to thick traffic and the place is bereft of atmosphere, but normally that’s not an issue if the food is fantastic. This was the only place I tried that wasn’t more devoted to babi guling than other dishes; it offers ikan bakar Jimbaran style and ayam betutu Gilimanuk with equal excitement.
My serving of babi guling was hot-plate style, and initially pretty impressive. A good size, it came with two sticks of very fatty meat — or maybe it was just fat — but either way, it was delicious, as well as a small serving of tender meat, a small piece of crackling, a few offal-y and other fatty bits, including a small piece of blood sausage, and a decent urap with another spicy salad with a great texture.
I was enjoying the latter until I saw a slice of something with hair still springing from it, but babi guling is about using up all the pig, so truly, that was my problem. It was good! The soup alas was fatty, gristly and flavourless and the puddle of fatty sauce left in the hot pot a little too reminiscent of cheap fast food. The plate was the most expensive so far — 32,000 rupiah. No Teh Botol here — so I went for a passionfruit juice-y sort of thing (es marqisa, 12,000 rupiah). Rated: 2.5/5 on the scale.
Stay tuned for our next post in a few weeks covering other babgul spots in Denpasar, Nusa Dua and Petitenget.
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