Apr 21 2012
Setting an alarm for 2:00 — yes, in the morning — in order to meet up with someone you’ve met online, in a bid to hunt down Bali’s best babi guling: if I do say so myself, that’s dedication, dear readers. And it turns out that sometimes the people you meet online are quite normal, and that you can find some very, very good babi guling somewhere on the west coast of Bali, about 30 minutes from Canggu in the deep hours of the morning on traffic-free streets. Where exactly? Ah, there’s the rub. It’s a secret.
After he commented on our babi guling series, the very generous Dana from Bali Manual offered to take us to find his choice for the best babi guling on the island. So Nicky Sullivan, our visiting Siem Reap researcher, and I arranged to meet Dana and his girlfriend on the road in the early hours of the morning a week or two ago. Thankfully, the pair turned out to be completely normal and completely enthusiastic about their love of babi guling.
The only thing Dana requested in return for guiding us to this spot, down twists and turns and ultimately down an unmarked footpath into a literal backyard, was that we don’t divulge its location. Fat chance we could, Dana! We were lost pretty quickly, though as our intrepid guide pointed out, if you get to the general area (still a longshot) and see a lone motorcyclist on the streets, you can safely bet that this babi guling joint will be their destination, so you could follow them and see… But seriously, Dana said he raised the issue of being more widely advertised to the family that runs the warung, and they prefer not to perhaps become Bali’s next Ibu Oka’s.
The four of us traipsed into the restaurant just after 3:00. The pig is generally ready to be served at around 4:00 (and is served until around 9:00), but Dana had recommended getting here early so we could see the final stages of the cooking and carving process. This was excellent advice, for it’s not very often you actually find babi guling cooked on the premises of the restaurant you eat it in (Warung Babi Guling Sanur, one of my favourite babi guling spots opposite McDonalds on the bypass road, is an exception).
This was the true local Balinese babi guling experience — confronting, for sure, but it must be said, ultimately delicious. For starters, the pig weighed in at around 75 kilograms, which is pretty much equal to my weight. There’s something about eating an animal your own weight that makes you think, let me tell you. Then, right next to where the unlucky pig was being handspun into all its caramelised, succulent glory, was the very pen where it had likely spent the final portion of its life, along with a few live pigs snoring away the morning. Talk about juxtaposition.
So let me set the scene: the stink of the pen competes with the wafting scent of the just-cooked meat. The flesh is carved off the bone, dropping into plastic trays that are whisked off to the kitchen to be properly prepped and served up with the typical babi guling accompaniments: the sweetmeats, the crackling, the lawar (they kindly asked the bules whether we wanted the fresh-blood lawar version or not). People are speaking in hushed tones. Neighbours are no doubt still sleeping.
By 4:00, more than a dozen in-the-know people aside from us are sitting at the roughly-hewn tables, waiting for their plates of pork and rice to kick off their day, or finish off their night. Life, death, morning, night; people look at the very same things in different ways, don’t they?
The verdict? By far, this was the best babi guling crackling I’ve had so far, ever; that moment between glass-like crispness and melt in the mouth was the merest of a nanosecond. The sausage, too, which I was once always reluctant to try when it came to babi guling but am now impatient to assess, was rich and flavourful. The rest of the dish was on par with a few of my other favourites… which means that it perhaps pulls into the lead as my current frontrunner on the island. (Though there was no broth, sadly.) This place so far is also the only one where everyone was eating with their hands; they would have happily dragged a spoon out of the depths of the kitchen if we’d asked, but when in Rome, right?
We offered to pick up the tab, and the grand sum for four eating with gusto was change from 130,000 rupiah, including some sweet hot teas on the side and a stack of extra meat and crackling.
Want to go? You’ll have to get in touch with Dana. We have a feeling that he’ll be happy for the excuse to head back often. And he’ll show you how to do it right.
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Tags: babi guling