Plenty of places to try out.
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 plenty of other places are worth trying as well. Here’s a selection of some of the best.
Babi Guling Pak Malen
Babi Guling Pak Malen is 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.
The plate we tried here 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. We 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 squeamish 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.
Open daily from around 11:00. Travelfish.org Babgul Scale rating: 2.5/5.
Warung Babi Guling Sanur
Warung Babi Guling Sanur is just opposite McDonald’s on the bypass — it’s a bit of a hike from Sanur’s main tourist drag of Danau Tamblingan, but it’s worth it. The staff told us they usually go through three pigs a day — and it’s all prepared on the premises out the back.
This version clocked in at 25,000 rupiah, plus again 3,000 rupiah for a 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 care — 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.
Open daily from around 11:00. Travelfish.org Babgul Scale rating: 4.5/5.
Babi Guling Ibu Oka
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 11:00 opening — they are usually full by midday. Around five to six pigs are served daily; they stay open until they run out, usually at about 15:00, 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 over-salted. The nasi babi guling special was 30,000 rupiah, and the Teh Botol a rather touristy price of 5,000 rupiah.
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?!
Open daily from around 11:00. Travelfish.org Babgul Scale rating: 3.5/5.
Babi Guling Negari
You’ll find this spotlessly clean joint specialising in our favourite dish in Gianyar, on the left side of the road heading toward Ubud via the Tohpati turnoff in Sanur (the one that goes via the Bird Park).
We’ve tried this place twice and each time was similarly good. The crackling was served as a generous portion and was truly exquisite, shattering in the mouth at once to melt to nothing. Yummo — if you’re big on crackling, this place should make you ecstatic. The serving of meat was on the smallish side, but it was tender and juicey, if slightly salty, but no more so than Ibu Oka’s. Two chunks of sausage served on the side were tasty and the broth-in-a-bowl was a little on the watery side. A few chunks of offal-y bits completed the offerings — I should know what these bits are, I know, I know, but I think I prefer not to. Some orangey fluffy balls of something very fatty were melt-in-the-mouth delicious — definitely don’t want to know what they were, thanks.
The dish came sans sambal — the lemongrass-style one that they at least serve at Sanur, my regular spot, is really a huge part of my love for babi, so that was disappointing.
We may have suffered bule price inflation here — we were charged 40,000 rupiah for eat in, then 20,000 rupiah for takeaway when we gently questioned if that was the right price. To be fair something may have been lost in translation, and with crackling that good, we are not going to quibble over an extra buck or two. (Tip: Gaya Gelato, 20 minutes’ or so drive to the north, is where you should stop for dessert.)
Open daily from around 11:00. Travelfish.org Babgul Scale rating: 3/5.
Duwipayana Babi Guling
Tucked away in a cluster of warungs just behind Petitenget temple, this grotty little hole in the wall serves up plates of campur babi guling for 25,000 rupiah. We loved the unintentionally retro-cool plates (chips and all!), but the dish itself was on the shabby side, with just a few tiny chunks of meat, a tiny piece of crackling, a lot of offal-y bits and a scoopful of what I presume was lawar (and via that linked post, here’s a video of lawar being made). Lawar’s special ingredient is raw pig’s blood. I couldn’t try it, folks, knowing that, which may disqualify me from being an appropriate reviewer, but there you have it. The side-broth was okay.
The staff were friendly though, and my stomach was quite happy with what I put into it, so if you’re on a mission to try all the babi you can, don’t be too put off. This spot has the added benefit of being just a five-minute walk away from La Lucciola, so you can always go there for a splurge-y scoop of ice cream. (You heard already that, uh, babi goes well with an ice cream chaser?)
Open daily. Travelfish.org Babgul Scale rating: 1.5/5.
Secret Canggu spot
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.
The very generous Dana from Bali Manual offered to take us to find his choice for the best babi guling on the island. 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…
The four of us traipsed into the restaurant just after 03:00. The pig is generally ready to be served at around 04:00 (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.
This was a 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. 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 04:00, 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 we’ve had; that moment between glass-like crispness and melt in the mouth was the merest of a nanosecond. The sausage, too, was rich and flavourful. The rest of the dish was on par with a few of our other favourites… which means that it perhaps pulls into the lead as our 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?
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.
Travelfish.org Babgul Scale rating: 4.5/5.
Sari Kembar, Seminyak
Sari Kembar is a very no-nonsense, open-to-the-street joint, with simple rickety tables and chairs — it’s your typical local babi guling warung. It’s certainly not the cleanest restaurant, but the turnover is fast, which is always a good sign.
The menu is short and sweet: nasi campur, nasi pisah, nasi spesial and nasi campur spesial — 12,000 to 25,000 rupiah. To be honest with you, I always just say “babi spesial” and am happy with what I get.
What you should get is a lovely piece of melt-in-the-mouth caramel crackling and some dried crackling over a stick of pork sate, fresh lawar, cassava-leaf stuffing, a bit of fatty — in a good way — sausage, a few sweetmeats and of course a mouthful or two of plain old pork, cooked to tender dreaminess. And rice, of course.
A small bowl of soup comes on the side, and while the soup has been okay, and a good counterbalance to the spicy pork dishes, it still hasn’t blown me away the way the one at Warung Babi Buling Sanur did.
Sari Kembar is a little out of the way of the main area Seminyak hotels are located. The only time you’re likely to wander past it really is if you’re doing an enthusiastic bit of homewares shopping along Jalan Raya Kerobokan.
If you’re a babi guling enthusiast, I reckon this joint is just as good as Ibu Oka’s in Ubud — so no need to travel all the way up there for a meal specially when you can tuck in right here.
Travelfish.org Babgul Scale rating: 3.5/5.
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 15th April, 2015.