How is babi formed?

Stephanie and I wanted to treat ourselves to a nice meal on Christmas day, but weren’t interested in the numerous turkey dinners being offered for the tourists in Ubud. Somehow I got it in my head that we should try to find that Balinese roasted pig I’d heard about.

As it happens there’s a now-famous eatery in Ubud that specializes in it: Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka. Partly famous because apparently Anthony Bourdain went there for their babi guling, or spit-roasted suckling pig, and proclaimed it the best pork he’s ever eaten in his life, or something like that. I haven’t seen the show, but that endorsement alone was enough to cause one intrepid traveler to book a flight to Bali to seek it out. For us it was a little easier. We just had to walk up the street.

Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka in Ubud, Bali
Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka in Ubud, Bali

We arrived around 1pm, which was a little worrisome, as I’d read that they close shop when they run out of pork. I don’t know if it’s due to the Bourdain mention, but apparently people start lining up at 10am—a little early for us. We had no problem finding a seat at the counter overlooking the street, and just as we were sitting down, we were treated to the arrival of a fresh babi guling.

Babi guling arrives at Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka in Ubud, Bali
Fully roasted babi guling arriving

Was it the best pork I’d ever had in my life? Not really. Maybe I’m just lucky, having lived in both North Carolina and Texas, two places that really know how to cook a pig. The spices were good, and the white meat was alright, if a little stringy—a difficult proposition in a place where the standard utensils are a fork and a spoon. Stephanie ended up with more fat than meat. The skin was probably the best part. The people next to us specifically asked for “extra skin” but were turned down because there wasn’t enough. I didn’t care for the blood sausage, that’s a taste I haven’t acquired, but the what-part-of-the-pig-did-that-come-from crunchy bits were fun. I’d definitely give babi guling another shot, perhaps at a warung out of town, just to compare.

Plate of assorted pork bits from Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka in Ubud, Bali
Plate of assorted pork bits from Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka

But that’s not the reason you’ve read this far, is it? You want to know how is babi formed? Well we had a rare opportunity to get an inside look walking around Amed. The initial stages are idyllic—all the farm animals together in peace and harmony.

Baby pig (babi) and chicken (ayam) eating together in Amed, Bali
Baby pig (babi) and chicken (ayam) eating together

Unfortunately, things don’t end well for the babi. But at least now you know the truth.

Two babi gulings being roasted on a spit in Amed, Bali
Oh my god, it’s a double babi guling, it’s so beautiful!

12 Comments

Too bad it wasn’t the best pork ever. On a positive note, the McRib is back – if you ever needed a reason to return stateside.

Probably the best looking pigs over a spit ever.

I’m starving!

Nice! Love the last picture.

Andy

They need to do way instain cook> who overcook thier babis.
Looks delicious, I saw that Bourdain episode, I think the guy was caramelizing the pig skin with coconut milk while it was on the spit. Too bad it was disappoint.

Have you mastered the fork + spoon method of eating yet?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBSvFlHRtik

Alternative title: “Eating Babis for Christmas”

yum.

Andy, handy video as we just landed in Manila today. I foresee more forks and spoons in my future.

JS, good one!

You need to try Lechon in the Philippines! And perhaps balut! ;)

Claudine, I’m currently eating my weight in chicken adobo, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled for lechon!

henry

omg the skin!

just be glad i didn’t include a shot of the pole coming out the “rear end”…

Frank D Law

Stopped by Bali on our way back from Shanghai. Loved Bali, especially Ubud which is a place we would come back to again and again.

This is our third visit to Bali, so we decided to give Ibu Oka one last chance, in view of the many superlative reviews in guide books, travel channels and magazines. Reasoning: So many cannot be wrong.

But it looks like they can be. Although the meat itself which was served piping hot, was underwhelming but flavorful enough, the crackling was still as tough as old leather shoes! It really makes my DW and me wonder whether those folks who write glowing reviews of Ibu Oka and their babi guling, including Bourdain and the Lonely Planet travel writer have ever tasted suckling pig in a Chinese restaurant? If they have, they would have tasted exactly how good suckling pig should taste like with crackling so crispy thin that every bite is to be savored! It is highly unlikely that after that, they would ever venture to describe babi guling as “amazing”, “fantastic”, “best ever” and all the silly the hyperbole that have come to dominate this debate and given Ibu Oka an undeserved reputation. I have nothing against Ibu Oka per se, but it is the integrity of reviews that I’m concerned about.

To draw an analogy, if you live in a small outpost, say in the far reaches of Siberia, you may describe your local football outfit as “amazing”, “best in the world” or whatever superlative terms you may wish to employ, not out of intellectual dishonesty, but only because you have not been exposed to the silky skills of the likes of Barcelona or Manchester United.

That is probably how it is with this “amazing babi guling” nonsense! We were in Shanghai for 9 days and tried Peking Duck and suckling pig IN SEVERAL RESTAURANTS and the stuff that they served up were slices of culinary heaven!

As we live in San Francisco, we have developed an affinity for the dish. We know that everyone is entitled to their opinion. But how do you judge a dish when you haven’t tasted even remotely the best? It is really like the uncultured and the Philistine trying to pontificate on high-brow literature and classical music!

We remain baffled over these superlative reviews, because when we compare Ibu Oka’s babi guling to the suckling pig we have tasted in Chinese Restaurants from this side of San Francisco to Melbourne to Hong Kong to Singapore and Bayswater in London, we have to say that if the Chinese version and Ibu Oka’s babi guling are compared and placed on a scale of 1-100, the Chinese version would easily place near a hundred and Ibu Oka’s would limp in below minus 10. That is the difference between a culture with 2,000 plus years of culinary development and a rank amateur!

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