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Babi Guling at Ibu Oka in Ubud, Bali

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the Balinese national dish Babi Guling is a spiced roast suckling pig usually served as a portion of carved off meat with a bit of crispy pig skin on rice.

You can find many stalls and restaurants on the island serving Babi Guling, but we decided to take the drive to one well known but also quite touristy restaurant in Ubud to get a taste of this specialty.
Our worries to land in a tourist trap were appeased as we realized that many guests there were Indonesian visitors coming there from Jakkarta or other parts of this vaste country.

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No chairs on the first floor of Ibu Oka

Here at Ibu Oka, the Babi Guling is served on spiced rice with coconut, a piece of boudin noir or blood sausage on the side, some fried innards as well as chili-vegetable relish. Of course it also comes with a thin piece of crispy pork skin.

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The meat is quite juicy and succulent and with the crispy skin I somehow had to think of Bavarian roast pork, except that in Bavaria the skin is often much much thicker (and the meat is spiced in a totally different way of course)

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It was a good experience to eat there. If you happen to be in Ubud for your Bali trip you definitely won’t come around trying this dish at Ibu Oka. And it seems to be a popular restaurant among locals as well. It is a quite packed and busy place though and lacks a bit of charm with guests rushing in and out and standing around waiting, so it totally is some kind of tacky tourist destination but also entirely satisfying tastewise.

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Carving off meat from the remains of a suckling pig; a better picture can be found here

Babi Guling mostly is a lunchtime dish in Bali and apparently you have to come by Ibu Oka quite early if you don’t want to stand in line. We arrived quite late around 2 pm since we were stuck in traffic and luckily got a table right away.

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Emblematic pig statue at the entrance

Ibu Oka, Jalan Tegal Sari No. 2, Ubud, (across from Ubud Palace)

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  1. Frank D Law Said,

    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 generally underwhelming, stringy but flavorful enough, the crackling was still as tough as old leather shoes! It really made my DW and me wonder whether those folks who write glowing reviews of Ibu Oka and their babi guling, including Anthony Bourdain and the food critic from The Guardian 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 hyperbole that have come to dominate this debate and given Ibu Oka an undeserved reputation. I have nothing against Ibu Oka per se. 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 never 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!

    I’m a fan of Anthony Bourdain and look forward to his witty presentations but on this occasion he has dropped the baton big time! I certainly hope that Bourdain will wise up and realize that he has to remain totally objective. At the rate that he’s going, I fear that his credibility will soon be shot!

    Finally, 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!

  2. Blindtaster Said,

    Thanks a lot for your comment, Frank. I totally get your point and I agree that Ibu Oka certainly doesn’t represent the pinnacle of suckling pig cuisine.

    My goal also wasn’t to praise that restaurant too high or let’s say as a fine dining destination for suckling pig (categorized as “casual and street food”)

    So let me put it right: it is a tourist destination restaurant. The meat isn’t spectacular but it was convincing when I ate there. It was about the experience of eating a cherished local dish and probably also about the sauce that comes with the meat. I’m sure it is only served this way in Bali (probably not in China!?).

    So overall it’s more about tasting the flavors of a regional specialty as a tourist, and for that Ibu Oka is certainly a fairly acceptable locality.

    But again, I am thankful for your comment and I’m sure it’s helpful for clarifying things up for other readers!

    Cheers, Alex.

    PS: I’ll come back to you when I need hints for eating out in Shanghai!

  3. Frank D Law Said,

    No worries Alex. Ironically, yours was one of the most temperate of reviews on Ibu Oka. I suppose it’s tough to be a food critic as you have to remain objective, almost counter-intuitive with our childhood conditioning to always be kind and considerate. That is ok in most instances of life, but it can become albatrosses around food critics’ necks as you owe a duty to your readers to tell it like it is.

    Considering the way babi guling has been over hyped by all and sundry from tourism guide books, food columnists and virtually every cab driver in Bali, I guess it is difficult not to be sucked into the vortex of ballyhoo, hoopla and puff surrounding the dish!

  4. Blindtaster Said,

    You’re totally right Alex. But keep in mind this is a personal blog and it is also about describing my personal experience of discovering all things food and wine. And believe me, I am sometimes excited about the slightest things in this field, and so I was about a local specialty in Bali! ;=) So, this wasn’t high-end restaurant criticism per-se. Have you read the posting about “Restaurant Cire” in Bali? It is a little more serious about reviewing a fine dining experience. See here: http://blindtastingclub.net/restaurants/restaurant-cire-at-alila-villas-uluwatu-bali/ .
    Cheers!

  5. Frank D Law Said,

    Must commend you on a well written and balanced review on Restaurant Cire. The pics were awesome and you wrote that you used a compact camera? What model is that?

  6. Blindtaster Said,

    Canon S90. Makes fairly good pictures in the dark without flash.

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