The vegetarians among us will understand that there are a few times on your travels when you will have thrown your hands up and let the meat eaters do their thing. In Ubud, Bali, this situation is unavoidable as the lure of the famous Babi Guling draws travellers in.
The Babi Guling, or suckling pig is a traditional Balinese cuisine that was brought to the world’s attention by travel and food writer Anthony Bourdain. Ever since Boudain visited Ibu Oka in 2007 and claimed that he had reached “the mountaintop of pork”, foodies everywhere have flocked to get a piece of the meat. As the years have gone by however, the word on the streets and amongst the backpackers is that there is a new kid on the block who follows the same traditional recipes that has made the Babi Guling such a sought after dish.
You would almost think that you had read your map wrong or stumbled into someone’s house when you enter Jalan Raya Mas. Amidst plastic chairs, a crate of Bintang and a few warm bottles of Sprite sit beside the women who prepare the delicacy. It’s a friendly welcome, but vegetarians beware: the only thing meat free is the beer.
Like many things in Bali, the pig is prepared entirely by hand. An entire pig is stuffed with chilli, ginger and salam leaf before being stitched up and roasted on a spit over an open flame. This six-hour-long process is only interrupted for the women to rub sweet coconut water on the pig’s skin to start the caramelisation process.
The (from what I’m told) extremely tender meat is served with rice, a spicy shredded pork soup and for the daring, a slab of pork blood sausage. The crowning jewel of any pig dish however is the crackling. The sound alone is enough to answer a pork lovers prayers as the skin cracks and crunches into shards like a layer of thin toffee.
Babi Guling is certainly an experience to withhold, whether you’re an omnivore or not. This tiny restaurant takes you away from the crowds and into a world of food that is truly, utterly, uniquely Balinese. But vegetarian to vegetarian? Use it as leverage to drag the meat eaters to the Indian joint down the road for a yummy and cheap vegetable curry!