Always on the lookout for new ways to enjoy the pig, we were excited to try Babi Guling, or spit-roasted young pig, in Bali. A couple of recommended restaurants in Ubud specialize in it, but we thought we’d avoid any dumbing down of the dish for the touristic palate and try it in a less-frequently-visited town.
After our homestay family produced its weekly feast Sunday night for the compound’s guests, it occurred to us that much Indonesian food has been dumbed down for the touristic palate. Most of the food we’ve eaten in warung (restaurants) has been tasty but unremarkable. Mother Wayan’s huge meal was varied and spicy! Memo to self: sambal (spicy chili paste) should be applied to one’s food sparingly. Your Turkish intestines thank you.
This lesson must always be re-learnt: before arriving at conclusions about the appeal of a country’s cuisine, eat a home cooked meal. We never knew tapioca leaves and young papaya could be so very delicious. And we have fallen in love with duck all over again.
So, after this meal, we were particularly curious about Babi Guling. It’s a ceremonial dish that involves roasting a whole suckling pig, its stomach filled with spices like turmeric, chilis, ginger, coriander and other stuff. Sounds promising!
We did not go to this Babi Guling-famous town, Gianyar, on purpose. In fact, it was nowhere near we thought we were, off by kilometers in the low-to-mid-double digits. But our guiding principle for scooter excursions is “you can’t be lost if you don’t have a destination in the first place.” Some may suggest this has been the guiding principle of our entire life, to date. But since we were there anyway, we decided to find a busy place to stop for lunch.
Having located a market stall with a dirty picnic table, a gelatinous mass of meat sitting on a cutting board and hungry market workers gnawing away, we sat down and ordered a plate. When the plate of pork arrived, we were first distracted by the print around the plate’s edges, which included text in Chinese characters, Bahasa Indonesia and the word “halal.” Nothing about that made any sense at all.
Carpetblog readers know we, like them, respect the pig and appreciate the different ways it can be prepared. And, we will eat just about anything. But we’re not going to lie: this collection of unidentifiable pig parts, in uncomfortable shapes, colors and textures, was not delicious. The word regrettable also comes to mind. We ate the whole thing, though. When we invest $2 on a meal, we’re not inclined to let it go to waste.
We had better luck the following day, on our early-morning rice paddy walk. A rice farmer with a scythe shouted, “Hey! You want coconut?” Who wouldn’t? He shucked off his pants (shorts underneath, oh phew), shimmied up a coconut palm, thwacked a coconut and threw it down. He hacked off the top and passed it over so we could drink the juice, which cooled the already-sweating morning measurably. Then he carved out the meat from inside, which tasted more like nutty jello than any coconut we’d ever tasted. We walked home with breakfast on the half shell.
Not pork, but also not regrettable.