Monday, September 26, 2011

Bourdain & Bordeaux

What do you get when you mix suckling pig, Indonesia, and Anthony Bourdain? Answer: a crowd. Which is why I declined to mix all three (missing out on the highly recommended Ibu Oka’s Babi Guling), and instead focusing on the Indonesian pig part. The thing about Bourdain is that he is never wrong about his food, and I wanted the chance to be wrong about my food. As you know by now, I love my pork. And I’d like to not love my pork, for the same reasons that everyone would like to love it less. Especially when it comes with skin, crackling, and melt-in-your mouth fat and garlic hot sauce.

"Babi Guling" Balinese Pork

My friends and I hired Pade, a local guide, to take us to Bali’s finest “Babi Guling”, and he didn’t waste more than two hours in doing just that. In those two hours, Bali’s finest “Babi Guling” roast suckling pig sold out. But, as luck would have it, we were waylaid for a good reason: we’d gotten the very unusual chance to see a religious ceremony that takes place only once every thirty years. But back to the pork.

Through several backstreets, down two alleyways, and behind a clothing shop, we found the sold-out locals-only ‘warung’, which is Indonesian for ‘small restaurant’. In the background, as always in Bali, the tinkling of wooden xylophones; in the foreground, wizened and leathery old men ambling along the backstreets, hands clasped behind their backs in meditative prayer. It was, of course, the type of backdrop that promises a good meal.

The smell of garbage was overwhelming, and I whispered a silent prayer of thanks when Pade informed us apologetically that this locals-only pork seller was sold out. Off we went to a different Babi Guling restaurant, one that had plenty left to go around: the front half of a pig was sitting enclosed in a plexi-glass-plated window, and a waitress periodically reached in to remove generous fistfuls of his back, which ended up on my plate and Pade’s, along with a hot sauce made of coconut, garlic, and onions, an upside-down saucer of rice, two bowls of offal soup, and a helping of local sauteed vegetables. That and three ginger beers set us back just $9. The only thing missing was a bottle of Bordeaux.

But was the pork better than Anthony Bourdain’s recommended warung? I wouldn’t know – his Babi Guling restaurant had also sold out before we could get there. One thing I can tell you is that you wouldn't be wasting your time if you made a special trip to Bali to do nothing more than eat.