Eating (like a) pig in Bali

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There are so many reasons why Bali is still, despite a recent run of lousy luck, one of the most beautiful and interesting places to visit in Southeast Asia. I’d go so far as to say that no other destination in the region can compete with its combination of culture and history, gorgeous beaches, lush tropical vistas, great shopping, good people, sexy hotels, and sleek bars and restaurants. Sure, some places might be better at one thing or another, but Bali has the total package. Want to loaf around on a white sand beach, hole up in a sexy bungalow with a loved one, play a round of golf, go diving, get pampered in an ultra-luxe spa for the afternoon, spend the day touring temples or sourcing awesome homewares and other accessories to ship home? No problem. You can do all that and more in Bali.

Bali also has several pretty good restaurants. Over the last week, I had the chance to eat my way across the island. I checked out the very well-reputed and up-market Mozaic in Ubud, helmed by a Thomas Keller protege; the sexy and very romantic Kafe Warisan in Seminyak, which serves excellent, classic French food; the seductive Breeze, also in Seminyak, whose tables are as close as you can get to the ocean and whose duck tasting plate was well worth getting lost for half an hour trying to find the restaurant; and the restaurant at the Damai in Lovina, whose new Danish chef is serving stylish food in a relaxed and comfy setting. I also had a lovely chicken porridge at Amandari in Ubud, an insanely fresh ginger tea in a private herb garden in East Bali, and some delicious crispy duck at the Komaneka resort in Tanggayuda.

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The best two meals I had in Bali were in Ubud. They were also, ironically, the cheapest meals of my trip. The first was at Ibu Oka, a babi guling (spit-roasted, spiced suckling pig) specialist that is famous across the island. Seriously, mention babi guling to any Balinese native and he or she will smile and immediately say, “Ibu Oka.” And given that there’s a babi guling stall on just about every street corner and in every village in Bali, being the best really means something there. My travel companion, and babi guling fanatic, L had been to Ibu Oka three times during her last trip to Bali (it was a 4 day trip). For the first few days of our visit, it was all she could talk about. She even brought it up during our meetings (it was a work trip after all). Thankfully, babi guling is a shared passion in Bali and several of our new business acquaintances shared L’s fetish for the roast suckling pig. Instead of being appalled, they sympathized.

Ibu Oka is a small, slightly dingy open-air restaurant located smack in the middle of Ubud town. You have to go early (ideally around 1030am), firstly to avoid the queues, but also (and more importantly) to ensure that you won’t arrive only to be told that they are sold out (the restaurant only prepares a couple each day). While there are a few variations, order the “pisah”, which translates to a plate full of everything: soft, succulent meat, crispy skin, deep-fried intestines, more pork meat mixed with spices, and a chilli-vegetable relish. This is served with rice. Order your meal, take off your shoes and head into the dining area. Sit on the floor and dig into one of the most transcendental food experiences of your life; it really is an almost religious experience.

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Not too far from Ibu Oka is Naughty Nuri’s. This roadside shack of a restaurant is directly opposite the Neka Museum (a must-visit for art lovers), so it’s easy-peasy to find. This open-air dive is divine. The menu is written on a number of boards that adorn one of the interior walls. While there are a number of both Western and Indonesian options, every regular will tell you to order the ribs. Each gorgeous rack is marinated (in some sort of “special sauce”) and barbecued to order. The meat is soft and tender and utterly adictive. Nuri’s is also well-known for serving the very best martinis on the island. And I have to say, they were pretty darned amazing. I had not had such a good, ice-cold, properly made vodka martini in ages. It was so good in fact that I had two, at lunch!

Ibu Oka and Naughty Nuri’s are clear examples that not all good eatin’ is chi-chi eatin’. In fact, sometimes the very best meals are the cheap and cheerful ones shared with good people. Of course, it helps that the food at these two establishments is mind-blowingly good. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there are so many reasons to visit Bali. Ibu Oka and Naughty Nuri’s are, without doubt, two of the best.

Ibu Oka
Jalan Tegal Sari No 2 Ubud, Tel: 976 345
Naughty Nuri’s
Jalan Sanggingan, opposite the Neka Museum, Tel: 977 547
(cash only)

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his two kids!

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19 Comments

  1. JC 24 April 2007

    hmmmm… this helped me confirm my family’s holiday destination in May!

  2. Rani 24 April 2007

    Aun, I wish you have more photo of babi guling! is it in your flickr?

  3. Lynn 24 April 2007

    aha! If I show this to Jason he’s gonna want to go to bali again. He’s a suckling pig/rib fanatic. I don’t know how we missed Naughty Nuri’s or the crispy duck =o( We stayed in Komaneka on one of the trips!

  4. Jeanne 24 April 2007

    Oh wow! All things porky on one plate – sounds like my idea of heaven. What great descriptions of these two places and of the island – makes me want to pack my bags and just go. And it’s always good to hear abotu transcendental eating experiences at non-transcendental prices 😉

  5. Gabriel 24 April 2007

    Completely agree about NN’s! Went there several years back and was blown away by the quality of the martini (especially at a roadside “kopi tiam” equivalent) and the soft, fleshy and oh so succulent ribs.

  6. SL 25 April 2007

    May I highlight another restaurant – Sate Bali at 22A Jalan Laksmana, Seminyak. Right opposite The Samaya, where Breeze is located. Great Balinese food! Best pork belly I’ve tasted in years! I’ve tried Breeze, Kafe Warisan and Moziac – all fabulous places with their own inimitable styles and cuisines. Naughty Nuri’s has got great food (and not just ribs) at very decent prices for tourists. Ibu Oka’s ok… guess I’m not particularly good at sitting down cross-legged for anything longer than 10 minutes.

  7. Rasa Malaysia 26 April 2007

    I totally agree with you about Bali, Bali has it all. I think the most important thing to me is that Bali has soul (well, if you compare Bali to the islands in Thailand which are somewhat shallow if you know what I mean) despite being a tourist destinations. That’s the difference and the reason why I would go back there again and again, and seriously hope that one day I would own a property there. 🙂

  8. The Guvnor 26 April 2007

    Love babi guling. the last time we went, we stopped to eat a whole plate once we touched down before we even checked into the hotel. bali’s brilliant – love watching the sunsets at ku de ta and eating grilled fish at jimbaran with the waves lapping at your toes. and the marketplace in central denpasar away from the maddening surfer kuta crowd is a real hoot. Your blog’s fab by the way – have a great rtw trip!

  9. scott 27 April 2007

    Oh my! Those ribs looks soo good! I grew up in a kosher home and still have a psychological issue with PORK CHOPS, but boy do I love baby back ribs! And bacon, everything is better with bacon!

  10. Splendid Life 29 April 2007

    guess I’m not particularly good at sitting down cross-legged for anything longer than 10 minutes.

  11. venny 30 April 2007

    I see that you’ve found Ibu Oka and am glad to know that it suits your palate! As for Nuri, strangely, I received conflicting feedback. A friend went there and was sorely disappointed with the tough ribs. But I guess I have to try them out for myself.

  12. Beaulotus 16 May 2007

    You know, I’ve been to Ubud quite a number of times and each time I walked to Ibu Oka and never found the courage to walk in. Somehow things didn’t look too hygenic and I guess that my French hubby was blocked (shame on us). Our favourite eating place is just a few doors down, a fusion eating place with an Aussie chef.

  13. RT 21 June 2007

    The ribs and the sulking pig looks simply fantastic, I’m a big fan of both.

    Been to indo many times, but hav not been to Bali. Pity that it has been thru some bad publicities. It is safe travelling there is a small group 2-4ppl?
    Is ther any good hotels you can recommend( pref near Ibu Oka)? thks

  14. Chubby Hubby 21 June 2007

    Hey RT, Bali is very safe. It’s tragic that visitor arrivals there have really dropped but the place is totally safe! Don’t worry at all. If you want something rustic but cool in Ubud, try Komaneka on Moneky Forest Road; for something a little more sleek, Uma Ubud.

  15. Timothy Gan 24 June 2007

    Goodness, CH took the words right out of my mouth. Ever since I tired Nuri’s and Bu Oka in July 2005, Ubud has become an annual pilgrimage of sorts for my sister, our friends and myself. CH covered the special charms of the two outlets sooo darn well. Another place I like staying at is Komaneka Tanggayuda, divine pool villas looking over verdant valley. At Nuri’s try the babi kicap manis (pork in sweet dark sauce). Pour the bowl of white rice into the pork and gravy, add some of the chilli sauce from the little blue bowls in the table, then mix the whole lot together. Heaven. And er, not for those who are spice shy. The bowl of chili ought to have a warning label 🙂 I just went for 4 days in June 07 and looking forward to my 9 days in Bali in July 07! Addictive….

  16. Kevin Bell 29 July 2007

    Next time you are in the Kerobokan [Seminyak] area include Blossom, at the Sentosa Villas, in your list to visit. A mix of traditional and Royal Thai cuisines some of which are even hard to find in Thailand [the Penang of Beef Cheeks and a Massaman of Duck are to die for]. Also on your list of special pork dishes is their Pork Hock, small pieces of pork hock in a tamarind tamerillo sauce which makes the small crunchy pieces intensely sweet, a dash of the accompanying nam pla prik cuts the sweetness. As for good value hotels in Ubud; Tegal Sari and Kakiang stand out at around $S50 p.d., but be warned both are always full and must be booked well in advance, both have web sites, go direct. At Ubud’s southern end, Pengosekan, where there are many great value restaurants.

  17. Joey Lee 7 September 2007

    Thanks for your posting of Bali. I love Bali. You mentioned of fresh ginger tea in herb garden in East Bali, do you have the address and contact number? I would love to go there when I am in Bali next week. Thanks.

  18. Gourmet Traveller 12 June 2010

    I’ve just been to both and you’re so right about good eating not being chi-chi. Can’t wait to go back to Naughty Nuri’s!
    P.S. Thanks for recommending Candlenut Kitchen. Heading to Singapore next week and will probably eat there again 😉

  19. Frank D Law 29 November 2011

    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, gamy 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, Andrew Timmem and John Brunton, the travel writer 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!

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