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Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka, Ubud

10 November 2010 2 Comments

Babi Guling Ibu Oka store

Babi guling refers to the traditional Balinese style spit roasted pig. The said pig is stuffed with herbs and roasted over a charcoal pit. As the meat is slowly cooked inside, the exterior is slathered with coconut water, allowing the skin to caramelize to perfection. This dish is well known all over Indonesia as a Balinese specialty, but even at its birthplace, some babi guling stores are more famous than others. Arguably, the most famed of them all is Babi guling Ibu Oka (literally translated as Mrs. Oka’s roast pig), located just a stone’s throw away from the Ubud Palace.

Early lunch crowd at babi guling Ibu Oka

Early lunch crowd at babi guling Ibu Oka

Tourists and locals alike crowd the small store, patiently waiting for a place to sit or for their plate of babi guling to arrive. The store’s popularity is not surprising, as Ibu Oka is mentioned in almost every travel guide. They also enjoy publicity from celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s comment that Ibu Oka’s babi guling is “the best pig I’ve ever had”. This is a remarkable statement; the man is a well travelled foodie and in the same episode of No Reservations, he proclaimed to have an “unhealthy preoccupation with … all things pig”. With such an endorsement, it is no wonder that Ibu Oka has turned into some sort of a Mecca for porcine lovers.

Ibu Oka dishes out only a limited amount of babi guling every day, and it runs out pretty fast. Therefore, head over there early to avoid disappointment. In addition, note that the store is closed on some religious holidays.

Warung Ibu Oka's open kitchen

Ibu Oka’s open kitchen

Babi guling 'spesial'

‘Special’ babi guling

We arrived early (10:30 am) that day, before the lunch crowd started pouring in, quickly found seats and ordered the ‘special’ from the menu (Rp.25,000 in 2010). We were served a dish of white rice topped with pieces of pork, skin, blood sausage and fried rind. Our verdict? Thumbs up for the soft and juicy meat, and the crunchy skin that was at the same time not too tough. We weren’t really big on the fact that the dish was served lukewarm, and the meat was not as flavourful as expected. Overall it was a good lunch, and definitely a worthwhile cultural experience.

Travel Info

Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka – Jalan Suweta / Tegal Sari no.2, Ubud
Tel: 62-361-976345
Open daily from 11am onwards

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2 Comments »

  • 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, 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 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!

  • Alicia said:

    Just a couple of months ago, I brought my family to Ubud. I had been there twice previously but it was the first time for them. I had selected Ibu Oka Babi Guling as one of our meal stops, as the meat was decent for the price. The sanitary conditions of the place were a bit of a culture shock, but after some coaxing, my parents relented.

    Since Dad hails from Hong Kong, we’ve had before excellent roast meats, including roast/suckling pig. My personal favorite is the Hong Kong style roast pork. However, I must say that the Ibu Oka’s Babi Guling, while not the best we’ve tasted, merited praise. The brown gravy complemented well with the meat, and the flavor and texture was a different experience (from HK roast pork/ Peking duck) altogether. We didn’t like the pig skin though, as it was tough and tasteless.

    It seems a bit unfair to compare babi guling to other variants of roasted pigs, or for that matter, to other roast meats. Granted, while all are roasted, the flavors and spices infused into the meat and skin, and the methods of preparation differ! Comparing them would be akin to comparing apples with oranges!

    At Ibu Oka, I guess whether one received tender portions of meat or not was based purely on luck. Mum had more portions of the darker and really tender meat (probably the collar or the hind legs of the pig) while my portion consisted mostly of slightly tougher white meat. Mum has been pretty lucky all her life so, oh well. 🙂

    For roughly US$3, you’ll get a plate of babi guling. I’ll probably not be able to get a similar sized portion of pork back home at that price. Hell, I wouldn’t even be able to find babi guling (Ubud style) back home either! I guess it’s just a balance of expectations, with the price and setting in mind.

    If you like pork, and especially roast pork, do give that place a try. After all, isn’t traveling an adventure to absorb the sights and partake in the local delicacies? 😀

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