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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

Lina, “Do you want to wake up at 3 am for babi guling?”

Me, “YES!!!”

When we arrived just before 4:30 am, most of the other patrons were already finishing their meals. Tucked away in an alleyway off of a side street about a 40 minute drive from Denpasar, this tiny little purveyor of pork opens at 4 am daily (3 on Sundays) and serves just one thing: babi guling.

Prior to coming to Indonesia, the only Balinese dish I knew I had to try was their special roasted pork. There are hundreds of babi guling joints on the island and, if I had the time or stomach space, I’d love to try them all. When presented with the opportunity to check out a secret underground babi guling restaurant, I jumped all over it. I’m glad I did.

Lina, my wonderful CouchSurfing host/Balinese food expert, had just heard about the place a week prior and had yet to try herself. We were joined by her brother, Agung and the friend that discovered the place, Yater. The fact that these people were not just willing, but wanting to wake up at 3am to drive nearly an hour for pork spoke volumes about their character; they were my kind of people. It was interesting that all three of them are active on twitter as well.

The restaurant itself was fairly small, but featured a spit roast – that had a suckling pig spinning on it, hypnotizing us as we dined – and an open kitchen in addition to the dining area. There was a butcher who was working a hog that had already been roasted to perfection and a couple ladies who handled the rest of the work. They were very pleasant but did seem a little concerned at my intense interest in what they were doing and omnipresent ear-to-ear smile. The staff was rounded out by the man who, in my unbiased opinion, has the most important job in Bali.

The spit was operated by someone who has become my hero, mentor, savior, and role model. This little old man worked the pork with a passion, focus, discipline, dedication, and love that brought a tear to my eye (I blamed it on the smoke). In addition to keeping the pig rotating, he would either add more wood or coconut husk to stoke the fire or douse it with water to keep the flames down. He would occasionally toss a handful of salt on the sensuous swine. This really got me going! His wearing a baseball cap adorned with cannabis leaves earned him additional points for style – not that he needed it.

And the food? I’ve yet to have bad babi guling and this was no exception. The skin was like glass, glass that has one side covered in pork fatty deliciousness. The meat itself was not the most tender and flavorful I’ve had (that distinction goes to iba oka in Ubud), but was respectable. The crispy coagulated blood bits were on point and the sambal had an adequate level of heat and was flavorful. The unexpected star of the show was the blood sausage. Everywhere else I’ve tried it, it’s been a tad on the dry side, but here it was rich, creamy perfection.

The overall experience was surreal. I’m not sure if it was the time of day or just the pork, but it all seemed like a (very, very pleasant) dream. This is what every traveling lover of food fantasizes about. The location, the people, the place, and, of course, the food were the stuff of legend. It was easily the best 18000 IDR (just under $2) I’ve ever spent.

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Photos courtesy of Lina Pw

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