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Balinese feasts: a taste of abundance

Smoked duck and lawar at Bebek Joni

Bli Komang turns to me and laughs. I am sitting beside him, sweat trickling down my face, inside a dimly lit warung on a main road in Sanur. Outside there is little to distinguish the restaurant from others save a baby blue sign proclaiming “HANDAYANI”, its bolded letters above a photo cutout of babi guling, Balinese suckling pig.

Stuffed with spices and then spit-roasted for hours over a charcoal fire, the sight of babi guling seems comfortingly familiar. I can’t help but draw comparisons with the Cantonese yue jue of my childhood and the cochinillo asado of my year in Spain.

At nine or ten each morning Babi Guling Handayani opens for a day of brisk business. Bli Komang tells me the suckling pig is so popular among locals it often sells out by 1:00pm – and I can easily see why. The meat is wonderfully tender and not too fatty, topped by a slice of skin that crackles in the mouth. It comes accompanied with rice; lawar, a spiced mixture of chopped vegetables, meat and grated coconut; sate lilit, a minced fish skewer; and a spicy broth known as jukut ares, made from a young banana tree.

Babi guling aside, Bali surprises me with the richness of its local cuisine. On Bli Komang’s birthday we indulge in grilled seafood on Jimbaran beach, feasting on locally caught garoupa, squid and prawns. At a garden-style restaurant in Kedewatan village, I order the signature nasi campur ayam – mixed rice with chicken – and es teler, a fruit cocktail served in a blend of coconut milk, shaved ice, condensed milk and sugar.

After an early morning stroll around Ubud market, Bama takes me to try the slow-roasted chicken at Betutu Ayam Pak Sanur, housed inside the restaurateur’s own family compound. It’s a marked contrast with the more upscale feel at Bebek Joni, where we share ikan goreng ala Teges (Teges-style fried fish) and succulent bebek betutu – smoked duck in a lip-smacking sauce.

Back at Babi Guling Handayani, I reach for the small box of tissues to keep the chilli sweats at bay. I have polished off the spicy lawar and jukut ares – perhaps a little too quickly – but there is still room for more mouthfuls of pork. Bli Komang seems to recognise this at once.

“Just the meat this time?”

I pause, deliberate for a few seconds, and say yes.

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Tasty crackers at Bebek Joni, outside Ubud

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Ikan goreng ala Teges (Teges-style fried fish) with two types of sambal

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Slow-roasted chicken at Betutu Ayam Pak Sanur, Ubud

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Babi guling (roasted suckling pig) at Ibu Oka, Ubud

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Es Teler (‘Drunken Ice’) at Nasi Campur Kedewatan Ibu Mangku

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Ibu Mangku’s signature nasi campur – rice, chicken and all the sides

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Suckling pig at Babi Guling Handayani – much tastier than it looks

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Bli Komang tucks into our seafood spread at Jimbaran beach

25 Comments Post a comment
  1. You’ve just made me very hungry! It all looks so delicious. ~SueBee

    March 7, 2014
    • Absolutely – the Balinese sure know how to eat well!

      March 7, 2014
  2. Looks so delicious.

    March 7, 2014
    • It was, Yuna. I ate even more than usual when I was there!

      March 7, 2014
      • I couldn’t blame you for that because its taste really good. I tried Suckling roast once, and then second, third, and finally it was kinda addicted 😀 :D.

        March 8, 2014
  3. That babi guling is similar to our famous lechon 🙂

    March 7, 2014
    • I can’t wait to try that when I go to the Philippines… 🙂

      March 7, 2014
      • Oh, please do and include “adobo” too.

        March 7, 2014
  4. Bebek betutu must be one of my favorite Balinese dishes and the fact that the way it’s cooked varies from one region to another makes the dish even more interesting. But what could have been a better way of spending our last night in Bali than dining at that seafood restaurant at Jimbaran? 🙂 Nice photos, James!

    March 7, 2014
    • Yes, that bebek betutu at Bebek Joni was superb! We lapped up every last drop of the sauce. I was hoping the waiter would tell us what the ingredients were. 🙂 And you’re right, the seafood at Jimbaran was well worth the price. Thank you, Bama!

      March 7, 2014
  5. That all looks so very good! I’ve tried Sardinian suckling pig but not Balinese! Would love to try that sometime.

    March 7, 2014
    • Suckling pig seems to be a universal dish around the world. I loved the variety of spices and flavours in Balinese food… next time I would probably go for a cooking class!

      March 7, 2014
  6. Incredible HQ photos. I wonder if you are experienced in the culinary traditions of other Indo islands such as Sumatra or Sulawesi? Babi Guling and Bebek Betutu is nice, but rather ‘traditional’ by western standards, compared to things like Saksang from Sulawesi.

    March 7, 2014
    • Thanks for the recommendations, Lee. I haven’t been to either Sumatra or Sulawesi – both are on my radar though! I’ve had a bit more exposure to Javanese cuisine, my favourite dishes are tahu telor, gudeg, and asinan sayur as I love the sweet-savoury combination in all three. Rawon and urap are also near the top, as is a comforting bowl of soto ayam from East Java. Have you tried ayam taliwang in Lombok? That’s another one of my favourites.

      March 8, 2014
  7. Thank god, I just had a great dinner…

    I won’t be able to resist this feast of images with an empty stomach…

    Beautiful shots, James…

    March 8, 2014
    • Thank you, Sreejith. I’m wondering if you saw any similarities with the food of Kerala… 🙂

      March 8, 2014
      • Rice and Fish 🙂 That’s our most common food. But here I could see some difference that’s great…

        March 9, 2014
  8. cfergusondesign #

    I’m so excited to feast when I’m there. It all looks fantastic.

    March 12, 2014
    • It tastes even better than it looks – and more so if you’re into spicy flavours!

      March 12, 2014
  9. I could not be happier I came across your post! I am going to Bali in September for my honeymoon and this meal sounds delicious! Would love to hear any other tips you have for Bali? Our trip will be split between Ubud and a coastal town we have yet to choose.

    March 19, 2014
    • Wow, I’m not entirely sure where to start! It depends what you’re interested in as Bali has something for everyone.

      For me, history and culture trumps beach time so I spent most of my visit exploring the island’s interior. I gave Kuta a wide berth and adored the area around Ubud… if you’re into diving head up northeast to Amed and Tulamben; the Liberty wreck is a big hit and all the photos I’ve seen have been spectacular.

      You can also try hiking up Bali’s volcanoes; the most popular (and easier) one is Batur while Mt. Agung is more of a challenge. Think loose scree, 45-degree climbs and exposed terrain… it’s best to get a guide!

      March 21, 2014
      • Super helpful! Thank you for putting together such a thoughtful response 🙂 Looking forward to exploring Bali!

        March 23, 2014
  10. Bali’s delights seem never ending James! What a fantastic array of deliciousness! The Es Teler must have been most welcome after all the fiery goodies! 🙂

    March 25, 2014
    • Never ending is right, Madhu! The seafood was especially memorable – all fresh and locally caught, at prices that would be unimaginable in Hong Kong. 🙂 Es teler too was a real indulgence, and I wish it was available with that spicy suckling pig.

      March 25, 2014

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