Balinese feasts: a taste of abundance
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. ◊