Warung Ibu Oka - Ubud, Bali
Anthony Bourdain is not The Dark Knight or Iron Man, but as far as foodies like me are concerned, he's a superhero. A respected chef, best-selling author, and host of Travel Channel's No Reservations, he does what all foodies aspire to do: get paid to eat and travel. I'd hate his guts for having the best job in the world if he weren't so damned good at it.
Both this program and its predecessor -- Food Network's A Cook's Tour -- are literate, well-produced shows with Bourdain as its omnipresent voice. His wit is as sharp as a Henckles, but he also gets my respect for another reason: the guy loves durian!
Like many others, my dream (other than to be him) is to follow in his footsteps. No, not the TV career thing. I'm neither photogenic nor interesting enough to do that. Rather, I want to try everything he's tried: from slurping noodles at divey Southeast Asian hawker stalls, to tasting Ferran Adria's latest molecular gastronomic experiments at El Bulli in Spain.
But if there was a single thing I saw on the show that made me salivate most, it was on the Indonesia episode. In Bali (see clip below), he visited a warung (see last week's post for a definition) that specialized in Balinese roasted pig or babi guling, wherein a whole hog is twirled by hand crank over an open pit of fire and basted with coconut water until the skin attains a brown, glass-like shine.
Upon taking a bite of it, Bourdain proclaimed:
"OK. No question about it. This is the best pig I've ever had. Absolutely, the best. I mean is there anything more beautiful? Do you think that even the finest French chef could ever come up with anything as delicious or as beautiful as this? I think not. It's the mountain-top of pork. And I am there."
So on my trip to Indonesia a few months ago, guess what was on the top of my itinerary?
Yep. Babi guling at Ibu Oka.
When we arrived, it was crowded with a good blend of locals and tourists, which was odd because the restaurant is in Ubud, an artsy mountain village nowhere near the busy beach resort town of Kuta, where Hard Rock Cafe still packs 'em in.
Once we found an empty table, we took our shoes off, and sat cross-legged on the floor. Lunch was easy to order, since there was really only one thing on the menu: babi guling with rice. By local standards, it was expensive. One plate? A whopping 25,000 rupiah. That's $2.73.
And it was everything Bourdain said it would be. The skin shattered when I bit into it, like a brittle sheet of caramelized sugar. The pork meat itself was more neutrally flavored. Stripped into thin slabs from the carcass of the animal, I tore it up into smaller strands with my fork, and relished the pieces that was covered in their spicy potpourri of herbs and spices.
The best part of the meal was something Bourdain didn't talk about -- an object I couldn't readily identify (see it on the foreground of my first photo). It was a fritter, deep-fried to a ruddy and gnarly hunk resembling porous lava rock. I don't know exactly what was in it, but there was pig involved. This I'm sure of, because it was delicious and vaguely bacon-y.
So there. I finally ate where Tony Bourdain ate.
One episode down. Fifty some more to go.
Warung Ibu Oka
Jln. Suweta, Ubud
THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Casa Inka - Fountain Valley