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Was Ibu Oka’s Babi Guling Worth The Flight To Bali?

June 29th, 2008 · 31 Comments

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Yes, I am the wacko who flew all the way around the world to eat pork at Ibu Oka in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. Like I said before, it wasn’t my only reason, but it was high up there. I’m a sucker for succulence.  

So, after many months leaving you hanging, I’m sure you’re wondering, was it worth it?

Well, yes and no.

You know how sometimes you spy a stone sexy fox from across the room and quickly create the perfect scenario in your head that he will be an expert lover, a thoughtful listener, a comedian, a high-wage earner, and have a knack for reducing the ever-present tension between you and your mother? All this before you’ve even been able to blurt out a hello? That was the pork.

Then you know how once you do muster the courage to say hello, he responds with a phlegm-filled throat that makes your eyes tear up and once he finally coughs up the sputum, he stutters something about how Republicans rule and then laments his recent impotency? That wasn’t exactly the pork, but you get the point I’m making.

You see, nothing can really ever live up to the idealized perfections we create in our heads. I knew that going in, but still I hoped. Thanks to Anthony Bourdain’s awesome Indonesia show on No Reservations, I had built up the idea of this babi guling so much so, that barring an instant tongue orgasm upon first bite, I had set myself up for disappointment.

But all was not lost. First, I had the months of anticipation to feel grateful for. Sometimes I think that’s better than experiencing the actual thing you’ve been anticipating. When someone at work is giving you a hard time, you can just think, “pork.” When your car breaks down on the highway and your cell phone battery is dead, “pork.” It’s a much better option than gun violence.

Second, to be fair, the babi guling actually was pretty fucking tasty. They give you a healthy heaping of pork parts as well as rice and veggies, and the best part…spicy sauce and crispy piggy skin! Chomp, chomp, yum! All for the ridiculously low price of $3ish. It wasn’t the best pork I’ve ever eaten (that distinction goes to the meal created by Travel Boyfriend’s best friend up in Seattle during one of his annual pig roast parties). But it was up there in the charts.

Would I fly back for a second helping? No. But would I go out of my way to eat it if I ever found myself again on the Isle of the Gods? You betcha. 

So, if you’re already planning a trip to Bali and are looking for the best babi guling on the island, look no further than Ibu Oka. As long as you don’t perfectionize it beforehand like I did, you won’t be disappointed one bit! And even if you do perfectionize it beforehand like I did, you’re still going to get a mouthful of tastiness.

Travel Betty Basics
Ibu Oka
Located just across from the Ubud Tourist Information Center. Go early because once they sell out for the day, they close.
Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Download Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations Season One
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations - Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, Season 1

Tags: Bali · Food and Drink

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  • 31 responses so far ↓

    • 1 Melody Platz // Jun 29, 2008 at 3:53 pm

      Today, I waited 6 hours for a brownie. When it was served up, it looked like it had already been eaten by someone else. I was mad for at least a half an hour, and as you can see, I’m still thinking about it.

      So at least your pork was tasty. You also got to Bali, and that was probably good. : )

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    • 2 Travel Betty // Jun 29, 2008 at 8:37 pm

      Wow, that sucks, Melody! I hope it was at least chocolatey and/or warm. Thanks for stopping by :)

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    • 3 Balinese Suckling Pig | Bali My World // Jun 30, 2008 at 7:57 am

      [...] The article mentions about restaurants around the world where you can find this special food. To my surprise, Warung Ibu Oka in Ubud Bali, is also listed. Here is the complete [...]

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    • 4 Nomadic Matt // Jun 30, 2008 at 2:20 pm

      hmmm and i thought i was crazy when i flew to tokyo for sushi……..

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    • 5 Travel Betty // Jul 3, 2008 at 9:04 pm

      That’s not crazy, Matt! Settling for Midwestern grocery store sushi, now that’s crazy.

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    • 6 Albert // Aug 4, 2008 at 8:41 pm

      Hi Betty,

      I am planning a trip to Bali JUST to eat the pork! I thought I was crazy but I guess I’m not alone!

      Me and Pork…

      If you ever come to Taiwan and need a tourguide, please let me know, I’d be more than happy to take you to the secret eating places..

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    • 7 Travel Betty // Aug 4, 2008 at 9:57 pm

      AWESOME, Albert! Looks like we’re both crazy!! And be careful, I just might take you up on the tour guide offer. I’ve been hearing a lot of great things about Taiwan lately.

      Have a great trip!

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    • 8 Scott // Aug 25, 2008 at 3:21 pm

      A couple of us deployed here in Kuwait plan a Bali adventure for early next year, including the pilgrimage to Ibu Oka’s. After all, if both Anthony Bourdain and Lonely Planet’s Indonesia Food Guide call it the best, I’ve got to try it!

      Beyond that, though, what else do you recommend we try while on Bali?

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    • 9 Travel Betty // Sep 7, 2008 at 7:08 pm

      You won’t be disappointed, Scott! Enjoy the trip. Bali is full of many wonderful things to see and do.

      Click around my site a bit for recommendations or check out my good friend Nomad4Ever: http://www.nomad4ever.com

      He lives in Bali and knows all the cool secret spots.

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    • 10 sheena // May 25, 2009 at 1:22 am

      oooh, la la. i want that pig in my mouth, and that bali under my feet. i’m adoring your blog. sure you’re crazy busy, but if you have time: on a scale of 1 to hell, how much does/would it suck to be in bali with no car? or is it alright?

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    • 11 Travel Betty // May 25, 2009 at 1:31 pm

      no need for a car, sheena. you can hire someone to drive you around fairly cheaply if you want to go off the beaten path. and of course you can rent a car yourself, but i didn’t feel comfortable since they drive like crazy people and do so on the opposite side of the road. if it was just one or the other, then it would be fine. but to me, the two together is a scary combination.

      have fun!

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    • 12 Nyoman // Jun 5, 2009 at 6:18 pm

      Hi Betty,
      I am glad I found your website. I am a babi guling lover and I have done that many times. I am going to make babi guling for my neighbor’s party on 4 of July. I want to make them sweat.

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    • 13 V // Jun 23, 2009 at 11:57 am

      I just love Ibu Oka…. btw… congrats to Betty on her recent wedding…..

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    • 14 Aaron // Jun 26, 2009 at 6:19 am

      I’m going to this place tomorrow. I’ve been in 35 countries and the last several stops I went everywhere Bourdain did. I’ve been building up this place in my mind too and mostly planned my trip to Bali around it. Hope I’m not let down! http://www.twitter.com/qmg

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    • 15 Frency Importado // Jul 10, 2009 at 12:59 am

      Hi Travel Betty. You should also come to the Philippines and experience our own version of Babi Guling. We call it “LECHON” in the Philippines. You may want to go to Talisay, Cebu in the island of Visayas if youre really up for a good suckling pig. Actually, Mr. Bourdain featured it in his show too!

      Best regards

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    • 16 LAKBAI // Nov 24, 2009 at 10:52 pm

      [...] start to the day, we went straight for lunch at Bali’s famous Babi Guling (suckling pig) at Ibu Oka’s. Since growing up eating Filipino food and having a huge lechon roasted pig as our main course for [...]

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    • 17 Mike // Dec 7, 2009 at 5:44 pm

      Well, I’m glad you wrote this up because we’re on our way to Ubud and now I can go to the restaurant with lowered expectations. Which puts me in the position to enjoy it more than you did :)

      Love the site – keep traveling fearlessly.

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    • 18 Legal Nomads // Dec 10, 2009 at 8:45 pm

      I stumbled upon this post when I was looking for Ibu Oka’s address and I just had to add: nothing crazy about you hauling it to Bali for babi guling. I ate there too and it was fantastic, as were so many other delicious Balinese dishes. I had to take a cooking class before I left, but there’s no freaking way I can cook like a true Balinese; it’s just not possible!

      Jodi

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    • 19 Glen // Jun 28, 2010 at 5:14 am

      I went there about an hour ago and was very dissapointed. Not because i had anticipated it so much beforehand, but because it was NOT THAT GOOD at all. Serving sizes for who looked like the locals were generous, where as anyone who looked like westerners were dished up a pittyfull little portion. The meat was full of the fattiest parts of the pig, and it was finished in about three spoonfulls. Oh and the crackling it looked nice, I could see locals eating it, but apparently it had run out an hour ago. Roast pork at home would beat this hyped up eatery hands down on any day. It was certainly not a suckling pig, more like an old sow. Not worth the drive to Ubud just for this, markets and the monkey gardens worth a look though.

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    • 20 MM // Dec 14, 2010 at 5:15 am

      Will be in Bali in a couple of days and am definitely gonna stop by for the babi guling since I’m goin to the monkey forest

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    • 21 Justin // Jan 10, 2011 at 8:01 pm

      I have to admit, visually I was impressed, and I enjoyed the scene, but I was a little underwhelmed by the final product. I did get a chance to experience the awesome sight of a babi guling over the spit in Amed. Thought you’d enjoy: How is babi formed?

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    • 22 Jenny // May 6, 2011 at 11:22 am

      Omg… I LOVE this food. I was just there in April and the place was so crowed at lunch. I must say that the suckling pig is amazing but the sausage they serve with it also deserves some shout outs! Yummy sausage Ibu Oka’s!

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    • 23 Frank D Law // Jun 27, 2011 at 5:12 am

      Have to agree with Glen’s assessment. Even from the pix that you posted, you can see that what they roasted was NO SUCKLING PIG. What they used was apoor excuse of a big fat pig..jiggety jig!

      We queued like suckers for this overhyped suckling pig only to find that they have no clue what a roasted suckling pig should be. The skin was like leather…no, more like hardwood! A real insult to our tastebuds. Makes us question Anthony Bourdain’s & Lonely Planet writer’s judgement.

      You wanna try real roasted suckling pig? Go to any Chinese restaurant anywhere in the world, from San Francisco to London to Singapore and Hong Kong and order suckling pig. What you’ll get is a slice of suckling pig heaven with skin so crispy that it’d make Ibu Oka’s the rankest of amateurs in the world. You see, the secret starts with the selection of the pig. Only baby pigs are used with skin so thin that it’d never be the thick hide that Anthony Bourdain calls “crackling”??? How can the thick hides of the big fat pigs used by Ibu Oka ever hope to match a cuisine that more than 2,000 years old?

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    • 24 2D // Jun 28, 2011 at 5:24 pm

      if u ccome to Bali don’t forget to eat babi guling, that very yummy,and many stall sell babi guling in bali,,,and if u want taste the another babi guling besides bu oka, u can ask me.

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    • 25 Frank D Law // Aug 5, 2011 at 1:15 am

      Thought I was a little harsh with the initial assessment of Ibu Oka, so me and my mates decided to give it a second go recently. We thought perhaps, Ibu Oka may have had an off-day on our first visit.

      Sorry to disappoint you Ibu Oka fans….but this time it was worse. On a scale of 1 to 10, this babi guling was minus 6. That’s how bad it was!

      The waitress was a little more cautious this time, deciding to give us a smaller portion of the skin obviously remembering our disappointment the first time around.

      The skin was as hard as plastic laminate, you know, the kind that carpenters clad wooden tables with to protect the surface!

      We saw a Taiwanese couple enjoying the babi guling. From their expressions, we guessed that they must have hit gourmet pay dirt, that is until they came to the skin. We asked them how their meal was and from the little English that they spoke, we could make out that the skin was tough…as tough as their shoes or words to that effect!

      Anthony Bourdain and that chappie from Lonely Planet. What were you eating? Your credibility just dropped a little in our judgment!

      If you must have suckling pig, go to any Chinese restaurant anywhere in Asia and including those in Oz, US of A or even Bayswater in the UK. Don’t waste your time with babi guling. Its the most overated, most overhyped dish in SE Asia!

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    • 26 Mason // Aug 25, 2011 at 7:32 am

      I just got back from Bali, ate here and was sick for 4 days. Thanks Bourdain!

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    • 27 Heart. Bali. and more » thebokeeffect.com // Nov 9, 2011 at 4:04 pm

      [...] as well. The star of this place is the babi guling or roasted pig stuffed with herbs. Like Betty, I don’t think I’ll fly all the way in for this pig or even take the 1.5 hours drive up [...]

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    • 28 Beautiful Bali | Emily and Cuong's Travels // Nov 22, 2011 at 9:50 pm

      [...] 23, 2011 by 8em8 We hiked for two hours through rice fields, medicinal plants, and then had suckling pig that Anthony B recommended smack at the center of ubud! It was so juicy we had a third plate! All [...]

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    • 29 Frank D Law // Nov 26, 2011 at 8:57 pm

      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. Reasoning: So many cannot be wrong.

      But it looks like they can be. Although the meat itself which was served piping hot, was fairly tender and flavorful enough, the crackling was still as tough as old leather shoes! It really makes my DW and me wonder whether those folks who write glowing reviews of Ibu Oka and their babi guling, including Anthony Bourdain and the travel writer from Lonely Planet have ever 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”, “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, but 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 not 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!

      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 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!

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    • 30 Frank D Law // Nov 29, 2011 at 6:56 am

      I’m a fan of Anthony Bourdain too and look forward to his witty presentations. I believe the Bali episode where Bourdain made his now famous remarks on Ibu Oka was aired in 2006/7. I watched that episode too and was just as excited about trying babi guling! I swear that I could hear the crackling as he bit into it. Could it be that Ibu Oka was that good in those days but have since let their standards drop?

      However, I find it hard to believe that any dish that had been good in 06 can deteriorate to such an extent over 5 years. The Chinese version has been around for more than 2,000 years and yet virtually every Chinese restaurant in any part of the world is able to roast it to near perfection. I’ve tried Chinese suckling pig in virtually all the corners of the world from Lima to Acapulco to Montreal to Paris to Vienna to Rio to…over 200 cities worldwide, and yet the dish has been consistently good with only a couple of exceptions!

      The irresistible conclusion is therefore that the crispy sound of the crackling shattering as Bourdain bit into it was probably sound effects introduced during post production in the studios. On all the three occasions that we tried it the crackling was as tough as cow hide…even when piping hot!

      I certainly hope that Bourdain will wise up that he has dropped the baton big time on this Bali episode and realize that he has to get his act together. At the rate that he’s going, I fear that his credibility will soon be shot! Remember his program has caused countless tourists to fly in from all the corners of the globe to try this babi guling in Bali only to get thoroughly disappointed! I was one of them.

      On reflection, however, I suppose it’s tough to be a food critic as you have to remain objective, almost counter-intuitive with our childhood conditioning to always be kind, considerate and generous. That is ok in most instances of life, but it can become albatrosses around the necks of food critics as they owe a duty to their readers to tell it like it is.

      However, considering the way that babi guling has been hyped by most tourism guide books, food channels and virtually every cab driver in Bali, I guess that it is difficult not to be sucked into the vortex of ballyhoo, hoopla and puff surrounding the dish!

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    • 31 arno wilson // Jan 15, 2012 at 3:33 am

      As a chef from Australia I too had high expectations of babi guling from Ibu Oka. Like many others I was disappointed. Dry meat, steamed rice , little sauce and tiny crackling. Very underwhelming. I recently tried a little place on Jalan Uluwatu (near the university) called Dapur Bali and I tried their baby port ribs. All I can say is leaves Ibu Oka for dead .

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