Last year, it was to Bali - and yes it's taken me this long to post about it. I guess I was saving it for just this time, when I can't quite get that far away - so I can savor the memories and try my best to exercise patience, knowing the next trip will be worth the wait.
Bali may have its pristine beaches, and famous batik trade - and like every other tourist destination, its guides who just want to coral us from one shopping stop to another (for those who would respond with an excited 'yes' to whether they want to visit the Polo Ralph Lauren outlet...while in friggin' *Bali*...I don't really know what to say to you) - but my family tends to like to experience different cultures through food and culinary sightseeing.
So, when several trusted foodie friends (and oh, Bourdain, too) all recommended the same place for us to taste the pretty much signature Balinese dish of roast suckling pig (babi guling), we had to work it into our itinerary.
Not realizing though that Ibu Oka had multiple locations, it was purely by luck that we arrived at the more intriguing one: our driver for the day, who spoke very little English, had asked if we wanted to go to the 'house' one or the 'other' one.
With the long lines at the 'no reservations' Ibu Oka being the stuff of legend, we simply asked him to take us to the one with the shortest line. So the 'house' one (#2) it was.
After a long, scenic drive up from Kuta to Ubud, we turned into a narrow alley with a humble sign to mark its location. The walled entrance opened up to a fantastic traditional Balinese structure so ornate, that we at first thought was one of the thousands of local temples - but our guide explained that it was actually the restaurant owner's house, where they first started serving their now famous pig.
We were taken straight to one of the covered platforms with low tables, all communal, where diners sat on floormats. Birds chirping happily in the subdued patter of lightened rain, accompanied by the frenetic rhythms of the staff working their magic in the kitchen, lent a lovely sense of serenity to the place.
Since the family who shared our table did not speak much English, we couldn't trade travel tips...but we spent a few minutes relishing every architectural / design detail before our menus arrived.
We loved the incredibly succulent, flavorful pork, but were disappointed with the crackling (skin not as crisp as Cantonese style roast suckling pig - more chewy and a bit rubbery). One of the specials also came with pork blood sausage, but our absolute favorite thing on any of our plates was the fried pork, crunchy little flavor bombs that we couldn't stop eating! A great deal at just a few dollars per person for lunch - and such an amazing setting to dine in. If there was any way we could have stuffed ourselves with ten more portions, we would have done it. Just wished that there was some way we could have brought some of the roast and fried meats back home!
Whenever my mom told anyone back in Hong Kong about our upcoming trip to Bali, they would always tell her about "cat poop coffee", an Indonesian specialty where native Asian Palm Civets eat coffee berries, and the undigested beans, which are fermented during their journey through the civet's digestive tracts - are then cleaned and harvested to produce the most expensive coffee in the world.
The place is mainly a learning center for tourists, but it's set up like a mini plantation, so that you can walk through and see native plants as well as check out the animals that are used to produce the fermented coffee ("kopi luwak"). The tour was free (though they encourage you to pay for tastings and/or souvenirs at the end)!
Nonetheless, we were excited to have gone on an 'adventure' to learn more about this mysterious coffee, and to have been able to try it for ourselves.
And indeed the gardens are beautiful. The towers themselves, structures designed to 'house' the gods and ward off evil spirits, were a lot smaller than we expected,
But a pleasant afternoon stroll through the grounds. Worth a visit if you're already in the area.
On approach to the temple, there are rows of street vendor stalls where you can pick up souvenirs.
Once we made our way to the back of the marketplace, just before the snake cave and temple itself, there was a procession of some sort: our tour guide said it's the type of procession that people do not talk about out of respect, so we never learned what exactly it was for.
That day, the rain let up just long enough for us to snap our fill of photos - literally the minute after we said we were done, an anxious voice came over megaphone, yelling at people to come back up the shore to safety, as the wind, rain and tide were about to sweep in. A giant herd of hundreds of tourists and locals alike scrambled to get into the clear, and there was a sort of unspoken collective sense of community, and comraderie, as we all struggled to beat the incoming storm / water.
All in all, one of my favorite travel days. Recap of snorkeling and Turtle Island visit to come!
Babi Guling Ibu Oka
Branch 1: Jalan Tegal Sari 2, Ubud, Bali
Branch 2: Jalan Raya Teges, Ubud, Bali (this is the one we went to)
Ph: +62 361 976 345
Teba Sari Agro Tourism
Br. Kelingkung, Lodtunduh, Ubud, Gianyar, Bali - Indonesia
Ph: +08 123 687 466
Pura Taman Ayun
Pura Tanah Lot
Tabana Bali 82171
Ph: +62 880361 or 880362