Cooking from scratch – Babi Guling

If you’ve ever been to Bali or researched about what foods to eat in Bali, you will definitely have heard of Babi Guiling.  I love Babi Guling and will have it almost every other day whenever I’m in Bali but this is the first time I will be attempting (with the help from the villagers in Bali) to cook this famed traditional roast pig dish. And yes, I will do it from scratch!

I start my day bright and early in the morning market picking up the ingredients and spices needed for my dish.

There is no minimum purchase required so I could just buy whatever amount I needed to make my Babi Guling dish. Unfortunately, prices are not written out like how we are used to in supermarkets so a lot of haggling is involved. Thankfully, I  already brushed up on some basic indonesian and balinese with my driver in the car on my way to the market.

 

I sought and picked my ingredients with as much care, trying to remember all the tips that my mother and grandmother usually tell me whenever I do (which is rarely) visit the wet market with them.

I had my list written out both in English as well as in Indonesian so I won’t forget the words when I need to ask the shopkeepers. Some of the items I bought are bawang merah (shallots), cabai (chilli), jahe (ginger), sereh (lemongrass), merica putih (white pepper), terasi (shrimp paste), bawang putih (garlic), kunir (tumeric), kemiri (candlenut), merica hitam (black pepper) and tomat (tomato). As you can see, there is a whole lot of spices in this wondrous dish.

I tried my best haggling and conversing in indonesian and balinese. Luckily, the shop keeper was so impressed with my sincerity that she gave me a good discount! Yay! Mission successful.

After another couple of hours of traveling, I’m finally back to the village again.

The local farmer delivered the suckling pig I ordered earlier. With help from the village women, the rumpah (paste) is prepared with all the ingredients I bought from the market. The pig is then removed of its innards and then stuffed & infused with the spicy concoction. Meanwhile, some of the village men helped me to set up the traditional spit fire to roast it. Cooking this dish involved a lot more muscle then I expected!

I’m just really glad that everyone was so willing and to help and offer suggestions and tips.

Roasting the pig is a long and grueling process that takes hours! Just preparing this dish would take one entire day. Most of the stores selling Babi Guling in Bali (including that one famous Babi Guling store) would normally use whole hogs instead of suckling pig so as to maximise the amount of meat and skin they can get from the long roasting hours, thus maximizing their profit.

But the villagers told me that the best and most tender tasting babi guling is made from suckling pigs which is why I chose to do it with a suckling pig.

I started off well, learning to constantly rotate the pig so that it would roast evenly. But it wasn’t so simple. Other than constantly rotating the pig, you also needed to shift the stick up and down the roasting pit because the heat from the fire is not even at different parts of the pit. I needed to learn how to control  the heat from each portion of the spit to get an evenly roasted pig without burning it.  It was hot and tough and my arm muscles were sore after the first hour. Since roasting takes about 3-4 hours, I was quite happy when the villages offered to swap places with me every 2o mins.

Even little kids came to help with the roasting process!

The weather is unpredictable and soon it started to rain. While the spit is protected under a shelter, it’s too small for everyone to squeeze in there.

As I ventured out into the rain, one of the villagers help pluck “an umbrella” for me. I seriously love how ingenious these people are at living harmoniously with nature.

The stem was thick and the leaf was huge so it worked perfectly as a natural umbrella and I didn’t have to worry much about getting wet as I moved between the kitchen and checking on the roasting pig.

At about the half-way point of the roasting, you could smell the mouthwatering fragrance of spices and roasted suckling pig in the air. I could distinctively smell the turmeric, coriander seeds, lemongrass, black pepper and garlic wafting through the smoky air and my tummy kept rumbling. I couldn’t wait for it to be done!

Meanwhile, the sun was setting and the ladies in the kitchen were busy preparing other dishes for my dinner. They told me that Babi Guling should be eaten with other dishes as accompaniments to make it well-balanced meal. The village ladies were more than happy to cook some extra dishes for me.

The whole dinner preparation was completed right after the sunset.

My roasted suckling pig was removed from the stick and served on banana leaves as they proceeded to carve it up for me.

Once they remove the crispy skin, you can see the infused spices they have merged with the cooked meat.

Although I was highly anticipating tasting my Babi Guling, I started off with some soup while they were still carving the roast suckling pig because I was really famished by then.

The server so expertly carved up the entire suckling pig! Really an artist at work. He put all the different areas of meat in different serving dishes.

The first thing I tried was the skin. This is the best part and it was so so so very good! My mouth waters even as I think back on it. It was extremely crispy and definitely beats the famous Babi Guling store in Ubud. I think the key reason why it was nicer is because this is a suckling pig and not a full grown hog.

The meat is very tender and the spiciness of the mixture was excellent!

 

The two above photos are also meat from the suckling pig but these are shredded from the parts nearer to the core of the pig and contain a lot more spices in them then the meats found near the surface area of the pig.

The pig inners that were removed pior to the roasting were deep fried and served. I gave these a miss cause I’m not a big fan of innards prepared by anyone else other than my own grandmother.

The village ladies cooked some rice and vegetables for me so as to complete the meal and they were pretty good though I have no idea what those dishes are called.

Here’s a look at my dinner plate.

Last but not least, I’m glad we brought along a bottle of white wine to celebrate a whole day of hard work!

While this is one of the best Babi Guling meal I’ve ever had, I doubt I’ll ever embark cooking it again because of all the effort and time it took. It does however, makes me a lot more appreciative of the stalls selling this yummy dish in Bali.

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Comments

  1. Vivian
    May 21, 2013 / 3:48 pm

    Can’t really say I like this post as my heart sank when you “ordered” the pig. I’m not a vegetarian but I do try to reduce my meat intake. Can’t help but feel a little disturbed. Maybe I really should banish my thoughts of the poor piglet running around helplessly trying to safe it’s life.. Just can’t help that thought.

    • May 21, 2013 / 7:04 pm

      Hi Vivian,

      I totally get where you are coming from. It was a little queasy for me initially as it’s the first time I cooked with a whole raw pig but one of the lessons I learnt about small community village living is that because everything is kept on a small scale, animals and plants are grown and harvested for proportional consumption and there is no wastage or needless killing.

      I’m definitely no vegetarian but its was still nice for me to see how they were able to care and raise animals the traditional way instead of animals being mass produced factory styled in huge commercial outfits. There is a sort of harmony in the human and livestock relationship here where animals are respected and valued for their sacrifice and nothing is wasted. It is the mass commercialisation of meat in factories that I can’t bear. Where thousands of animals are gassed or when male chicks are slaughtered the moment they are born since they only need females to produce eggs. I really shouldn’t be adding such awful thoughts to your mind but you get the idea.

      Cooking this Babi Guling was a community effort and everyone helped and had a share in the meal. The beauty of simple life is that they don’t think so much yet they are doing all the things the way things should be done. I’m really not sure how long it would be before machines, factories and commercialisation would corrupt communities like this one but for now I’m glad I got a chance to learn from them what I never had a chance to do being born in a cityscape like Singapore.

  2. Vivian
    May 21, 2013 / 3:48 pm

    Can’t really say I like this post as my heart sank when you “ordered” the pig. I’m not a vegetarian but I do try to reduce my meat intake. Can’t help but feel a little disturbed. Maybe I really should banish my thoughts of the poor piglet running around helplessly trying to safe it’s life.. Just can’t help that thought.

    • May 21, 2013 / 7:04 pm

      Hi Vivian,

      I totally get where you are coming from. It was a little queasy for me initially as it’s the first time I cooked with a whole raw pig but one of the lessons I learnt about small community village living is that because everything is kept on a small scale, animals and plants are grown and harvested for proportional consumption and there is no wastage or needless killing.

      I’m definitely no vegetarian but its was still nice for me to see how they were able to care and raise animals the traditional way instead of animals being mass produced factory styled in huge commercial outfits. There is a sort of harmony in the human and livestock relationship here where animals are respected and valued for their sacrifice and nothing is wasted. It is the mass commercialisation of meat in factories that I can’t bear. Where thousands of animals are gassed or when male chicks are slaughtered the moment they are born since they only need females to produce eggs. I really shouldn’t be adding such awful thoughts to your mind but you get the idea.

      Cooking this Babi Guling was a community effort and everyone helped and had a share in the meal. The beauty of simple life is that they don’t think so much yet they are doing all the things the way things should be done. I’m really not sure how long it would be before machines, factories and commercialisation would corrupt communities like this one but for now I’m glad I got a chance to learn from them what I never had a chance to do being born in a cityscape like Singapore.

  3. Vivian
    May 21, 2013 / 8:30 pm

    Hi hi,

    Thanks for the clarification. It has helped me gain a deeper understand of village life. Yes, it’s really about the needless mass killing for profits rather than for basic survival needs. The way they kill is merciless. An example you mentioned earlier about the male chicks being slaughtered the moment they hatch… Well they actually squeeze each and every one to determine the gender. The male chicks will die from it and the females would survive.

    Anyway, am really glad we are on the same page. Have a good long weekend!

    • May 22, 2013 / 2:42 pm

      Hi Vivian,

      🙂 Have a great weekend as well!

  4. Vivian
    May 21, 2013 / 8:30 pm

    Hi hi,

    Thanks for the clarification. It has helped me gain a deeper understand of village life. Yes, it’s really about the needless mass killing for profits rather than for basic survival needs. The way they kill is merciless. An example you mentioned earlier about the male chicks being slaughtered the moment they hatch… Well they actually squeeze each and every one to determine the gender. The male chicks will die from it and the females would survive.

    Anyway, am really glad we are on the same page. Have a good long weekend!

    • May 22, 2013 / 2:42 pm

      Hi Vivian,

      🙂 Have a great weekend as well!

  5. July 3, 2013 / 5:06 pm

    Whou! Bravo! You definitely did a great job! Balinese people are so different from those other indonesian living in touristic places. They now when they can trust someone and they obviously did trust you. I’m glad to read your adventure.
    I’m back to France, and will be cooking a “babi guling” for the french national day, for 100 guest. Hope mine will ba at least as beautiful as yours, as I will not have the chance to be helped by Balinese…
    Anyway, well done!
    Louis

    • July 8, 2013 / 9:37 pm

      Thank you Louis 🙂

      Yes the Balinese people have been very inspiring for me and it’s experiences like these that reminds me not to get too caught up with the wrong things in life. Good luck on your “Babi Guling” challenge. I’m sure you’ll do a wonderful job!

  6. July 3, 2013 / 5:06 pm

    Whou! Bravo! You definitely did a great job! Balinese people are so different from those other indonesian living in touristic places. They now when they can trust someone and they obviously did trust you. I’m glad to read your adventure.
    I’m back to France, and will be cooking a “babi guling” for the french national day, for 100 guest. Hope mine will ba at least as beautiful as yours, as I will not have the chance to be helped by Balinese…
    Anyway, well done!
    Louis

    • July 8, 2013 / 9:37 pm

      Thank you Louis 🙂

      Yes the Balinese people have been very inspiring for me and it’s experiences like these that reminds me not to get too caught up with the wrong things in life. Good luck on your “Babi Guling” challenge. I’m sure you’ll do a wonderful job!

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