Friday, September 10, 2010

Order the pig.

I couldn't decide whether seeing the pig's head pointed at me was actually appetizing or not, but at the very least I was intrigued. My eyes had originally been drawn to the neatly arranged rows of jars and bottles at this Bali market's stand, but the pig certainly was an attention grabber. So I stopped, and tried to find out more about it. The woman behind the counter greeted me, and showed me to a glass display case containing bowls of fresh salads. "Lawar babi", she explained to me; the words meant nothing to me then, I would have to look them up later. She pointed to the pig again, and then her own cheek, indicating that if I tried the lawar, I would be treated to some of the animal's face. I wasn't hungry, but I had to try it. She grabbed a paper cone, scooped in some rice, then spooned on some of the lawar. To complete the dish, she ripped shreds off the pig's head, and folded them up into the parcel.

I didn't open the package until later, when we were sitting, legs tucked under the tables at Ibu Oka. Specializing in Balinese suckling pig, babi guling (a heap of which is pictured top right), Ibu Oka is famous worldwide. We had just had our plates set before us: waxy brown paper holding small mountains of rice, topped with tender shreds of pork and crispy squares of skin and fat. The first bite explained and validated the restaurant's fame: the crunch of the skin released a melting burst of rich, luxuriant pork flavor. 

Mid-meal, I remembered the package from the market still in my bag. It might seem like over-kill to pull out the lawar babi at this point, but I decided that if I was already indulging this much, I might as well just give in. I pulled it out, unwrapped it, and put it on the table to share. Amazingly, and this may just have been the rush of fat to my brain, it outshone the meat we had been consuming. While the pork in the lawar was not as good as Ibu Oka's-- the skin didn't crackle as much, the fat wasn't as tender-- the rest of the dish compensated: young jackfruit, green beans, shrimp paste, and shredded makrut lime leaves gave it an intensely exotic flavor. 

But either way, market stand lawar babi or Ibu Oka babi guling, order the pig in Bali and you won't be disappointed.

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