Ibu Oka’s famous sucking pig: big hunks of spice-napped pork,a nugget of blood sausage, long beans with coconut (notice the large shard of skin on the side)
I just got back from a trip to Bali, Indonesia, where I ate a lot, naturally. One of the best meals I had was at a food stand in Ubud Village run by a woman named Ibu Oka. Ibu Oka specializes in roast pig and accompaniments like a simple vegetable, homemade blood sausage and fried innards. Her open-air restaurant was one of the only eateries where I saw equal parts tourists and locals digging in. (In case you’re wondering, Bali is over 90 percent Hindu, which makes roast pig, well, kosher, even though it’s part of Muslim Indonesia.)
The small pig is gutted, spread on the inside with a powerfully pungent paste made from shallots, garlic, galangal, lemon grass and dried shrimp paste among other things. It’s then tied up and roasted over a coconut husk fire until the meat is buttery and the skin is like golden stained glass.
Ibu Oka only roasts four to five pigs a day, so when she sells out you’re out of luck. While we were digging into our own plates, a freshly roasted whole pig arrived—thunk—on the massive cutting board. I watched one of the workers grab the skin and peel the entire thing back with a crack, leaving her holding a poster-sized sheet of golden crackling, which was then hacked up, along with the flesh, for the waiting orders.
Since I don’t have a little pig just waiting to be rubbed all over with garlic and lemon grass in my backyard (and if I did, I wouldn’t have the coconut husks to grill him over anyway), here’s a good approximation to make Babi Guling at home. There are a lot of ingredients for the spice rub, but other than that it’s dead easy.
Babi Guling Brooklyn
Yield: About 10 servings
Although it’s fine to sub macademia nuts for candlenuts, if you substitute ground turmeric for fresh or ground galangal for fresh, the vibrancy of the dish will suffer. Kalustyan’s has fresh turmeric, kaffir lime leaves and galangal root. Usually they keep these items frozen, which is fine, just defrost and use.
1 skin-on pork shoulder, boned (about 5-8 pounds)
1 1/2 tablespoon salt
10 shallots, peeled and sliced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled and chopped
15 candlenuts, chopped (or substitute macadamia nuts)
1 (4 inch) fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons coriander seeds, crushed
1 (2-inch) piece galangal root finely chopped
25 bird’s eye chilies, or to taste
10 stalks lemon grass, sliced
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, crushed
1 teaspoon dried shrimp paste, toasted briefly in a dry skillet
5 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded
2 1/2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons turmeric
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Season the pork generously inside and out with salt. In a large bowl, mix and pound together all remaining ingredients except turmeric. Using a sharp knife, make long incisions in the pork skin, and stuff the spice mixture underneath skin. Rub the rest of the mixture into the flesh. Make a turmeric wash, by combining the turmeric with 2 tablespoons water. Brush the turmeric water all over the pig, and especially over the skin. Cook the pork shoulder in the oven 3 to 4 hours, or until tender. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees and roast at high heat for 15 minutes to crisp the skin. Rest for 10 minutes before serving, and dish out a portion of meat and skin to each plate. Serve with steamed white rice.
The whole shebang
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 4, 2008