Wednesday, September 17, 2008

September 10, 2008 - Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

When we arrive in a new country or region, the first question on our minds is "what's good to eat here?" This is quickly followed by "what's good to drink here?" We both enjoy exploring a culture through its cuisine. When researching new destinations, we rely on several resources - cruising guides, travel guides (primarily Lonely Planet and Rough Guide) and the internet. The latter is the best source for the latest information on restaurants. My favorite food sites are Chowhound and the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree bulletin boards. Trolling through recent posts on either board is a quick way to discover where to find the best variations of regional favorites.

Once we are in country, we talk to locals to try to find out what and where they eat. This is a little tricky in Indonesia as Indonesian restaurants primarily serve visitors while locals tend to frequent street vendors - either carts or ladies carrying baskets on their heads containing tea and snacks. So every time we asked a cab driver where to eat, they would rattle off a list of tourist restaurants. Then I would say the magic words "Ibu Oka" and they would break into big smiles and understand that we were serious about trying their food.

Ibu Oka, a member of the local royal family, serves one thing at her restaurant - babi guling (roast pig) - "simply the best goddamn pig in the whole universe," according to Anthony Bourdain. A whole hog is stuffed with herbs, then slowly roasted over a flame, while being bathed in coconut milk. By the time the meat inside is done the skin has turned into something with the texture of peanut brittle (without the peanuts), flavored like sweet pork. It is the sweetest, moistest, most flavorful pork we've ever had. The meat is plated, topped with some local spices, and served with rice, veggies almost too spicy to eat, and a spicy blood sausage that is better than anything we've had in France. Crowning the whole thing is a glossy, shell-thin, amber colored piece of skin. This is seriously good eating.

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