Sunday, November 23, 2008

Porkie the Pig

Dear Friends,

"Food, Glorious Food!", as the saying goes. Malaysia, the country where I come from is blessed with such diversity in culture that food varieties come in abundance. Ask any Malaysian - the first thing in any conversation will always begin with a foody connotation like, "Hi, have you eaten?" Malaysians who travel overseas will always be on the look out for the two most popular past time, Shopping and EATING.
As a continuation to my recent post on "Bali Hai", I once travelled on a day trip down to Ubud, a small village in the central of Bali. This village is about a 2 hours drive from Denpasar and is renowned for its arts and crafts. You will find silver crafts, wooden crafts and also bulkier master pieces carved on rocks and stones. Paintings are plentiful too with the many art galleries and museums.
Ubud is like a sleepy hollow - it is slow moving, tranquil and full of temperaments due to the arts. Apart from the arts, tourists travel all the way to feed on a delicacy called 'Babi Guling'. Literally translated as ' Turning Pig', it is a meal that is a must try whenever one is in Bali. It is a delicacy made from a pig similar to the Chinese roasted suckling pig. A whole pig is used for the roasting process. The inside of the pig is removed and is stuffed with spices and herbs. The mix consists of basic ingredients like ginger, garlic, shallots, chillies, lemongrass and much more. Once Porkie is stuffed, it is then roasted over an open fire ignited out of dried coconut husks up to five hours. It is slowly turned (thus the term 'guling') to ensure that Porkie gets an even tan and crisp.
In previous times, this delicacy is served during traditional rituals and religious ceremonies. These days, the 'Babi Guling' is available at all times as it can be found served in many restaurants in Bali. One of the most popular restaurant serving this in Bali is none other than "IBU OKA" in Ubud. This is no fancy restaurant as it is termed as a 'warung' or translated as stall from Bahasa Indonesia. This is also the wrong place to go to if you fancy an air conditioned environment with tables set with table cloths and high back chairs for you to lean on. "Ibu Oka" is an outlet with only wooden tables complemented with wooden benches. Tables come in two sizes - high or low. As you approach the entrance of the stall, the action of poor Porkie being diced, sliced and chopped up can be seen on the left via an 'open kitchen'. There is a flight of wooden steps ahead of you to enter the restaurant while the lower level near the entrance is alfresco with many people scrambling for seats.

There is not much on the menu as it is pretty much Porkie niche. I had the works known as 'Babi Guling Special'. Served with steam rice, vegetables, some inner spare parts like intestines and of course succulent tender Porkie meat. The crispiness of the skin was beyond description. The sweet and slightly spicy sambal was heavenly as accompaniment. To some, this may sound creepy and disgusting (the intestines I mean) but as the saying goes, "One man's meat is another man's poison".

I would suggest that this delicacy be eaten in moderation. I remember not being able to finish the dish completely as it was just too 'rich' with flavour and the oozing of the 'fattiness' from Porkie :p A good complement for sweetness after the entire gastronomic adventure would be an Indonesian Jasmine tea called 'Teh Botol'.

As George Bernard Shaw once quoted, "There is no love sincerer than the love of food"

"SELAMAT MAKAN" or better translated as "Bon Appetit" :)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Bali Hai

Dear Friends,

The 'Islands of the Gods' as it is known, Bali has the reputation as being one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Indonesia has 17,000 islands that makes up the archipelago and this tourist spot lies in between the islands of Java and Lombok. The reason why tourists visit this island is probably for the sea, sand and sun. The seas surrounding this gem are the Indian Ocean and the Java sea.
I first got myself acquainted with this island in 1996. I was an expatriate in Jakarta and I remember that it was for a golfing weekend with Daniel Tan, Country Manager of Silkair at that time. From then until now, I have returned to Bali on numerous occasions mainly for short getaways. Once in Bali, there are many beaches that you can stay at. Amongst the few that I have experienced are Nusa Dua, Jimbaran, Kuta and Seminyak.

The golfing weekend in 1996 had me at Nusa Dua. It is located on the islands most southern tip. It has a beautiful stretch of white sandy beach that offers excellent swimming conditions. Before leaving Jakarta for home in 1997, I booked a holiday to Bali and my supporting agent at that time, Padma Wijaya Travel made arrangements for me at the Inter Continental on Jimbaran Beach. This is a sleepy cove with the pace much slower with a very relaxed atmosphere. The waters are much calmer and this part of the beach is known for their spectacular sunsets and seafood restaurants.
Two years back on a company trip, I stayed at Kuta Beach the most popular spot for tourists because of its accessibility, liveliness and happenings. This beach is fenced by the airport's runway which gives you a breathtaking landing experience. It is well known for its party places, watering holes and it is an area to be seen and noticed. I stayed at the renowned Hard Rock Hotel. They have good live bands performing. We drank to the beats and rhythms and ended up at the supposedly most happening club which operates on weekends until 6.00AM called the Double Six.

A few months back, Jean Jacques Kiefer celebrated his birthday and I was invited to be part of it. The venue was none other than the Serene Villas ( which he co-owns. This concept is different than the normal hotels you would find in town. With eight private villas nestled in spacious designer tropical gardens, with your own private swimming pool. The design of the villas are modern and tropical in style, the decor is simple and yet luxurious. Seminyak is coming into its own as an area to be reckoned with. The area is termed luxurious and has attracted the 'well to do'. The restaurant scene here is vibrant and eclectic. This is where you want to go to after you have done too much in Kuta.

Unlike the many beaches and islands that I have visited, nothing compares to Bali. As I write this, I am now transported back to the serene journey along the road leading out of Ngurah Rai Airport, the sounds of the sea, the sight of the once stood Paddy Pub and the shopping along the Matahari Square. The time has come - I need to get back to this Paradise.