Ibu Oka, Indonesia

I first heard of Ibu Oka on Bourdain’s No Reservations episode of Indonesia, that look of bliss when he bites into that crisp pigskin has always given me the impression that it would be the the mecca for everything good about roasted pigs. I read about travelers flying in specially to eat here, I read most of the blog reviews, lets just say that expectations were high. I had ‘the works’ when I went to Ibu Oka, which basically consisted of a small bowl of soup, and a basket of rice with everything pig part that they served on the menu.

Pork Soup

Nothing to write home about, it was tasty but pretty pedestrian.

The works (Thats not really what they call it, I just cant remember what its called)

The main part of the meal consists of rice with 4 components:

‘Salad’: Bits of shredded pork with long beans and carrots. Hardly what you came to Ibu Oka to have, but it was surprisingly good, had lots of good spice and the long beans had a good crunch to it. Okay

Fried pork bits(intestine, I believe): This is hiding under that pork skin in the picture. It was so hard that it was borderline inedible, it was tasty when you (eventually) managed to chew it down, but not before your jaw started cramping up and teeth started to ache. Bad

Pork meat: The best part of the meal, meat was tender, and the sauce they put on it was great- very spicy, but in a way that slowly creeps up on you as opposed to a slap in the face, it played off the pork very nicely. Good

Pork skin: This was supposed to be the star of the show, I saved it till the end because I was so excited about eating it. I took one bite of it and flipped out. It was… not crispy, at all. It was, in fact, chewy. Where the hell is the crunch that Bourdain got? Was that some audio effect that they added in during post production? Very bad

Worse than getting jilted at the alter 

Ibu Oka was in one word, a letdown (the a doesn’t count). I dont dispute the possibility that standards may have dropped since Bourdain filmed at the restaurant in 2007, but this was pedestrian at best. And to think that I had so much hope for the meal, that I could actually say that I’ve eaten the best pork there is to eat and die happy, but no, this is far from the best, and the search continues. Anyone coming to Indonesia shouldn’t go out of their way for this because in all probability, you’re gonna end up disappointed. Prices aren’t exactly cheap, and service is pretty shoddy. To end on a positive note, I did get to stay at a nice hotel in Bali.

10 thoughts on “Ibu Oka, Indonesia

  1. Stopped by Bali on our way back from Shanghai. Loved Bali, especially Ubud which is a place we would come back to again and again.

    This is our third visit to Bali so we decided to give Ibu Oka one last chance, in view of the many superlative reviews in guide books, travel channels and magazines. Reasoning: So many cannot be wrong.

    But it looks like they can be. Although the meat itself which was served piping hot, was generally underwhelming but flavorful enough, the crackling was still as tough as old leather shoes! It really made my DW and me wonder whether those folks who write glowing reviews of Ibu Oka and their babi guling, including Anthony Bourdain and the travel writer from Lonely Planet have ever tasted suckling pig in a Chinese restaurant? If they have, they would have tasted exactly how good suckling pig should taste like with crackling so crispy thin that every bite is to be savored! It is highly unlikely that after that, they would ever venture to describe babi guling as amazing”, “fantastic”, “best ever” and all the silly hyperbole that have come to dominate this debate and given Ibu Oka an undeserved reputation. I have nothing against Ibu Oka per se. It is the integrity of reviews that I’m concerned about!

    To draw an analogy, if you live in a small outpost, say in the far reaches of Siberia, you may describe your local football outfit as “amazing”, “best in the world” or whatever superlative terms you may wish to employ, not out of intellectual dishonesty, but only because you have never been exposed to the silky skills of the likes of Barcelona or Manchester United.

    That is probably how it is with this “amazing babi guling” nonsense! We were in Shanghai for 9 days and tried Peking Duck and suckling pig IN SEVERAL RESTAURANTS and the stuff that they served up were slices of culinary heaven!

    As we live in San Francisco, we have developed an affinity for the dish. We know that everyone is entitled to their opinion. But how do you judge a dish when you haven’t tasted even remotely the best? It is really like the uncultured and the philistine trying to pontificate on high-brow literature and classical music!

    I’m a fan of Anthony Bourdain and look forward to his witty presentations but on this occasion he has dropped the baton!

    We remain baffled over these superlative reviews, because when we compare Ibu Oka’s babi guling to the suckling pig we have tasted in Chinese Restaurants from this side of San Francisco to Melbourne to Hong Kong to Singapore and Bayswater in London, we have to say that if the Chinese version and Ibu Oka’s babi guling are compared and placed on a scale of 1-100, the Chinese version would easily place near a hundred and Ibu Oka’s would limp in below minus 10. That is the difference between a culture with 2,000 plus years of culinary development and a rank amateur!

    1. Frank, I wholeheartedly agree with a lot of what you’ve said. Ibu Oka had only been an ‘afterthought’ during my trip to Bali(thankfully), but if I had traveled to Bali specifically for Ibu Oka like many food enthusiasts have, expecting the porky heaven that Bourdain made it out to be, I would’ve been furious. I remember saving the piece of pork skin till the end because it looked glazed and pretty crisp to me, but the moment I put it in my mouth and bit down, all I could think of was, ‘this can’t be right’

      If it had been not as crisp as I had expected it to be, that would’ve been an issue I could live with, but the fact was that it wasn’t crisp at all; “old leather” is an apt description of its texture. I went back to the hotel to search for the No Reservations episode where he visited Ibu Oka. Sure, the sound of that CRUNCH must have been added in when he bit into that piece of pork skin, but surely someone as well traveled and with a palate like his knows when pork skin is crisp and when it is not? I find peace knowing that the Indonesian episode of No Reservations aired in the middle of 2006, which is a long long time ago, maybe Ibu Oka did serve the best pig in the world back then, but they don’t anymore, and I’ve given up my search for it in Bali, I guess I’ll have to settle for the Cantonese styled roast pork, which doesn’t sound too bad after all.

  2. You’re probably spot on about the sound effects thing. I find it hard to believe that any dish that had been good in 06 can deteriorate to such an extent over 5 years. The Chinese version has been around for more than 2,000 years and yet virtually every Chinese restaurant in any part of the world is able to roast it to a near perfect and delicious offering. I’ve tried Chinese suckling pig in virtually all the corners of the world from Lima to Acapulco to Vancouver to Paris to….over 200 cities worldwide, and yet the dish has been consistently good with only a couple of exceptions!

    I certainly hope that Bourdain will wise up and realize that he has to remain totally objective. At the rate that he’s going, I fear that his credibility will soon be shot! It may be counter-intuitive in view of our childhood conditioning to be kind, generous and considerate. That may be alright for most things in life, but as a food critic who’s a celebrity chef to boot, he owes a duty to his viewers to tell it like it is.

    However, considering the way that babi guling has been over hyped by most tourism guide books, food channels and virtually every cab driver in Bali, I guess that it is difficult not to be sucked into the vortex of ballyhoo, hoopla and puff surrounding the dish!

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