Tuesday, 30 August 2011

A pig feast

In our early 20's, when mortgages, serious jobs, and raising a family were unfathomable, and money could be spent frivolously, Jon and I hot-footed it to Bali to celebrate our engagement.

I found this picture (excuse the poor quality) in an old photo album crammed carelessly with hundreds of loose memories, and wanted to share it with fellow food lovers: it was a bacchanalian pig feast, a thunder clap for the senses, and an eye opener for my thus far uncultivated palate. Here began my now dedicated love of all things porcine.

We met a wonderful man called Wayan in our first week. Born and brought up in Bali, he worked as a chauffeur for tourists, ferrying them around the island in his trusty 4x4. He took us to see a few sights and told us about his life on the island, the woeful state of governance etc ... but this post is about pig, not politics.

Special occasions in Bali are often celebrated with the roasting of a young pig on a spit. Wayan was celebrating, and invited us to join in the feast (known locally as nasi guling).

The first thing we saw when we arrived at his home in the woods late morning, besides children chasing chickens, was the pig, freshly slaughtered, being pulled off a pick-up truck. It was swiftly hung upside down by a hook on the outside of a wooden kitchen hut. Its throat was cut immediately, and the beast's blood poured copiously into a bucket placed on the ground below its head. Blood collected and set aside, the stomach was slit, and the pig's intestines and organs were removed. With awe, we watched as the organs were diced, spiced (I wish I'd asked which spices they used), and the intestines repeatedly rinsed and cleaned out, stuffed tightly and deftly with the spiced offal, and knotted at each end.

The pig had by now been impaled on a long wooden stick, and was being turned slowly by hand over a smoky fire of coconut husks and wood. The intestine 'sausage', easily two meters long, was wrapped loosely around each end of the stick to cook slowly alongside the pig.

Meanwhile, the women of the family were in the kitchen hut, a basic structure with two thin clay walls, a basic frame, and corrugated iron roof (needless to say, there was no running water or electricity). As the pig approached readiness - after 2-3 hours - they set to work preparing the salad: blood, mixed with freshly grated coconut and more spices (you'll find an approximation of its ingredients here).

We vividly remember squeezing into their main living area with the rest of the family and guests, the pig laid out on a blue plastic sheet in front of us. With everyone squatting or sitting on the floor, sharp knives were handed around, and we all dug in. Sweet, moist, smoky meat, and sublime crackling rendered us speechless (the soft cheek meat was a delicacy all of its own). As did the intestine sausages, such as I have never tasted since - succulent and rich with offal, they had taken on the same sweet smoke flavours as the pork.

I dreaded tasting the blood 'salad', but knew I must. I grabbed a handful. It was a revelation: sweet, fresh, and delicately spiced, with a kick of chilli heat. I devoured the lot.

Needless to say, the centrepiece of our wedding feast at the Hollybush pub in Hampstead 5 years later was a suckling pig. Not sure the guests would have smiled for the pictures if we'd offered them blood salad ...

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