Once the pig was on the fire, along with its guts (the intestines were threaded artfully on skewers, like ribbon candy), I got to learn about lawar. I'd read about this Balinese specialty of pig blood, entrails and coconut in our guidebook and decided I could probably do without it. Not that it sounded particularly horrid—it just wasn't something I'd make an effort to order in a restaurant. But, as Meli, another friend of Paul's, informed me, that's what we'd be eating with our roast pig.
"We believe the spices—galanga, shallots, chilis—are 'hot,' so they effectively cook the blood," she explained. She said it in a way that made it clear that she didn't believe the blood was cooked at all, and I shouldn't either. "On the side," she went on, "there's young jackfruit—the same way green papaya is used as a vegetable—and chopped–up long beans." I was glad for the information, but it was suspicious that she never said she actually liked the stuff.
After all the various lawar components were thoroughly minced and grated, one man plunged his bare hands into the coconut and began to mix in the raw blood. Soon he was massaging a paste of lurid scarlet, the color of an open wound. It looked like a traffic accident, not food—and that was before I noticed the little black flies in the mix.
Even after I realized the black bits were not flies, but just charred bits of innard, I had a hard time shaking the image. I retreated till the prep table was out of view, took another swig of my drink and hummed along with "Sweet Child o' Mine." One of the women of the house shuffled around the courtyard, placing delicate arrangements of flowers and rice as offerings on the two altars and in front of the pig.
After less than two hours, the pig was done—beautifully browned and blistered all along its backside, where the spit–cranker had gotten into a groove, letting the pig hover over the coals until the skin sizzled and popped. The roast was laid out on the very table where the animal had met its end, and it was as if the live pig had never existed.
Kids and women had appeared from inside the houses, and a drunk guy had wandered down from another party nearby. Romi and friends doled out chips of the crispy skin to the waiting crowd, then gave us each a plate with rice and a hunk of white, succulent pork.
It was up to us to ladle the lawar on the side. I clutched the spoon and served myself a dainty portion, with plenty of the innocuous bean–and–jackfruit combo and a heavy drizzle of chili sauce, in case I hadn't imagined the flies.
We all dug in with our fingers. At which point, Romi started laughing.
"All wrong!" he said to us honored, not–very–bright guests, lined up in a row on a bench. "Like this..." and he delicately flicked the lawar into his mouth with this thumb. We had been messily slurping at our fingertips, which I realized was another hygiene fiasco, as I'd have to dip my fingers back in the communal bowl if I wanted seconds.
Amidst all this finger–licking, I'd hardly noticed the lawar. Much the same way the pig had been magically transformed from living animal to appetizing meat, the lawar, in the instant I put it in my mouth, changed from raw blood to nourishing and delicious food, well spiced, with an indeterminate richness.
The Omnivore's Delusion
This mental trick is surely one of humans' greatest talents—the delusion that makes us omnivores. And in the same way the pig and its blood became food, the beach paradise of Bali became a real, specific place for me that afternoon. The day before, a friend had joked that we could've been in Boca Raton; today, I'd made connections, put down the tiniest roots, in a place that was distinctly not Florida. Despite everything I'd read in Eating Animals, it turned out I could still cheerfully eat a pig that had been killed just for me, and I could raise my glass and toast to all those who cooked it. In fact, I didn't even remember Safran Foer's book and my all–too–brief ethical dilemma until we were toodling back to our hotel on our motorbikes, bellies full and faces a bit greasy.
But the book has stuck with me since I returned home. In one chapter, Safran Foer describes how he turned down a sliver of artisan ham after touring an exceptionally well–run slaughterhouse. This is why he's a vegetarian, and I'm not. As a cook myself, how could I ever say no to meat that has been prepared with expertise and generosity?
I rely on the fellowship of food especially when I travel. I'm not a naturally outgoing person, so I rarely charm strangers on the bus; I don't drink heavily, so I don't make friends in bars. But I do eat, and when I catch someone's eye over a meal, and share a moment of "This is pretty damn tasty, right?" then I feel I've made a connection. If I had to limit that, I wouldn't know quite what to do with myself. Plus, once the pig is dead, there's no going back—wouldn't it would be wrong to waste it?
All rationalizing aside, no factory–farmed meats have graced my kitchen since. But what will I do on my next trip? Perhaps I'll employ the Hollywood actors' DCOL clause—Doesn't Count on Location—and erase my carnal infidelities with a wave of a passport.
Or perhaps I'll find some better method of meeting people and understanding culture. I know one must exist, though I have a hard time imagining what might be superior to, say, killing and roasting and eating a whole animal.
Either way, I am thinking more carefully about meat. That tasty, tasty pig did not die in vain.
Zora O'Neill is the author of the cookbook Forking Fantastic! Put the Party back in Dinner Party, as well as many travel guides, including The Rough Guide to the Yucatán and Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque. She lives in New York City and blogs at Roving Gastronome.
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Other Asia travel stories from the archives
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