Goku, Kuta’s Royal Barbecue

By Leo Maxam / Balibelly.com
Photos by Hamish Humphreys

Kai on the grill

There is an epidemic of addiction spreading through Kuta. They say once you try it, you’re hooked for life. People have been coming into Kuta from all over the island just to get another saucy, savory, tender fix.

We’re talking, of course, about Bali’s most beloved barbecue joint, Goku. Located on Jalan Benesari in the heart of Kuta, Goku is where OG surf legend Wayan “Ganti” Yasa and his wife, Mama, have been serving up mouth-watering barbecue and Hawaiian-style plate lunch since 2009.

Tonight I’m on the hunt for some of the Goku goodness. I’ve been told there’s a party at Goku for Kuta boy Raditya “Cabul” Rondi, who’s just returned home after winning the ASC Tour contest in Thailand. When I arrive, family and friends are gathered in the backyard, behind the restaurant. Garut’s hanging out. Rahtu’s in the house. Bol’s on the way. Everyone is eating.

Ganti and Mama have prepared a massive feast. There’s babi guling, Mama’s teriyaki chicken, Ganti’s pork ribs, and the famous yakiniku (thinly sliced beef loin grilled with Mama’s secret yakiniku sauce). And to top it off, plenty of mac salad and sweet, juicy corn on the cob. Before I know it, an ice-cold Bintang is in my hand and I’m taking my first succulent bite of Goku’s famous barbecue. Music is playing and everyone is hanging out, enjoying the food. You can tell everyone here has been getting together for these cook-outs long before the restaurant opened.

“We figured we were already feeding everybody in the neighborhood,” says Ganti, “so we might as well open a restaurant.”

Mama, Ganti, and Goku the Monkey King

In the early years, Bol was the first little grom to start coming around Ganti’s house after surfing, asking to be fed. Later, Garut and Raditya followed suit. By the time Rahtu and his friends started showing up for babi guling and bbq chicken, Ganti and Mama’s house had become the unofficial Kuta Boys cafeteria.

Before Ganti and Mama opened Goku two and a half years ago, Ganti operated a surf shop with Made Kasim on Jalan Legian. The name of their surf shop was… “The Surf Shop.” Business was good for many years, but then competition started getting stiff as big surf shops continued sprouting up in Kuta faster than Circle Ks. After the hundredth surf shop opened on Legian, Ganti decided it was time to make a career change.

“Ganti said he wanted to start a new business here in Kuta,” recalls Mama. “All of our friends from Japan and Australia loved when we would have barbecue parties, so it made sense to open a restaurant.”

Ribs and chicken glazed in Mama’s secret sauce (The turtle is just a decoration!)

I’m now halfway through my second plate of food, and the magic of the teriyaki chicken is starting to hit me. My belly feels all warm and happy, and I can’t seem to wipe the grin from off my face. This stuff is really good.

“Of course it’s good,” says Rahtu, “It’s mama’s secret recipe. She’s from Japan, and so is teriyaki.”

All of Mama’s recipes were handed down from her father. For over 20 years Mama’s family has been serving world-class barbeque at the original Goku, their landmark restaurant in Yokohama, Japan. The family named their restaurant after Goku the Monkey King, a famous character in classic Chinese literature (Goku is also the hero from the popular Dragon Ball cartoon series from Japan, which was based off the old Chinese tale of the Monkey King). You can find a statue of Goku the Monkey King above the counter in Ganti’s restaurant. Ganti and Mama brought it back from her family’s restaurant in Japan.

After surfing all day the Kuta boys head to Goku to feast

Here in Bali, Goku has become the gathering place for the Kuta boys. The restaurant’s walls are adorned with countless photos of family and friends enjoying good times and celebratory feasts at Goku.

“This place has been the starting point for so many big nights,” says local photographer and Goku regular Hamish Humphreys. “It’s so central and so cheap, and it’s where you will find all the boys hanging out on any given night.”

Next door to Goku is Garut’s new tattoo parlor, where you can get inked up by some of the best tattoo artists in Bali. But be warned: After a plate of Mama’s secret-recipe teriyaki chicken, you just might be tempted to get an “I love Goku” tattoo on your face. It’s that good.

So what is the secret ingredient?

“You’ll have to ask my wife,” says Ganti.