Aug 30 2013

Cheap eats in Indonesia: Ikan bakar

Published by at 9:28 am under Food


Ikan bakar, or grilled fish, is an extremely popular and delicious dish in Indonesia (and Malaysia), served streetside, beachside and in restaurants.

Ikan grilling in Makassar.

Ikan grilling in Makassar.

Ikan bakar is one of the very simplest dishes you’ll find both streetside and in fancier restaurants in Indonesia. When you’re not sure what to order from a menu, it’s a pretty safe bet that this’ll be delicious (so long as you pick a fresh fish).

Ikan bakar collectors.

Ikan bakar collectors, Jimbaran.

The fish will usually be marinated in some kind of sambal (sauce); if you’re playing it cautious, ask for it to be plain, with sambal served on the side.

The one that got away.

The one that got away.

The usual sambal will be a selected combination of chillies, lime, ginger, onion, galangal, tamarind, candlenuts, whole coriander, lemongrass, turmeric, belacan (shrimp paste), red shallots… It’ll often be fiery, but sometimes it’ll be gentle and complex, too.

Making the sambal, at a popular streetside joint halfway between Gorontalo and Manado.

Making the sambal, at a popular streetside joint halfway between Gorontalo and Manado.

Depending on who you ask, “proper” ikan bakar will be wrapped in banana leaf (or just slapped on a piece) so you’ll get the smokey flavour of the burned leaves coming through; but often it’ll also just be thrown straight on the grill.

Pointy ikan, Kuta Beach, Lombok.

Pointy ikan, Kuta Beach, Lombok.

In Bali, the go-to spot for grilled fish has to be Jimbaran, where you can watch it being grilled over coconut husk, which lends its own distinctly yum taste to the fish; but the star here is Jimbaran sauce.

Little ikan in Gorontalo,

Little ikan in Gorontalo.

If you’re on a tight budget, it’s not the cheapest meal you’ll find on the island, but it’s probably among those worth having a bit of a splurge on. (We like Menega down the end closer to the Intercontinental.)

Ikan with friends, Makassar.

Ikan with friends, Makassar.

We’ve had one of our best ikan bakars ever at a little restaurant in Sangkeng, Sulawesi — the fish was succulent and fresh, and came with three piquant sauces on the side, including one of green mango.

Scrumptious ikan in Sangkeng.

Scrumptious ikan in Sangkeng.

The fish will often be kind of splayed open in a way that leaves one complete fillet, with the other still attached to the bones, which will be easy enough to remove. Dig in, and enjoy!

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