Ikan bakar, or grilled fish, is an extremely popular and delicious dish in Indonesia (and Malaysia), served streetside, beachside and in restaurants.
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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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!
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 30th August, 2013.