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Pongi

Indonesian Ikan Bilis Recipe

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Hi all!

A few years ago, during a journey in Indonesia I had a delicious dish I'd love to cook at home. I can't exactly remember where we were (I should ask my hubby, but since he often says that I never remember the name of the places where we go, I don't want to let him know that he's right :wink: ), maybe it was in Java or less likely Sumatra, I don't think Bali and surely not Sulawesi.

It was a little place in the countryside, apparently intended for local people more than for tourists. They showed us very proudly the photocopy of an article, or maybe a guide, where one of their dishes was mentioned as "one of the best dishes of Indonesia".

The dish was called "SMOKED SMALLFISH WITH TOMATO, GINGER AND YOUNG ONION" or something like that. Of course we tried it, and actually it was something unbelievable, a haute cuisine dish! Those small fish (which did not seem obviously "smoked") were sauteed with the other ingredients and a flavoring that I couldn't recognize, and the result was so sophisticated that you could have eaten it in a great restaurant, not in that ordinary place.

I've always wondered whether someone else knows that dish (of course, someone does, otherwise it couldn't have been mentioned in a guide) and if so, which could be the recipe. Anyone here having ever heard about it?

Pongi

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I've always wondered whether someone else knows that dish (of course, someone does, otherwise it couldn't have been mentioned in a guide) and if so, which  could be the recipe. Anyone here having ever heard about it?

Pongi

Pongi,

Just how small were those "smallfish"?

If they were really small, then what you are describing might be a way of serving ikan bilis, usually translated as "anchovies". The semi-dried product is often stir-fried with chillies, onions, and occasionally ginger into "sambal ikan bilis". You could probably find it in a lot of places, though I believe it is most strongly associated with the "greater Malay" (I know, this is a political faux paux) region of the S. Malay peninsula and N. Sumatra, where it is served as a component of a nasi lemak (coconut rice) set plate. Here's a link to a recipe from The Star (Malaysia)'s Cyberkuali. It doesn't contain ginger but I believe it wouldn't be inauthentic to add some to the rempah (pounded ingredients). . .

Or maybe that's not what you were talking about at all! Perhaps if you could be more specific about the location. . . Sumatra and Java cover a population larger than that of Japan. . .


Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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Thanks skchai, and sorry for answering back to you so late (I was out on holiday for a couple of weeks)

Actually "my" small fish could be ikan bilis as they were really small, 1 inch long or so. They looked a lot like the small fish, called "Rossetti", that are sold fresh here in Liguria during winter/spring months. They are a very expensive delicacy, so I can't say whether they're the same kind of fish or not, but they seem suitable for that recipe and this is just the reason why I'm considering trying it.

The recipe you mentioned makes sense, apart from the huge amount of scallion and garlic (my recipe had a very subtle taste) and the lack of diced tomato and ginger. I'll give it a try!

I have a few more questions for you. Since our small fish are fresh, what can I do in order to make them like ikan bilis, which are, if I understood well, dried? Maybe frying them separately in advance, before adding the other ingredients? Another question: what are belacan granules? If I can't find them in Italy, can I substitute them with something else?

As for the exact location of that place, as I already said I can't ask that my hubby :wink:

Anyway, we visited the most touristic places in Java (Yogyakarta, Borobudur, Bromo, Dieng Plateau and so on), going around with local buses and bemos. In Sumatra we visited only the Lake Toba area.

Thanks again!

Pongi

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Pongi,

Still not sure. . .

Ikan Bilis are eaten in much of Java as well, where they are called Ikan Teri. They can be eaten fresh as well as dried, though dried is more common, presumably due to keeping qualities. Have looked around for a recipe that explicitly uses fresh Ikan Bilis / Teri but haven't been able to find one.

If you have fresh Rossetti, it seems a waste to dry it out just to simulate the original dish. However, given that the preparation is fairly simple you could presumably adapt the one for dried Ikan Bilis to fit fresh fish. Just tone down the chili, garlic, and shallot so they don't overpower the flavor, adding the tomato and and moderate amount of ginger. Also, it seems to make sense to cook the onions before adding the fish to the fish doesn't get overcooked or smashed up by the stirring. "Bombay Onion" is just the common bulb onion.

In Java, candlenuts (kemiri) might be added to the pounded ingredients. You could substitute macadamia nuts or even hazelnuts if you'd like.

Belacan is another matter. It is tiny shrimp, salted and dried, then pulverized, and is called Terasi on Java. It can stink, and is usually stir-fried before being incorporated into a dish. Only thing I can think of remotely similar might be salted anchovies, but the taste would be very different nonetheless. Sri Owen claims terasi smells like Marmite! Anyway, don't feel bad about not including it!


Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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Hi Pongi

I could mail you some dried ikan bilis and belacan granules from Malaysia if you like. However, I'm not sure whether Italian customs would allow a rather stinky package through.

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For the belacan, if you have a Japanese or a Thai market nearby, you might have a reasonable substitute -- not exact, but at least better than dried anchovies. There are small dried shrimp available that are called surume-ebi in Japanese and gung haeng in Thai. They may be a little less, uhm, assertive than the belacan, but should be a reasonable substitute. In most Asian markets, they can be bought in plastic bags and can then be ground or used whole as appropriate. If you've ever had somtam Thai, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Most Asian cuisines have a product akin to this somewhere in their repertoire.

Good luck,

Jim


Jim Jones

London, England

Never teach a pig to sing. It only wastes your time and frustrates the pig.

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Thanks everybody!

Unluckily, I haven't any chance of finding those Asian products here as there are no Japanese or Thai markets in Italy (we can purchase only some japanese items in organic shops). Maybe I could try adding to the rempah a small amount of anchovy paste, which works better than whole anchovies as a flavouring ingredient. I realize that my Indonesian dish is getting too much Italian, but I have no other options...

skchai: of course I wasn't considering to dry out Rossetti, actually it would be a bad end for something that costs $ 20 each pound :wink: This is just the reason why I thought about frying them in advance, to make them crispy and tasty as those fish were.

shiewie, thanks for your offer!

I could test in advance Italian, and Malaysian, customs' tolerance mailing you a good piece of Gorgonzola cheese. If you'll get it without any trouble, please give your granules the go-ahead :smile:

Pongi

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shiewie, thanks for your offer!

I could test in advance Italian, and Malaysian, customs'  tolerance mailing you a good piece of Gorgonzola cheese. If you'll get it without any trouble, please give your granules the go-ahead :smile:

Haha! I doubt the Gorgonzola would survive the trip here.

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Maybe I could try adding to the rempah a small amount of anchovy paste, which works better than whole anchovies as a flavouring ingredient. I realize that my Indonesian dish is getting too much Italian, but I have no other options...

Nothing wrong with that. Maybe you should give in to the fusion force and pour in some nice Ligurian olive oil and serve it on top of trenette. You could call it Sambal Ikan Rossetti Pongi. . .


Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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