My dear friend Regina owned a very successful Indonesian restaurant on the west side of Houston for over two decades. Not only was the food amazing, but the bar was a local watering hole for many workers of the the petroleum industry. On any one night, it was not unusual to hear numerous languages being spoken in addition to a variety of English accents.
There are many Indonesian dishes that I enjoyed at this restaurant and when living in Singapore. Even though Regina retired a few years ago, I still enjoy good Indonesian food when eating at her house. Of all the meals that I enjoyed, it is the Balinese Style Fish that was on the menu that I miss the most. The fiery, tangy, salty and the subtle sweetness of the mixture on top of the lightly fried fish is an experience that borders on exotic for the complexity and layering of flavors is both foreign and unknown to western tastes.
I was almost hesitant when I asked Regina for the recipe. I did not know if I was requesting a closely held “ancient Chinese family recipe”? Regina emailed the recipe and I quickly viewed the ingredients and instructions. It was not until I printed the email that I realized that the joke was on me. Not only were many of the ingredients not on hand in my kitchen, but there was very little information on the amount of ingredients to use. As with many people who enjoy cooking, recipes they have made for years are devoid of exact measurements. They cook utilizing all of their senses, storing the knowledge and making adjustments each time the dish is prepared.
Although some of the ingredients for the Balinese style fish sauce are likely not in your kitchen pantry or refrigerator, do not despair. Through careful planning, shopping and on-line research for ingredients not readily available, substitutions can be found. Do not be like me and go shopping for the ingredients the evening of the meal during rush hour traffic. Luckily, I was able to find all of the ingredients required.
- 1 x Large White or Yellow Onion Diced
- 1 x Piece of Ginger Diced Small (size of your thumb)
- 10 x TBSP of Sambal Oelek (many recipes on-line use far less, but I was going for replication)
- 2 x TBSP of Tamarind Juice (made this ingredient from tamarind paste, but it is available as juice)
- 2 x TBSP of Kecap Manis
- 5 x Lime Leaves (I picked mine from lime tree on the patio)
- 1 x TSP Sugar
- 1 x TSP Salt
- Saute the diced onion and ginger for 10 – 12 minutes
- Add all of the remaining ingredients
- Cook on low until the sauce thickens
For me, this meal is best enjoyed replicating the way that it was presented at Mata Hari’s Indonesian Restaurant & Bar. A lightly fried fish topped with the Balinese Style fish sauce, placed on a bed of white rice with a side of steamed broccoli and quick pickled vegetables. Further discussions with Regina highlight that this sauce is also good with shrimp and squid (sotong)
The sauce can be made well before the fish, rice and accompanying vegetables are prepared. Reheat the sauce when preparing the other components of this meal. This recipe will make enough for 6 normal size fish filets.
Sequence of Events (before eating):
- Prepare the Balinese Style Fish Sauce before hand
- 30 minutes: start cooking the rice
- 20 minutes: place the steam pot on the stove and turn on high to boil the water
- 15 minutes: prepare the fish to be fried
- 10 minutes: heat the pan with oil to cook the fish
- 7 minutes: place the broccoli in the steam pot
- 6 minutes: begin cooking the fish
- Plate the fish, and spoon the sauce on top of the fish
Follow Up to the Original Post:
If I had only done more research prior to asking Regina for the recipe, I would have remembered that the Houston Chronicle in 2000 published a review on Mata Hari’ Indonesian Restaurant & Bar and published the recipe for Balinese Style Fish (Ikan Bumbu Bali). When I reviewed the recipe published in the Houston Chronicle, I realized that there were subtle differences. both recipes are correct, but it does go to show you that even personal recipes saved to memory change and evolve over time.