Sitting over glowing coals of coconut, it appears as a banana leaf wrapped package. It is stuffed with fish, spices, and a touch of oil before being grilled on each side. Known as “pepes ikan”, it is a traditional Balinese dish that’s made with fish along the coast, but you’ll also find pork versions across the island.
I passed through one small village on the way to Padang Bai (Bali’s port city), where the street food seemed to have two main options- pepes ikan and ikan satay. When I passed through in the morning I saw the women sitting under a bamboo hut, packing the banana leaf pepes packages. When I returned in the afternoon, I saw the grills lit with coals, the prepared packages grilling atop. I sampled some of each, pepes ikan laut (pepes made with ocean fish) and satay ikan laut (satay of ocean fish).
Pepes = meat and spices wrapped in a banana leaf, then grilled over a fire or coals
Satay = chunks of meat either dressed with spices and put on a kebab OR meat blended with spices, formed into a ball, then speared and grilled.
The pepes was a mixture of fish, spices, a little cassava leaf, and a lot of chili. The satay was a blended version – fish meat mixed with spices and coconut. Both were delicious and super spicy! I like very spicy foods, but i think there’s something about chili over the fire that makes it extra…fiery.
While I stayed in Ubud, Bali I took a cooking class with the family of “Ketut’s Bali Cooking class“. Ketut, a very jolly teacher, escorted us through the local market then guided us in the preparation of 5 local dishes plus sauces and condiments. On the menu was pepes ikan, which we prepared with tuna. Before making the pepes we prepared base gede (base sauce) otherwise known as “Bumbu Bali” (Balinese spices). This mashed, fragrant mixture later became one of the ingredients inside the banana leaf. It is a complex and potent mixture, so it is usually prepared in large quantities then used as a fragrant base for many foods. Besides pepes ikan, it can be used to flavor meat or vegetables in a soup or stir-fry, lending an aromatic curry flavor.
Here is a guide to making and enjoying your own pepes! First, I share with you Ketut’s recipe for “Bumbu Bali” and then “Pepes Tuna”. If you try this recipe, please let me know how it goes! Leave a comment with your own experience or variation. Perhaps it can be packaged inside other leaves too?? You tell me!
Bumbu Bali (Balinese Spices)
- 50 grams ginger (fresh root)
- 100 grams galangal (fresh root)
- 100 grams turmeric (fresh root)
- 25 grams aromatic ginger (fresh root)
- 25 grams candle nut (can substitute macadamia nut)
- 400 grams fresh garlic
- 500 grams shallot
- 100 grams fresh red chili
- 15 grams black pepper
- 15 grams coriander seed
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon clove
- A medium sized stalk of lemongrass
- 3 lime leaves
- 3 bay leaves
- 25 grams palm sugar
- 1 tablespoon shrimp paste
- Clean and peel all ingredients (except for lime leaf, bay leaf and lemongrass) then put into a food processor or mortar.
- Blend until it becomes a paste.
- Heat a small amount of oil in a pan then drop in the paste.
- Add the lime leaf, bay leaf, and lemongrass.
- Cook until soft and the flavor comes out.
- 150 grams tuna fish
- 1 tablespoon “Bumbu Bali”
- 6 pieces fresh lemon basil
- 6 pieces of fresh sliced tomato
- 3 pieces of banana leaf
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- salt and pepper
- lemon juice
- Season tuna fish with salt and pepper then cover evenly with Bumbu Bali. Squeeze some lemon juice on top and add a touch of coconut oil.
- Place the seasoned fish in the center of the banana leaves (slightly towards the bottom) then add tomato and lemon basil on top.
- Fold banana leaves around the fish (in a rolling fashion), then fasten with a toothpick on either side of the parcel.
- Place on a grill or charcoal cooker. Cook for 5 minutes on each side or until the banana leaves are evenly browned.
Let cool, unfold, and enjoy!! Pairs well with rice.
Interested in learning in person? Check out the website for Ketut’s Cooking Class!
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