I love Indonesia since my first trip in September 2006, this vast archipelago of 17,000 islands (6,000 inhabited). I came back again in July 2007, and three times in 2012-2013, June, December and March. I wanted first to rediscover Bali, and then spend a few days only in Lombok, the closest island to Bali, much less crowded and still more authentic. And finally I came back to Lombok in June for a longer period this time. Now, in 2014… I live in Lombok!
What makes Indonesia attractive? Its population. With around 240 million people, Indonesia is the fourth most populated country in the world. Country of nearly 2 million square kilometers, Indonesia is the 16th largest country in the world. The population of Indonesia is a melting pot of different ethnicities (Javanese, Chinese, Toraja, Dayaks, Bajaos …), with their own traditions, and often their own dialect. If you come to Indonesia try to go to more than one island to feel the different cultures and better understand all the elements of this great country in which we like to get lost.
The local cuisine is the cement of the population. Families will get together around a dish to discuss, exchange ideas and sometimes even reconcile.
Now that I live in Lombok I tried different dishes and here is a small but memorable meal shared on the street with other Indonesians curious about this blonde lady and her camera. I always ask a lot of questions, I will sometimes be a clown, trying to break the ice. But that night I did not need to do a lot. I was hungry, and a nice perfume of grilled food attracted my attention. And my guide offered me to have a little snack before returning to the hotel. Where? … There!
There was a small group of three women sitting on small stools with a huge bowl between two of them, and a brazier in front of the third one. Right there at the edge of the road, without any ceremony or sign. When I approached them they looked at me and laughed. What is it? I asked. Simple: “ikan satay” (they write it also sometimes “ikan saté“). Fish caught the day, emptied, cleaned, marinated, grilled on small skewers, and sold in pairs in a small paper wrap.
Right then, watching the fingers of the ladies dig the flat fish fillets in that big bowl to skew them on small bamboo sticks, I was a little skeptical. Will I try or not? I hesitated. I thought for a second about the sanitary conditions but as usual my curiosity quickly took over. And I ordered a pair of skewers for me, two for my guide.
Normally you order, you pay and eat on your way or at home. But the ladies were curious, and my guide started explaining the reasons for my presence in Lombok and suddenly a plastic stool, fit for children, appeared and I was offered to sit next to them.
I’m invited to eat more, and my guide, who disappeared for a while, comes back with “sticky rice” wrapped in a really shinny banana leaf, I am there with my banana leaf in one hand and still two skewers in the other, in front of the smiling eyes of three women and an older man keeping them company (but more surely keeping an eye on the money…).
Delicious! Tasty! Very fragrant!
Then very quickly… Wow!…
Very, very hot… Suddenly I have the breath of a dragon and my cheeks probably changed color despite the darkness of the falling evening: the marinade for these little grilled fish skewers is very spicy, if you are not used to it. My new friends started laughing and handed me another pair of skewers. Some sticky rice, some fish. I was offered a local soda but I opted for bottled water.
Of course I asked my guide to translate the recipe, while taking notes, also, of the local terms as I am eager to learn the language. Here is the secret of Indonesian satay ikan: the marinade is made of coconut milk, young saffron, crushed fresh lemongrass, lime juice, crushed fresh ginger.
And chili, perhaps?… Oh yes, they had forgotten the chili! I did not…
I stayed with them nearly half an hour with this Indonesian Sasak group (Lombok native ethnic group) in the small city of Tanjung (northwest coast). Fantastic minutes, laughing and joking. I had to have eatten… 6 or 7 skewers just coming from over hot coals. Really good, although fragile stomachs could enjoy it less.
This recipe is very easy to do, even in Europe or North America. So for your next fish barbecue think about it: leave the fish marinade for a few hours, then grill it quickly. You will exactly eat Indonesian Sasak food. But no need to do this on the side of the road!!!
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Zoom in if you want to see where is located Tanjung: