Ikan Pepes – Indonesian Spiced Fish

When fresh fish and Southeast Asian spices meet, the results are outstanding!

Ikan Pepes:  Indonesian Spiced Fish

Ikan Pepes - Indonesian Spiced Fish in Banana Leaf

When I first visited Malaysia, one of the many dishes that stuck out in my mind was Ikan Bakar – a fresh skate wing that was marinated in a spice paste, wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled. The sweet and spicy chili paste, coupled with the smokiness of the singed banana leaf, permeated the tender flesh of the skate.  Everytime we go back, I look forward to having this dish.

Here in the Bay Area, we were introduced to Bay Leaf Indonesian Restaurant in Sunnyvale.  They have a dish similar to the grilled skate wing called ikan pepesIkan simply means “fish”.  Pepes is the type of cooking process used: wrap in banana leaf, steam until cooked through, then finish off on the grill.  Ever since having ikan pepes at Bay Leaf, I’ve been meaning to do this dish at home.

We called up our favorite fishmonger, Pat from Mission Fresh Fish, and requested he save a couple of snapper for our next visit to the Saratoga Farmer’s Marrket.  As with all his fish, these were caught just a couple of days before the market.  He’ll even clean the fish right there for you.  The prices on his fish are very reasonable, especially considering the freshness of his product.

Pat from Mission Fresh Fish with Two Fresh Snapper

Pat from Mission Fresh Fish with two snapper

The spice paste recipe for this Ikan Pepes came from “Homestyle Indonesian Cooking”:


1 Tsp tamarind pulp, soaked 5 minutes.
2 Tbsp warm water
6-10 large chiles, chopped
1 stem lemongrass (only the inner part of the bottom 10 cm), thinly sliced
5 candlenuts
1 small, ripe tomato
1/2 Tsp ground turmeric
1/2 Tsp dried shrimp paste
1 Tsp salt
1 Tbsp finely chopped palm sugar
1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves


1. We scored the fish on both sides and marinated it with some lime juice and salt.  We preheated the oven to 350*F.

2. We then ground all the ingredients for the spice paste together until it became smooth.

3. Since we did not have a banana leaf handy, we used aluminum foil.  Spread out 1/3 of the paste down onto the foil.  Then smear 1/3 of the paste inside the stomach cavity of the fish. Smear the final 1/3 on top of the fish.

Ikan Pepes: Fresh Whole Snapper with Indonesian Spice Paste

Ikan Pepes - fresh whole snapper with Indonesian Spice Paste

4. Instead of steaming, the fish was sealed up in the foil and baked in the oven for 20 minutes.

5. We then opened the foil packet up and broiled the fish for another 5 minutes.

Ikan Pepes: Fresh Whole Snapper with Indonesian Spice Paste

Ikan Pepes - fresh whole snapper with Indonesian spice paste

6. Serve with rice.

This ikan pepes was outstanding.  Not as sweet as the Bay Leaf restaurant version. But also not as spicy (we used some milder chile peppers from our garden) so it balanced out okay.  I liked the basil flavor that was prominent in this dish.  Because this fish wasn’t grilled, though, it lacked that smoky quality.

This recipe was entered into the “Waiter, There’s Something in My…” Indonesian recipe roundup hosted by Andrew of Spitoon Extra.

Aloha, Nate

18 thoughts on “Ikan Pepes – Indonesian Spiced Fish”

  1. >Did you let the fishmonger try the Ikan Pepes? 😛 He shd see his fish being so outstanding.

    Tried Bay Leaf Restaurant before….the business was not too good that time. Was it a case of poor quality or lack of advertising…nobody knows.

    P.S Regarding the beans – black beans are totally different from yellow and brown. And I believe brown beans might be a case of fermented yellow (soy beans). I might be wrong.

  2. >This is one good looking fish I love it. I think no one can make seafood better than southeast Asians, really. Major droolage because I don’t get fresh snappers here.

  3. >I love anything wrapped in banana leaves. It imparts such a mild, lightly sweet flavor. But I guess they are hard to find. Again, you introduce me to something new everyday. So thank you

  4. >@Tigerfish – no, we ate it all. But it’s a good idea!

    Bay Leaf’s business is up and down. You never know whether a night is going to be good or not. But their lunchtime crowd is out the door (or so I’ve heard)

    @Rasa – heh, thanks for the compliments!

    @Manger La Ville – I wish we had gotten some banana leaves. You can find them in the frozen section of the Asian grocery.

    @JS – how do you do whole fish?

  5. >This look absolutely mouth watering. Will try out yr recipe soon although I cannot get fresh snapper here 🙁 I miss ikan bakar too. Our favourite is always the grilled stingray/skate fish in KL. I just want to tell you both that you´re doing a really great job with your blog. I enjoy reading every bit of it and I´ve become a regular visitor to this site (wink wink)


  6. >tamarind, palm sugar, candlenuts… you guys always make such interesting dishes! One of these days I’m going to have to go hunting for some of these ingredients and follow in your footsteps. 🙂

  7. >@Ramya – don’t think — just make it! (and use banana leaf)

    @Rosa – you’re welcome!

    @Eliz – terima kasih kekekekeke

    @Giff – you should see our pantry. More condiments and ingredients than we know what to do with. That’s why we hardly cook anything the same way twice.

  8. >Your ikan pepes is so modern! I think you just reinvent the dish. Congratulation. It is quite different from what we have in Indonesia but equally bombastic.

  9. >@Andie – we just make do with what we have when we can’t do it the original way. How do you do ikan pepes?

  10. >I am so jealous hiksss. You can find fresh fish out there. Huh! I always use frozen here. Pepes ikan or Brengkes Ikan or Paes ikan, yummy

  11. We also like the Ikan Pepes at Bay Leaf Restaurant in Sunnyvale! I shall have to try your recipe one day soon. What is dried shrimp paste in your recipe – is that belachan? Thank you!

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