A Denpasar Delight

By Janet De Neefe
For The Bali Times

UBUD ~ With Chinese New Year blowing into town, the streets are overflowing with our Asian neighbors enjoying a well-deserved rest from all their money-making professions. And, of course, they are also enjoying some tasty local cuisine to fill their tummies. There are so many wonderful eateries in Ubud to try whilst relishing the sights and sounds of this picturesque village. But how about the food beyond Ubud?

One of my all-time favorite Indonesian restaurants is Ikan Bakar Cianjur in Denpasar, near Jl. Renon. Originally from West Java, this is the place to go for a sublime treat of grilled fish and authentic Indonesian fare.

Have you been there? It’s a rather interesting Indonesian décor experience, too, with every interior feature known to man incorporated in the surroundings. There’s a bubbling brook in the corner, overshadowed by a huge white-stone carved relief, wall features of chinked jade-colored stone, ceramic plates grouped here and there, a painting of wild horses charging into the kitchen and a bamboo roof that shelters a couple of modern, sparkling chandeliers. There really is something for everyone!

They also have ample parking at the front of this mega-food hall, so you can park your polished mobil beside a swanky black Mercedes, silver BMW or stream-lined Honda.

But it’s the food that attracts and this place is overflowing most of the time. Let’s face it, Indonesians are passionate about grilled and fried fish and our youngest son always hounds me to bring a takeaway bundle for him to gorge on at home.

For a local experience, you can start off with an oh-so-refreshing chilled green coconut juice served in a quirky ceramic faux-green coconut, kind of kitsch but kind of very cool.

The menu includes glossy photos of all their specialties: grilled or fried Gurami, Nila (Tilapai) and assorted other fish dishes as well as a whole host of wok-fried greens. I can’t go past the Nila fish steamed in banana leaves. This petite fish is splashed with gentle spices and piles of lemon basil, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed to perfection.

Nila is one of those tender, sweet white fish that falls off the bone in gentle surrender, a marriage made in heaven, with the lemongrass-scented basil and mellow spices. It is freshness, texture and flavor par excellence.

Wok-fried pumpkin leaves or water spinach, seasoned lightly with Chinese wine, soy sauce and garlic, is the perfect accompaniment.

And if that’s not enough, you can gloat over deep-fried Gurami in a thin-as-a wisp, crisp, rice-flour batter.

Coconut rice is an extra option if you are looking for a beyond-steamed-rice experience and all are served with a ferocious fresh sambal. There are several other choices that include a delicate fish soup full of chunks of white fish, fried tempe, tofu and even grilled chicken.

You can dine to your heart’s content in the noisy ambience of this Indonesian favorite. And if you live in Jakarta, or other parts of Java, you will also find Ikan Bakar Cianjur restaurants because they are a local-food chain.

If only McDonald’s tasted this good.


Grilled fish in banana leaves

This is the Balinese version of fish in a banana leaves but for the Cianjur experience add a pile of lemon basil to the fish and then wrap and steam it. The result is a deliciously golden and healthy meal. Try parchment paper if banana leaves are not available and barbeque your fish or grill in the oven in the absence of a steamer.


600 gms.(18oz.) fish

banana leaves

4 shredded lime leaves

salam leaves for each parcel


6 garlic 3 shallots

2 tomatoes 1 tsp sea salt

3 candlenut 2 stalks of lemongrass

1/4 tsp shrimp paste ½ tsp black pepper

1 tsp tamarind 3 large red chilli

2-4 small chilli 1 1/2 Tbs fresh galangal

1 tbs fresh turmeric 2 tsp ginger

2 tsp palm sugar 1 tsp coriander seeds

3 Tbs oil

Grind the spices with the oil in a mortar and pestle or blend in the container of a food processor until you have a fragrant, golden yellow paste, flecked with chilli and tomato skin.

Chop the fish into fat chunks, roughly 4cm x 4cm or leave whole if you prefer. Shred the lime leaves. Mix thoroughly with the spice paste, oil and fish. Cut the banana leaves into rectangles roughly the size of a standard envelope.

Wrap the fish in one or two layers of banana leaves, with a salam leaf underneath. Roll over and secure the ends with a toothpick or tie with string.

Grill, steam or barbecue the fish for five minutes or until cooked. Serve with steamed rice and kangkung pelecing.

Matur Suksme

Janet De Neefe is the owner of Casa Luna and Indus Restaurants in Ubud, author of Fragrant Rice and founder and director of the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. She also runs the Casa Luna Cooking School.

Filed under: Arts & Entertainment, The Island

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