This is a recipe for Fishball Soup (Sup Bakso Ikan). We’ve been generally very hesitant to eat fish bought from the store since we left the States since we are always worried about quality. This was especially the case in Indonesia, so much so that we never bought any fish while we were there, relying on trips out to restaurants for seafood. In retrospect, this was probably dumb. It’s far easier to tell if fish has gone bad than meat. Look at the eyes of the fish–if they are clear, and the fish doesn’t smell bad, it’s good to eat. Contrast that with ground beef or chicken thighs, which we have bought and which have made us sick, although not since we left Jakarta.
This soup is very obviously Chinese in origin. In fact, the much-beloved bakso, or omnipresent Indonesian/Malay meatball, is Chinese in origin, but has become so ingrained into local cooking that it’s no less Indonesian than sate (satay). You can’t overmix the meatball ingredients–it’s the exact opposite of the Italian style of making very coarsely combined meatballs. What’s nice about this soup is it’s not so heavy (in contrast to Sop Buntut) and it’s quick to make.
4 Tbsp. water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
10 oz. mackerel or other white, oily, fishy fish
4 tsp. corn starch
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
4 thick slices of ginger
1 1/2 cups of clear fish or chicken stock (see note)
6 oz. bihun, cooked
4 cups bean sprouts
1 cup chopped cilantro or celery leaf
salt and ground white pepper
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 red chilies, thinly sliced
To make the fish balls, cut the fish into small pieces and combine all the ingredients in a food processor. Process until extremely blended..the goal is to make as smooth and uniform of a mixture as possible. Bring a pot of salted water to a simmer. Using two small spoons, make small balls out of the fish mixture and drop into the simmering water. They are done when they float to the top. This should make around 30 fish balls.
Make the sambal by combining the soy sauce and chilies, then setting aside. To make the soup, heat the oil over high heat until shimmery, and then add the garlic and ginger. Stir fry for 2 minutes until fragrant, then add the stock. Bring the soup to a boil, cover and reduce heat, simmering for 45 minutes. Strain to remove garlic and ginger pieces. Season with salt and pepper to taste. In four bowls, make piles first of noodles, then sprouts, then fish balls. Ladle the soup over these ingredients, then garnish with fried shallots and cilantro or celery leaves. Serve with sambal on the side. Here’s a picture.
Note on Stock: You want a clear but flavorful broth for this. The authentic way to do it here is to take 100 grams of little dried fishies called ikan bilis, which you stir-fry with the garlic and ginger until just beginning to brown, and then add water instead of stock, so that you’re making the stock fresh. Then when you strain, you’re straining out ginger, garlic, and little fishies. This makes an extremely intense stock that is best if combined with chicken broth in a 2 parts fish to 1 part chicken ratio. We can’t imagine that you’d find ikan bilis outside of Southeast Asia, though, so a nice fish or chicken (or combination) broth is good too. Here’s what a bag of several thousand tiny fishies looks like, with my left hand to compare.