Dinner with a baby shark
in South Banten

Suryatini N. Ganie, Contributor, Jakarta

Banten, Java's western-most province renown for its seaside resorts, was one of the gateways to Java in previous centuries when mighty kings like Sultan Hasanuddin (1552-1570) reigned. One of the ancient harbors of Java, Pelabuhan Karanghantu (reefs of the ghosts) was one of the ports of call for Persian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Portuguese, English and Dutch trading ships.

These golden periods have past, but Banten still remains an important place for those trading in the harvests of the sea, plentiful in the Indian Ocean. Small harbors on the south west coast still supply many fish to the big cities in West Java and Jakarta. The most important of these traditional harbors is a small place called Binuangeun, where a variety of fish are auctioned from small yellow tail (ikan ekor kuning) to the more popular fish species like snapper (ikan kakap) and ikan tongkol, a small sized tuna, ikan layur, a rather flat fish that is usually dried. A seldom caught, and therefore sought-after, fish is baby shark (hiu kecil).

It was in Binuangeun that we were given a baby shark as a present from one of the fishers passing on the beach. ""Just grill it"", the fisher said, and there I was with a baby shark! Well, I left the grilling procedure to our guard, who proved to be a real expert in grilling baby sharks! He first cleaned it and then made a rather long, shallow hole in a cool place on the beach into which he placed the shark. Moist cool sand was put over the shark, ""to keep it fresh"", the guard said when asked about this. The guard's then gathered up plenty of coconut husks and made a fire, explaining that grilling over coconut husks would enhance the taste of the shark. The shark was thoroughly cleaned again and rubbed with a lot of lime juice and seasoned with salt. After being grilled the shark meat was not bad, though a bit tougher than the fishes we usually cooked. It was great with lots of kecap manis, and of course chopped, plump cabai rawit of the region. We haven't been back there since the floods started in South Banten, but I think the fishers of Binuangeun still have plenty of fish to sell.

Fish is daily fare on the coasts of Banten, and many varieties are on sale there. Many dishes are prepared very simply, either grilled or steamed. Dendeng ikan for example has a very Javanese taste of shallots, garlic and brown sugar and a sprinkling of ground coriander. Whereas pindang ikan is a preserved fish with a rather soft texture just like the wrapped steamed fish of the Sunda Highlands called pepes.

Apart from saltwater fish, South Banten has also an array of brackish water fish like the bandeng (milkfish) which is prepared in a very intricate way for festive occasions like weddings or circumcisions. The most popular dish is sate bandeng, that can only be made properly by experienced cooks. It requires a lot of patience to prepare because the skin has to be removed without any defects to be further prepared by way of filling the skin with fish meat that has been meticulously cleaned of its very fine bones. Milkfish bones are rather dangerous when swallowed. Many locals prefer sharks because sharks have no small bones, they say.


1. Mugalgal Ikan Tongkol

A very easy to prepare tuna dish.

A 300g small tuna, cleaned, cut into 3 or 4 pieces 1 tsp salt, or to taste 200 ml cooking oil, for frying 3 cloves garlic, cut into thin slices 4 red chilies, cut into thin slanting sizes tsp salt, or to taste tsp pepper 3 tbs lime juice 100 ml water

Method: 1. Season the fish with salt and let stand for 20 minutes. 2. Fry until brownish and done. Take from flame and set aside. 3. Fry garlic and chili in 3 tbs remaining oil until aromatic. Season with salt, pepper, lime juice and pour in water. Let it come to the boil. 4. Add fried tuna, lower flame and continue simmering until sauce thickens.

Makes three portions

2. Kakap Panggang Saus

Grilled snapper with spicy soy sauce.

Ingredients: A 400g to 500g snapper, cleaned; make 3 cuts on dorsal side 1 onion, chopped 3 red chilies 1 tsp salt, or to taste tsp pepper 3 tbs lime juice 3 tbs margarine, for basting Sauce: 2 cloves garlic, cut into thin slices 2 red chilies, cut into thin slice 2 tbs margarine, for stir frying 4 tbs sweet soy sauce 3 tbs boiled water

Method: Grilling: 1. Make onion and chilies into a paste, then season with salt, pepper and lime juice. 2. Cover fish with the paste and let stand for 20 minutes. 3. Grill over charcoal until done whilst basting with margarine.

Sauce: 1. Stir fry garlic and chilies until aromatic. 2. Add sweet soy sauce and water. Continue cooking for some minutes then take from flame. 3. Serve the fish with the sauce.

Makes three portions.

3.Ikan Ungkep Binuangeun

A braised fish dish from Binuangeun, a small South Banten fishers harbor.

Ingredients: 2 small tuna, or another species, cleaned and each cut slantingly into halves 3 cloves garlic, pounded Slice of fresh turmeric, pounded Slice of fresh ginger, pounded 2 stalks lemon grass, each 15 cm, cut into 3 cm pieces 2 tbs cooking oil, for stir frying 4 lime leaves 2 tbs lime juice 50 ml water 4 tbs sweet soy sauce tsp salt, or to taste

Method: 1. Stir fry garlic, turmeric, ginger, and lemon grass until aromatic. 2. Add the fish, lime leaves, lime juice, water, sweet soy sauce and salt. 3. Close the lid of the pan and braise until done.

Makes four portions.

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