Recipes from the Road: Sate Lilit Ikan and Sambal Matah

Bring the flavors of Bali into your home by making this spiced fish satay—plus a raw Balinese sambal—entirely from scratch.

Sate lilit and sambal matah: a match made in heaven.

No Indonesian meal is truly complete without a side of sambal. There are perhaps hundreds of varieties of this chili-based condiment across the archipelago, each one incorporating ingredients as diverse as young mango, anchovies, and the fermented keluak nut (whose raw form contains lethal amounts of hydrogen cyanide). Bali’s very own sambal matah is a zesty, refreshing counterpart to fish or seafood and fatty meats like pork: it features thinly sliced lemongrass, shallot, chili, and kaffir lime leaf, as well as lime juice and toasted shrimp paste, all tossed in coconut oil.

Although I’d eaten sambal matah in the past, I didn’t appreciate the work that went into creating it until I stayed at the Mövenpick Resort & Spa Jimbaran Bali several years ago. The highlight was joining a Balinese cooking class at the property’s all-day dining restaurant Anarasa with a small group of fellow journalists also based in Jakarta. I quickly befriended one by the name of Ranjit, who became my kitchen buddy, and we donned clear plastic gloves to finely chop and mix the fresh herbs and aromatics for sambal matah.

The next task was to create our own Balinese satay. Most readers will be familiar with the classic Javanese version dipped in peanut sauce and kecap manis—soy sauce laced with the earthy sweetness of palm sugar. But travel the breadth of Indonesia and you’ll find endless permutations depending on which island and region you go to. A starchy curry-like sauce accompanies West Sumatra’s sate Padang; lightly seasoned sate taichan was developed much more recently in Jakarta; while melt-in-the-mouth sate buntel kambing, a specialty of the Central Javanese city of Solo (a.k.a. Surakarta), uses minced goat meat wrapped in caul fat. Bali’s sate lilit, along with sate buntel, is one of my favorites for good reason: it fuses minced meat or fish with coconut milk and a complex spice paste in juicy, smoky parcels.

Part of the fun of making sate lilit is wrapping the raw mixture tightly around flatter bamboo skewers or lemongrass stalks. I couldn’t understand why Ranjit’s satay kept falling off the skewers—to shape these morsels by hand into bulbous cylindrical shapes seemed like the easiest thing in the world. Ranjit responded to my barely concealed laughter with his own biting humor. “Maybe if this writing thing doesn’t work out,” he said with a grin, “you should sell satay instead.”



Makes 10 skewers

300 g minced snapper fillet (skinless)

100 g grated coconut

100 ml coconut cream

50 g spice paste for seafood

5 g chopped bird’s-eye chili

5 g chopped kaffir lime leaves

5 g crushed black peppercorn

30 g palm sugar (add two tbsp of water to liquidize)

Salt to taste


For 500 g

225 g large red chilies, halved, seeded, and sliced

100 g sliced shallots

25 g sliced garlic

25 g sliced ginger

90 g sliced turmeric

40 g roasted candlenuts

5 g roasted shrimp paste

8 g crushed coriander seeds

100 g tomatoes, halved and seeded

15 g tamarind pulp

½ g Indonesian bay leaf (daun salam)

10 g bruised lemongrass stalks

8 ml coconut oil

25 ml water

Salt, to taste


  1. The spice paste should be made in advance. Start out by combining all ingredients except the bay leaves, lemongrass, tamarind, water, and salt in a stone mortar or food processor and grind coarsely.
  2. Place the ground ingredients in a heavy saucepan and simmer over medium heat for approximately 1 hour or until the water is evaporated and the paste takes on a golden color. Cool before using or storing it in the refrigerator.
  3. To make the satay, mix all ingredients by hand in a large bowl until the resultant blend is sticky and does not fall apart. Wrap the mixture around flatter bamboo skewers or stalks of lemongrass.
  4. Heat a char-grill pan over high heat. Brush the satay with coconut oil and grill, turning them occasionally, until golden and cooked through. Serve right away.



400 g shallot, finely chopped

200 g lemongrass

10 g garlic, finely chopped

50 g large red chili, finely sliced

5 g kaffir lime leaves, finely chopped

5 g dried shrimp cake, toasted and finely crumbled

20 g limo lime (Citrus amblycarpa)

50 ml coconut oil

Ground black pepper



  1. Combine all ingredients except the salt and pepper in a deep bowl and mix thoroughly for 5 minutes.
  2. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
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