Acar Ikan – Indonesian Sour Fish with Vegetables

acar ikan

Acar Ikan

Sour and savory; Indonesians know exactly what to do with those flavors. Acar is a well-known side dish in Indonesian cuisine. It can be served cold or warm and can even be the main course. This acar ikan is a great example of acar as the main course. This slightly sour fish dish is a classic in Indonesian cuisine. Beb Vuyk and Oma Keasberry have different recipes about acar ikan in their books for example.

Dutch Moesson Magazine (for Eurasians who live in the Netherlands) asks every month for their favorite Indonesian dish. I remake this dish and make a step by step recipe so we can all make it at home. This time Brigitte says:

I am looking for traditional recipes of taotjo, satay kambing, acar Ikan, martabak.

And Goose Martha adds:

 Taotjo and fish acar yummy

Acar Ikan

Beb Vuyk (I make all her recipes from her Groot Indonesisch kookboek) uses different kinds of fish for her acar ikan, such as plaice fillet and cod. She writes that especially freshwater fish are desirable for an acar ikan.

After some online research, I see that in Indonesia asem (tamarind) is used to add acidity to this dish (Beb uses vinegar) and that cucumber is a popular ingredient too. With big chunks of cucumber and big pieces of onion, this dish becomes a real acar immediately.

This is my version of acar ikan, enough for 3 – 4 people and ready in 45 minutes.


  • 500 grams of fish fillet ( I use sea bass)
  • 200 grams of red onions
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 5 cm of fresh ginger
  • 2 cm fresh kencur (or 1/2 teaspoon kencur powder)
  • 4-5 leaves of jeruk purut
  • 4 candlenuts
  • 1 teaspoon of kunjit (turmeric)
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 2 chili peppers
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 10 grams of asem (tamarind) from a jar
  • frying oil


  1. Thaw the fillets and pat dry
  2. Fry the fish in a couple of minutes and leave to drain on kitchen paper
  3. Rub half of the onions, garlic, ginger, kaffir, kunjit, salt, candle nuts and sugar together (bumbu)
  4. Remove oil from the pan and leave a layer of 2 tablespoons
  5. Fry the jeruk purut (lemon leaves) in the oil briefly
  6. Now sauté the rubbed bumbu as well
  7. Cut cucumber into strips (with skin), onions in coarse slices, chili peppers in circles and tomatoes in four pieces each.
  8. Add onions, cucumber, peppers and tomatoes
  9. Beat lemongrass stalk, cut into three pieces and add to the pan
  10. Stir well and add 100 ml of water too
  11. Let this come to a boil
  12. Now let it simmer for 2 minutes until the tomatoes and cucumber are a bit tender, but not too much.
  13. Place the fish on a plate and spoon and pour the acar over it.

A sea bass naturally tastes very different from a skewer, so the fish determines the flavor of this whole dish. I like that you can alternate with it. So please do.

My seabass are frozen, so I defrost them and pat dry well before I fry them. It will be an oil ballet of splashes anyway. I therefore always use a spray cover otherwise everything is covered in an oily layer.

I obviously fry the fish very short, because it’s fish and doesn’t need long. So after a minute or two, I take them out. Just check whether they are done by lifting them a bit out of the oil. You immediately see if the meat is cooked.

While my fish are getting rid of the excess oil, I rub half (!) of the onions, all the garlic, candle nuts, salt and sugar together. I use 1 teaspoon of salt, I think that’s enough. Always taste the sauce before you pour it over the fish, maybe a bit more salt is needed.

Candle nuts can also be bought as a paste. But I still had a few lying around so I use those. I do not roast them in advance because the bumbu is sauteed anyway. If you use the nuts in a raw sambal, always roast them, otherwise, they are slightly poisonous.

I cut the other half of the onions a bit coarsely, just like the cucumber. The peppers also go in rings and I cut the tomatoes in four. It starts to look like an acar already.

In the meantime, I get the most oil out of the pan. I leave some at the bottom. The bumbu can be fired. I start with the lemon leaves (kaffir lime). I deeply fry it briefly in the oil. That gives a lot of flavors before I add the bumbu.

I also chop the sereh (lemongrass) into pieces and go through the mix.

If the onions in the bumbu are tender, the rest can be added. And do not forget the teaspoon kunjit (turmeric), then everything turns yellow.

I do everything well and pour about 100 milliliters of water. Immediately the bumbu turns in a delicious sauce.

Time for the last ingredient: asem. Asem is tamarind and provides the sour flavor. I use asem from a jar that has already been filtered. I taste the sauce now. I think two teaspoons are enough, but maybe you think differently.

My fish are impatiently waiting for the sauce to be poured over. In some dishes, the fish goes into the pan into the sauce. In Beb Vuyk her dishes she pours the sauce and acar over the fish. I will do that too. They are fillets, so enough time for the sauce to get into the fish.

This is to me the perfect summer dish. I only add some white or yellow rice and maybe some extra chili salsa next to it. I love this tender, sweet and sour flavors. The tomatoes make everything sweet and juicy, the cucumber is still crunchy and the lovely fish sucks up that spicy sauce.

What to try more Indonesian fish and seafood recipes? Try this link.

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