A Bowl of Goodness : Fish Head Soup

One of Indonesia's most popular delicacies is Fish Head Soup.  This popular dish is full of aromatic herbs and spices that make a delightful meal out of some very basic ingredients. It's a real tribute to resourcefulness of the cooks of Indonesia and their artful, instinctive application of a long list of wildly different ingredients. While the soup is found from one end of the archipelago to the other there is a distinct difference in the tastes of the soup, from east to west and north to south. In West Sumatra for example, the soup comes to the table thick, savoury and spicy with coconut milk and chilies, whereas in Maluku the same sounding dish is light, clear and refreshing with a distinct sharp flavour verging on the sour.

Indonesia is formed from thousands of sprawling islands, populated with farmers and fisherfolk who know the value of everything and waste nothing, the soup is no exception. Traditional fish head soup in some islands contains every part of the fish, the delicious fish cheeks, the intestines, skin and back bone all add their flavours to the broth that forms the base of every aromatic Fish Head Soup.

In Bali the Fish Head Soup broth is flavoured with the ever present Bumbu Gede. It's the Balinese go to spice mix for everything, “bumbu” translates as spice and “gede” refers to large, which very easily could apply to the abundant ingredient list, over fifteen of them, from galangal and turmeric to cumin and nutmeg. Lighter than the West Sumatra version, the Balinese version of Fish Head Soup is rich and tasty, it is served with a slice of Balinese lime, that adds a refreshing kick to the soup. The soup is made either with whole fresh fish direct from the markets or from fish cooked the day before, and as is often true of flavoursome soups, the use of 'leftovers' adds an extra boost to the distinctive regional flavour. 

Some warungs, the local small restaurants of Bali, sell only Fish Head Soup as a testament to their expertise, in seeking out warungs in which to try this health giving dish chose ones that are located near the sea and brimming with customers. Try these ones below:

  • Pantai Lebih beach at Ketewel area. Many warungs built along side the beach and all of them sell fish head soup. Here, you may want to try Warung Ayu and Warung  Delah.      

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  • Sup Kepala Ikan Kakap at Sesetan area, Denpasar. The tastiest white snapper head soup you’d find on the island. It comes with spicy raw chilli sambal.

  • Mak Beng at Pantai Sanur beach. Even though it doesn’t precisely sell fish head soup, but the famed fish soup drive so many people to visit the warung to have the soup. It can be a good start for you in case you hesitate to try the head.