Clear Fish Soup with Tamarind, Kuah Ikan Asam

Men in our family just don’t get tamarind. I never really understand why. This is one of my mother’s home cooked fish dish that I terribly love and they horribly can’t stand. I suspect that this is the case because the soup base is too sourish and the fishes are too tiny with equally small bones. It is another proof that they don’t chew their food well!

Gold-banded scad, ikan selar

The type of fish used is gold-banded scad (ikan selar kuning). These tiny fishes smells a bit too fishy, but strong spices mask it real well. The fish have to be cleaned thoroughly under clean running water, and all the guts (and other spareparts found inside the fish) has to be removed completely – otherwise the soup will be completely inedible. Those are her exact words, by the way.

Ingredients for clear fish soup with tamarind - Kuah ikan asam

We prepared the tamarind by soaking tamarind pulp in a cup of warm water. After a while, the pulp will be hydrated and just squeeze the pulp with fingers to get all the sourish juice off  and discard the pulp. The other spices used are wild ginger torch, lemongrass and chili. One simple dish with all the wholesome spices!

Cooking clear fish soup with tamarind

Immediately after adding tamarind juice, the broth will turn slightly brownish. Adding the fish is the final step and the cooking time will be relatively short, considering the tiny size of the fish. it is delicious and soul-warming soup. Oops .. watch the bones! I have this idea that I would flake the fish before serving in the future.

Clear fish soup with tamarind, kuah ikan asam


Clear Fish Soup with Tamarind

Makes 4 servings.


1500 cc water
18 (10 g) bird's-eye chilies
2 red chilies
10 shallots
3 garlic cloves
2 ginger torch / wild ginger flower (bunga kantan/bunga kencong), halved
5 salam leaves
1 lemongrass, halved lengthwise and lightly bruised
25 g galangal, lightly bruised
2 tomatoes, quartered
2 tbsp tamarind pulp, soaked in 1/2 cup warm water
500 g fresh gold-banded scad, alternatively any white fish fillet can be used
1 tbsp sugar (optional)
1 tsp salt


Boil water with ginger torch, lemongrass, shallots, garlic and salam leaves for 10 minutes.

Add tamarind juice, all chilies, salt and sugar. Lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Lastly, add the fish and cook for 5 more minutes over medium heat.

Serve with warm steamed rice.

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12 Responses to “Clear Fish Soup with Tamarind”

  1. 1

    Pepy @Indonesia Eats — October 29, 2010 @ 5:14 pm

    I envy you! Ohh how I miss the smell of bunga kecombrang/honje/bongkot. This fragrant flower has many different names in Indonesian dialects.

    I was just talking with Marvelinna about andaliman. Those two ingredients that I can’t get in Canada.

    • Jun replied: — November 4th, 2010 @ 4:22 am

      I love bunga kecombrang! It has the most distinctive smell, yet soothing and exotic in the same time.

  2. 2

    mycookinghut — October 29, 2010 @ 9:35 pm

    I really want some ikan selar! My mom loves this and I have been eating since young.. it’s just impossible to get in London.. :(

    • Jun replied: — November 4th, 2010 @ 4:35 am

      This is the type of fish that I love more when deep-fried till crunchy, so I won’t have to worry about the bones :D

  3. 3

    bblossoms — October 30, 2010 @ 6:41 am

    Hi Jun,
    I want to be your neighbour! You are cooking one delicious dish after another. This is another dish that brings me back to my childhood in Medan. My mother and grandmother made this often for the family. Give me an afternoon, I will sit down with you, eating with my hand and I will slowly work on the fish! I can imagine the fragance of the bungan kencong.

    • Jun replied: — November 4th, 2010 @ 4:36 am

      I only cook during weekends, so I might end up eating at your house during weekdays. Haha

  4. 4

    Leah — November 1, 2010 @ 9:03 pm

    This is very similar to the Filipino sinigang. But instead of ‘brown’ tamarind, the green tamarind pods are boiled, mashed and strained to make the sour soup. Banana flower (bud?) is commonoly added, as well as kangkong, long chilis, and other vegetables. This is comfort food. Sinigang can be made with pork, beef and, of course, fish or shrimp. The latter requires ginger to tame the fishiness.

    I am always amazed by the similarities in Indonesian and Filipino cooking. :-)

    • Jun replied: — November 4th, 2010 @ 4:37 am

      I heart sinigang! Thank you for your comment!

  5. 5

    ladyhomechef — November 19, 2010 @ 12:31 pm

    I agree! My man also don’t like sour thing! But luckily he likes vegetables and asam fish just like i did. LOL.

    You have a wonderful website here, will come here more often. ;)

    • Jun replied: — November 22nd, 2010 @ 8:42 am

      Thank you for your kind comment!

  6. 6

    Quay Po Cooks — November 19, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

    I love sour soup, this one will be a keeper! I will add more ginger to get rid the fishy smell or perhaps I make this with prawns?

    • Jun replied: — November 22nd, 2010 @ 8:43 am

      Yes! Prawns would be great! Maybe cooking the prawn for less than a minute or so, so that they are still crunchy and juicy. Yum!

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