Grilled Fish in Banana Leaves

Pepes is the Indonesian dish of any meat, mostly seafood, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. I usually grilled the pepes, the burnt banana leaves just give it a better texture. Any kind of fish can be used, mackerel is always a better choice since the flesh flaked just nicely after grilling.

I have to confess that I hate grilling. Our grill is the old fashioned one with old fashioned charcoal that almost impossibly to light up without a dash of gasoline. Even we would have to fan it using our old fashioned bamboo fan and the charcoal would fly and it is a huge mess. I cheat by grilling this on a grill pan on stove top burner.

This is very easy. Just blend the spices in a blender and smeared the fish with blended spices. Wrap each with banana leaves and fasten the ends with toothpicks. Heat the grill pan and arrange them on top. Put some weight on top so that the fish would be cooked evenly.

Serve these with coconut rice or nasi lemak.


Grilled fish in banana leaves, ikan pepes

Makes 6-8 servings


1 kg mackerel
8 shallots (50 g)
3 cloves garlic
5 candlenut
10 red chili (50 g)
2 stalks lemongrass
2 cm galangal (30 g)
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 cm fresh turmeric
Banana leaves


Combine shallots, garlic, candlenut, chili, lemongrass, galangal, coriander seeds, fresh turmeric, salt and sugar in a blender.
Add 1/2 cup of water if necessary. Blend till fine paste.
Combine spice paste and fish in a mixing bowl.
Let marinade for 15-30 minutes.
Wrap fish individually in banana leaves and secure ends with toothpick.
Grill on preheated grill pan for 10 minutes each side.
Serve immediately with steamed rice and pickled cucumber and shallot.

Please click more for step-by-step shots

Use small-to-medium mackerel. Head is optional. We get our fish from traditional market this way. It might be scary for those who aren’t used to having fish whole head to tail.

The spices used are the mandatory chili, lemongrass, candlenut, galangal, shallots, garlic, fresh turmeric and coriander seeds. These can be substituted with ground version of all. Candlenut can be omitted if not available. Use less chili if not fan of spicy food.

Combine spices in a blender, add some sugar and salt.

Grind them all to a fine paste.

Combine fish and spices in mixing bowl.

Let marinade for an hour or two.

Wrap them in banana leaves. Individually. Don’t do as I did, two fish in a bundle take a lot longer to cook.

Secure both ends with toothpicks.

The fish is ready for grilling.

My cheating way of grilling the fish. I use a cutting board to weigh the fish to ensure shorter cooking time.

When the leaves are burnt and wilted thoroughly, it is almost ready. It took me 10 minutes each side.

When you open up the little parcels of delight, the rich smell of burnt leaves and spices would be totally overwhelming. Serve this with plain steamed rice of coconut rice (nasi lemak)


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22 Responses to “Grilled Fish in Banana Leaves”

  1. 1

    Nate @ House of annie — February 28, 2013 @ 6:41 pm

    They look extremely lovely and I bet the smell is out of this world!

    Thanks for sharing.

    You should enter the post in the Weekend Herb Blogging roundup.

  2. 2

    Agnes — March 2, 2013 @ 11:34 am

    It is a brilliant idea to put a weight on the fish. I have been looking for this kind of recipe I also only have a grill pan. Btw – do you think this will work with skin-on fish fillet? I want to serve this to my dutch friends and whole fish scares them out.

    • Jun replied: — March 3rd, 2013 @ 10:03 pm

      Yeah fillet would be great too. I had no idea that many people can’t take whole fish or even look at fish head on plate until just recently. Haha.

  3. 3

    Janine — March 7, 2013 @ 2:20 am

    this reminds me of otak, just fresher since it’s actual fish!

  4. 4

    NKOTB — March 8, 2013 @ 12:52 am

    I really love all your photos and posts, very illustrate and details. I believe it will never go wrong with that.
    Hope you could post more that’s all. :)

  5. 5

    mycookinghut — March 13, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

    Looks absolutely delicious – my kind of food!

  6. 6

    div — March 25, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

    I miss eating fish. Not that I don’t eat fish in the UK, but i miss the fish i grew up eating. Its just not quite the same. Strangely, out of all the fish in the world, its fried selar kuning that i miss the most lol. When i told my mum this she was quite surprised. Looking at your wonderful pictures only makes me want to make some ikan bakar :)

  7. 7

    Ju San — April 15, 2013 @ 6:22 pm

    Hi Jun!!
    I am a big fan of you.

    I found this webpage of yours when I searched for “Gado2 Vietnam” which I thought quite silly because most of the things coming up were the vietnamese cuisine.
    Then, I saw you webpage… Your cooking and recipe remind me of my childhood (I am currently in Sydney, I live in North Sumatra –> Food Paradise).
    I am so happy that finally I can try my skills in kitchen ( I am not a good cook :’( … but still trying my best)
    At the moment I am looking for Liong Tahu Recipe but I couldn’t find one as well. Would you be kind to help me with the recipe?

    Thank you very much for your help.

    Warmest regards,

    Ju San

  8. 8

    NKOTB — May 2, 2013 @ 3:02 am

    Have not seen you posting anything lately. Miss your posts…

  9. 9

    linda — May 16, 2013 @ 10:47 pm

    Yes, indeed, this is an incredible site. Some of the dishes here are almost extinct and its lovely to see so much hard work here to share them with us . Thanks for a great blog!

  10. 10

    a French girl "cuisine" — June 2, 2013 @ 10:21 am

    It looks so tasty and the pictures are great!

  11. 11

    Tia — June 4, 2013 @ 2:30 am

    I can’t believe it took me this long to find your wonderful blog. Living in foreign country, we really need to get very creative when the cravings for Indonesian food come. I’m armed with a lot of javanese family recipes from my mother’s side, but mostly clueless when it comes to Sumatran cuisine. Thanks for giving some great visuals on those elusive spices and ingredients. It helps! Cheers from the UK.

  12. 12

    food recipes — June 21, 2013 @ 8:37 am

    Mmmmmmm fish looks absolutely delicious.

  13. 13

    Angela Jessyana — July 7, 2013 @ 7:55 am

    Ah it looks so delicious! Actually I don’t really like fish, but after seeing your photos it makes me want to eat it :D

  14. 14

    Annie — August 17, 2013 @ 5:46 pm

    Hi, your food look good and delicious. I noticed your wok, could you tell me where you bought your wok? thank you.

  15. 15

    Felix — August 20, 2013 @ 7:24 am

    Hi, do u mind if i share some of those food pics on instagram? They look nice…thx u before

  16. 16

    Kumar's Kitchen — August 27, 2013 @ 5:11 am

    such a flavorful and lovely dish,we are more than happy to know it is fat-free,that’s an added bonus :-)

  17. 17

    Hanzo — September 20, 2013 @ 4:05 am

    If you hate grilling you should get a kamado grill it’s awesome and works on the same “old fashioned” charcoal (the only proper fuel for grilling stuff).Gas grills suck and are the microwaves in grilling teritory…..

  18. 18

    Meri — October 7, 2013 @ 3:26 pm

    I came across your blog when I searched for eggplant recipe…And, oh yum!!! I am eating my eggplant as I am writing this. I love love your blog recipes and pictures…..they help ease my craving for Indonesian food because I can replicate them now. thank you!

  19. 19

    Francesca — February 4, 2014 @ 12:24 pm

    Your blog is amazing. I have just returned from Java and Sumatra and finding your blog has brought all the cooking back. Please continue writing.

  20. 20

    Comfort Blissful Blog — February 4, 2014 @ 8:48 pm

    wow…looking good. drooling right now

  21. 21

    Kiran @ — February 28, 2014 @ 12:39 am

    I love grilling and using banana leaves!! This is scrumptious!

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