In the far eastern side of Java, Indonesia, islanders celebrate christmas with a traditional spread of seafood in abundance. Two of the must-have dishes are papeda and fish soup.

In Papua and Maluku Indonesia this festive season, many will travel back from as far as Holland to be with their families. The population in these islands are predominantly Christians and Christmas would mean large groups of families and friends coming together to fete on a traditional spread.

The food in these islands are as colourful and intensely rich as their culture. Their cuisine is influenced by produce that are found and grown in the surrounding environment. As the populace largely eke a living from the sea, seafood is in abundance and their staple is sago. Papeda is a traditional dish prepared with fermented sago.

Sago is dried and ground into powder before mixing with water and left to ferment. Once fermented water is squeezed out, it is made into sticky gooey paste. Blobs of it are dropped into the fish soup and all slurped down without needing to chew on the gooey sago. It is served bakar or basah (toasted or wet) “You twirl the sticky paste with a stick and drop the blob into the fish soup,” Community Trainer JH Tan explained.

This is a bland and tasteless dish that can also be eaten with other dishes. It goes well with strong and spicy taste of the fish soup. During a recent get-together with friends in Papua, he managed to get the low-down on how to prepare the fish soup that goes with Papeda. The recipe differs with different islands. Rice is not a traditional staple for the islanders but they eat root crops like singkong, radish and yam.

“On these islands not many people have fridges so they would cook in a manner where food can be preserved for a few days,” Tan said. This Christmas he and his friends will partake in this dish.


  • 700gm fish (whole or sliced)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 turmeric leaves
  • 2 lime leaves
  • Juice of 2 lime
  • 1 lemongrass stick
  • 3 large slices of dried assam
  • 4 cloves of crushed garlic
  • 1 ltr water
  • Salt and sugar to taste
  • For garnish: Fried shallots, chopped parsley and sliced red chillies

To Blend

5 shallots, 5 garlic pips, 4 big red chillies, 3 birds eye chillies, 4cm fresh turmeric, 2cm ginger, 3cm lengkuas.


  • Marinate fish with lime juice, salt and crushed garlic for 20-30 minutes.
  • Heat oil in a pot and saute the blended ingredients till aromatic.
  • Then add bay leaves, lime leaves, crushed lemongrass and dried assam slices.
  • Saute for a minute before adding water to boil for 20 minutes.
  • Add fish and cook for another 10-15 minutes.
  • Salt and sugar to taste.
  • Garnish and serve.

Text by YY Chen. Photos by YY Chen & JH Tan

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