Sibolga: In Praise of Seafood (pt.2)

There’s something about the last trip that makes me fond of of recalling it. It took me from cities, plantations, rivers, springs, the biggest lake in Southeast Asia, and to the ocean.

I was above the sea for two days. I stayed at a fisherman’s house that happens to be my distant relative. Well, his paternal grandparent had a younger brother that was the father of my paternal grandparent. Or was it? I ain’t sure, haha. What I know is that he welcomed me warmly.


He, like other fishermen in Sibolga, built his house above the water in a quite secluded bay. Why they din choose terra firma, I know not. Forgot to ask. Perhaps it is because they want to be near the waters, where they earn their living. His kampong looks like that of Bajau people in Sulawesi, “floating” on the seas. His “backyard”, where I spent much time here because of the fresh air, looks like a pier. The view is the majestic Indian Ocean.

I walked on simple arrangements of planks there, watching his neighbors make the delicious ikan asin, salted fish. Ikan asin will survive for weeks in cupboard or even months in freezer. It was (or is?) considered one of nine basic survival foods aka sembako (goodness, who still uses this term?). For sure, ikan asin makes very excellent and heavenly sambal. Love seafood so much!

And here’s how they make it:

  1. Arrive fresh catches of the day and be put directly to a wok (the biggest ever seen). I saw fish of various kind. Even small crustaceans and chepalopods.
  1. After sitting in boiling point for some time, they are strained and spread on a net.
  1. While under the sun, they will be turned manually (to avoid damage) in order to be completely sun-dried. I was told I could taste them. So I tried some. Delicious! I said to them, “It’s so good you have to forgive me for I will pick too many fish!”

4.They are sorted according to size and species. The smallest, teri (a kind of anchovy) is the most prized. It will sell for the highest price. The second most expensive is ikan sampah (its literal translation: dumped fish), an unlikely mix of various small fish, chepalopods, and crustaceans.

It was nice of them to allow me to help them with firewood and sorting. Watching me, they said, “Please come back tomorrow!”

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