The Common Carp: Indonesia

The common carp or Cyprinus carpio Linn, named ikan mas in Bahasa Indonesia — though not as stunning as other fish varieties — is a common fish that many people have in their aquariums.

Visitors to Indonesia often refuse to taste a fried or spicy steamed ikan mas — which literally means goldfish — but, if you call it a common carp, they seem more curious to try some of the local freshwater fish as gastronome and epicurean el supremo Suryatini N. Ganie explains.

The ikan mas that is consumed in Indonesia is actually a different species of the aquarium variety.

Internationally called the common carp, ikan mas in Indonesia and cagay in the Middle East (which according to history was its place of origin), it has been consumed since ancient times.

Middle Eastern traders brought the common carp to China, Vietnam, and Australia.

In Indonesia, large-scale breeding of the common carp occurs in regions where the temperature averages 20-25 degrees Celsius, such as in the Sundanese highlands of West Java, where they call the fish lauk mas and in South Sumatra where the fish is locally called rayo or ameh.

Many people in these areas earn a living by producing and selling a special dish called pepes or pais ikan mas. In order to turn ikan mas into pepes, the fish must first be scaled, cleaned, spiced, herbed, wrapped in banana leaves and then steamed.

Two of the most renown varieties of the common carp in Indonesia are the ikan mas si nyonya, which has an orange skin and the ikan mas punten, which has a green skin.

Ikan mas is never sold dried or salted. This is why people in Indonesia buy ikan mas fresh from traditional markets or supermarkets. In certain regions, freshwater fish are sold from ponds; people buy the fish and it is placed in a plastic bag filled with water or the seller scales, cleans and cuts the fish in pieces.

Ikan mas is a special variety of freshwater fish that multiplies very quickly and has a high economic value.

In the village where I live, you can buy three kinds of fresh ikan mas varying in length and weight. The smallest variety is about 10 centimeters long, weighs half a kilogram and is mostly consumed by the people of the village. The largest is 30-40 centimeters long and weighs about one kilogram.

The fish is around Rp 20,000 to 25,000 per kilogram. Of course, prices vary according to the quality of the fish.

As a freshwater fish, the natural habitat of the common carp is in lakes and small rivers, where their eggs can be found on rocky surfaces.

A special feature of the ikan mas is its slightly earthy flavor, which many believe enhances the appetite. For those not keen on this, ikan mas can be placed in a light brine of vinegar before cooking, to neutralize the flavor.

The best ikan mas are found in ponds with a thin cement base and fine sand bottom, which are found throughout the Sundanese highlands. It is best to avoid choosing ikan mas from muddy ponds.

In the Apropos Sunda highlands, eateries and restaurants that serve local menus offer ikan mas cooked in many different styles.

Ikan mas are usually deep-fried until crispy, or grilled over charcoal and served with hot steamed rice and the typical Sundanese lalap or crudits.

Other regions also make dishes from ikan mas, such as the acar kuning from Java’s northern coast. Ikan mas is also prepared into a rather spicy tomato sauce (in some trendy Jakarta suburbs) and eaten with boiled or fried potatoes.

Suryatini N. Ganie