Indonesia is one of the world’s major tuna exporters, and the city of Bitung in North Sulawesi is the tuna capital of the country. I stumbled upon this restaurant called Aertembaga Indah when in Bitung. It occupied a two-storey house; I think the family who ran the restaurant lived on the second floor, which resembled the traditional house of North Sulawesi. The small restaurant served typical Minahasan(*) dishes, but for a real taste of Bitung, I went for their “sashimi” menu.

(*) Minahasa: a major ethnic group as well as a regional area that makes up the bulk of North Sulawesi.

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Do not assume it was the Japanese-style sashimi! What I had was tuna fillet sliced into thickly cut chunks. The red pieces of fish meat were then heaped on a plate. Nevermind the beautifully arranged sashimi in Japan. And forget the dipping shoyu! This was Bitung; we dunk our sashimi into a bowl of heavenly concoction of (regular) soy sauce-sweet soy sauce-coarsely chopped peanuts-lemon basil. The dipping sauce reminded me of that for rujak (or rojak in Malaysia and Singapore).

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If the Japanese put a slice of sashimi on top of vinegared rice and call it sushi, in Bitung I had steamed cassava to pair with my tuna sashimi, except it wasn’t meant to be like sushi. The cassava was to be eaten independently, but of course it was best to first dip it into the magic sauce.

Anyway, maybe I should’ve left the sashimi chunks stood for a while. Apparently the fillet had been frozen and was immediately sliced up as soon as it was pulled out from the freezer. It had got watermelon-like texture when I took my first bite. Some people said it was a good thing because it didn’t taste “raw”. (Many Indonesians are not used to eat raw fish.) But I myself prefer the soft texture of fresh meat when eating sashimi. Nevertheless, it was a nice experience eating “raw fish rujak”!

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