These Javanese-style fish cakes are simple to prepare, easy to cook and packed with flavour. Any white-fleshed fish will work and, while we’ve gone for snapper, by all means substitute with what’s freshest, sustainable and well-priced at your fishmonger or supermarket. No chilli required here – just whip up a batch of cucumber pickles and you’re away!






Skill level

Average: 3.4 (59 votes)


Cucumber pickles

  • 60 ml (¼ cup) clear rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp boiling water
  • 55 g (¼ cup) caster sugar
  • 1 red bird’s eye chillies, chopped
  • 1 telegraph (long) cucumber, peeled and halved lengthways


Fish cakes 

  • small red Asian shallots, chopped
  • garlic cloves, chopped
  • candlenuts, chopped
  • 1.5 cm (½ in) piece fresh galangal, chopped
  • 1 cm (½ in) piece fresh ginger, chopped
  • 800 g (1 lb 12 oz) boneless, skinless snapper, john dory or any other white-fleshed fish fillets, cut into 5 cm (2 in) pieces
  • 1½ tsp caster (superfine) sugar
  • 200 g (7 oz/2 cups) fresh grated or thawed frozen grated coconut (see Note)
  • eggs, lightly beaten
  • 150 ml (5 fl oz) coconut milk
  • vegetable oil for deep-frying

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Standing time 1 hour

To make the cucumber pickles, combine the rice vinegar, boiling water and sugar in a bowl and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Cool. Add the chopped chilli.  

Remove the seeds from the cucumber using a teaspoon, then thinly slice the cucumber diagonally. Add to the vinegar mixture and stand for 1 hour before serving. (See Note) 

To make the fish cakes, combine the shallots, garlic, candlenuts, galangal and ginger in a food processor and process until a paste forms. Alternatively, use a mortar and pestle. Add the fish fillets and process until the mixture is smooth.

Transfer to a bowl and add the remaining ingredients, except the oil and pickles, and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat enough oil for deep-frying in a large wok until it reaches 170ºC (340ºF), or until a cube of bread turns golden in 20 seconds.

Using your hands, form 2 tablespoonfuls of the mixture into balls then flatten into thick discs about 5–6 cm (2–2½ in) across.

Fry the fish cakes, in batches, for about 12 minutes, turning once, or until deep golden and cooked through. Take care when cooking as the cakes are delicate. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel to drain any excess oil then serve them hot with the cucumber pickles.



• Cucumber pickles are best served on the day they are made.

• To make fresh grated coconut, preheat the oven to 180ºC. Using a screwdriver or something similar, pierce each of the three holes in the coconut, then pour the coconut water into a bowl. Strain this and use it for cooking (it will freeze well). Bake the coconut in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the hard shell cracks. Remove it from the oven and cool slightly. Use a hammer to further crack the shell open and break the coconut in half. Using a hand coconut grating tool or shredder, scrape the meat from the coconut, taking care not to include any of the hard brown skin.


Recipe and image from East: Culinary Adventures in Southeast Asia by Leanne Kitchen and Antony Suvalko (Hardie Grant, $39.95, hbk).  View our Readable Feasts review and more recipes from the book here.