I love fish and seafood. I have since I was a small child. My mother worked as a restaurant manager and late at night, when I was hanging in a booth in the back, rather than hanging at the babysitter’s, I would score a shrimp or some lobster. I was never one of those kids that balked at eating fish. I remembered my love of fish and seafood each night while selecting our fresh fish on Gili Air, Indonesia.
When traveling on a budget, fish and seafood can become a luxury, and often times are avoided at all costs. There are so many scams, particularly in China and Hong Kong, with respect to fish. Essentially, you order a fish and are quoted a price. You think the price is for the entire fish, which it is. But, when the bill comes, you are told the price is per person, and for a group of 4 that could make a $20 fresh fish dinner turn into $80. We avoid fish in Hong Kong, unless we get a good recommendation for a trustworthy place.
Similarly, in Vietnam, at some of the beach areas you can expect a local price and a Westerner price. We have put our Vietnamese friend, Tam, through the ringer at a beach area near Dong Ha, asking him to negotiate our fish purchase. There are no menus at the tiny beach side shacks. We asked Tam to get us the local price for our meal to feed him, another Vietnamese, and 4 very large white people. Tam haggled as best as he could, but admitted, he could not get the local price. He did get better than the Western price, though. If it were just Eric and I, we would have paid through the roof.
Then, you have all the normal concerns with fish with respect to storage, freshness, preparation, and all the various ways to try to avoid getting food poisoning.
With all of my complaints about Gili Air, and my not feeling right on Gili Air, they do fish amazingly well. Most of the beach side restaurants place all the fresh fish on a table, many over ice, or covered with plastic wrap. They include Red Snapper, Barracuda, Marlin, Tuna, giant king prawns, squid, and large tuna and vegetable kebabs. Everything is clearly priced, includes rice and vegetables or fries and salad, with no added funny business. It was one of the most amazing things about eating in the Gili Islands. I wonder if it is the same on nearby islands, like in Komodo Island.
We had some amazing dinners of fish on Gili Air. The giant kebabs were about $4. They were about the width of the table, on a long wooden skewer, with chunks of tuna, zucchini, tomatoes, pineapple, and spicy peppers. Most of the fresh fish ranged between $5 and $10. Some were basted in a sweet BBQ sauce, or served with garlic or curry sauces. Zipp Bar won me over by serving their fish with a pineapple slaw that became my de facto dessert. We ate large plates of fresh, grilled fish, almost every night on the island.
It was the best part of Gili Air. Particularly because most of our meals were eaten on wooden couches or lounging on cushions in a bale. I always enjoy eating while lounging, Roman style. The fish on Gili Air did not disappoint.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together they have traveled to over 70 countries.