Fish Balls With Rice Noodles

These fish balls with rice noodles are inspired by one of my favourite Indonesian dishes, a fish cake called empek empek, even though it’s quite different to empek empek. To begin with, empek empek uses a fish called tenggiri (in Indonesian) which is a ray-finned bony fish from the mackerel family. I use the Spanish cousin of the mackerel in my fish balls, because that’s the closest thing I can find here, and I sometimes like to add some fresh sardines too for some extra fishy flavour. Another difference with empek empek is that are usually cylindrical in shape, and you can later cut them into thick slices if you want to, instead of in round balls. Lastly, empek empek is usually served in a vinegar based sauce, not with rice noodles. Lots of differences I know, but the fish ball itself is very similar to my dear empek empek.

Before launching into the recipe, I just wanted to share something I learnt through another recipe I made another day with rice noodles. Through a mistake I made to be more honest. When boiling rice noodles, don’t let them boil for too long. Just don’t. They’re usually ready in just a few minutes, and you can quickly drain them.

What happens if you let them boil for too long, like I did? They disintegrate into the water and you end up with a big pot of mushy rice starch.

Fish Balls With Rice Noodles Recipe

This recipe is both easy and complicated to make at the same time. The bad news first. It’s complicated because, even if your fishmonger cleans your fish properly, you can still spend a ridiculous amount of time meticulously removing fish bones and fish skin in preparation for the making of the fish balls. Now the good news. Once the preparation of the fish is done, the rest of this recipe is actually quite quick and easy.

I used mackerel and sardines to make these fish balls but you can use any fish you want to. Perhaps except for salmon, that might not go too well. You can also use any other type of noodles, I bet udon noodles would go well with these fish balls.

Ingredients for the fish balls (makes about 15-18 biggish fish balls)

2-3 fresh mackerels
5-6 fresh sardines
3/4 cup tapioca flour
white pepper

Ingredients for the noodles

rice noodles

Ingredients for the sauce (makes enough for 2 servings)

2 scallions
1 clove garlic
dried chili flakes
1/4 cup soya sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
black pepper

Prepare the fish by removing all the bones and skin. Put the fish into a food processor and blend until a smooth yet still slightly choppy texture. You might want to put in a handful of fish at a time to make the blending easier.

Once all the fish is blended, put into a large bowl. Add some salt and white pepper. Slowly add the tapioca flour along with a few drops of water, while kneading it all together preferably with your hands. I’ve stated 3/4 cups tapioca flour, but add more or less until you get a pasty texture into which you can shape it into balls without them falling apart. Shape the fish paste into fish balls.

Boil a big pot of water. Once boiling, introduce the fish balls. They will instantly sink to the bottom. You will know when the fish balls are properly cooked because they will rise and float on the surface of the water.

At the same time, boil another pot of water. Once boiling, add the rice noodles. Cook for about 2-3 minutes only. Drain the noodles.

For the sauce, wash and cut the scallions. Peel and crush a clove of garlic. In a small pan, heat the sesame oil. Once hot, add the scallions and the garlic. Cook for about 30 seconds on medium-high heat. Add all the rest of the ingredients for the sauce. You may pre-mix all the other ingredients in a small bowl first if you want to feel organized. Cook the sauce until it boils. If it looks like it might dehydrate, just add a few drops of water. Once boiling, let it continue to bubble for about 30 seconds on medium heat.

To serve, put the rice noodles into the individual bowls. Arrange the fish cakes on top. Pour some of the sauce over it all.

Enjoy your meal!

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  1. Lena L 2017-05-17 at 05:52

    Oh, my, my! This dish looks truly delicious!

  2. Julie 2017-05-17 at 06:00

    I’ve not tried empek empek, but will have to! Looks yummy!

    1. Sofia V. 2017-05-17 at 08:31

      Actually empek empek is from the Palembang area so, even though I’ve always eaten it in Jakarta (my family knows where to get it, they know I love it), it’s often the case that in other parts of Indonesia people don’t know what you’re talking about when you ask for it!

  3. Dorcas 2017-05-17 at 06:38

    Hi! I have a big bag of tapioca flour that I’m trying to use up so I am going to try this! But a question. Why not salmon? It’s an oily fish like mackerel and it’s a lot easier to get here (salmon season just started) than mackerel or sardine. Or am I just going down a dangerous path here?

    1. Sofia V. 2017-05-17 at 08:37

      Nothing dangerous going on mixing tapioca with salmon! It’s just it would give a completely different taste I guess! Come to think about it, I sometimes do Asian steamed fish with salmon and ginger (instead of other fish) and throw soya sauces on top, its tastes different but delish just the same!

  4. Mimi 2017-05-17 at 15:09

    This looks like a dish I could eat every day!!!


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