As an archipelagic nation ikan bakar is very popular in Indonesia, especially in its eastern region; Sulawesi and Maluku where most of the people work as fishermen, and both areas have a vast sea which brings them different kind of seafood. Usually, the fish is marinated with mixture of spices pastes, and sometimes with belacan or kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) and then grilled; sometimes protected with a sheet of banana leaf placed between the seafood and grill to avoid the fish being stuck to the grill and broken to pieces.
The fish is usually marinated with the mixture of sweet soy sauce and coconut oil or margarine, applied with a brush during grilling. The spices mixture may vary among regions and places, but usually it consists of a combination of ground shallot, garlic, chili pepper, coriander, tamarind juice, candlenut, turmeric, galangal and salt. In Java and most of Indonesia, ikan bakar usually tastes rather sweet because the generous amount of sweet soy sauce either as marination or dipping sauce. While the ikan bakar of Minangkabau (Padang), most of Sumatra and also Malay peninsula, usually more spicier and yellow-reddish in color because the generous amount of chili pepper, turmeric and other spices, and the absence of sweet soy sauce.
There are many variants of ikan bakar, differ from the recipes of marinate spices, dipping sauces or sambals, to the species of fishes being grilled. Almost all kind of fish and seafood can be made into ikan bakar, the most popular are freshwater gourami, patin (pangasius) and ikan mas (carp), to seafood tongkol or cakalang (skipjack tuna), bawal (pomfret), tenggiri (wahoo), kuwe (trevally), baronang (rabbitfish), kerapu (garoupa), kakap merah (red snapper), and pari (stingray). Some of the popular forms of seafood besides fish include sotong (squid), and udang (shrimp).