Papeda Kuah Kuning: Papuan Sago with Turmeric Fish Soup

Papeda is a staple from Papua, consisting of coagulated sago starch. We've paired it with a classic turmeric fish soup with herbs and spices.

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Nunuk Sri Rahayu
Nunuk Sri Rahayu
Nunuk hails from Solo, the historic royal capital and cultural centre of Java, Indonesia. She has been cooking since the age of 12, and also performs and teaches traditional Javanese dance. Her dream is to eventually write her own Indonesian cookbook.

Some time ago, one of my colleagues introduced me to papeda kuah kuning — a special dish from Papua. She was missing home and feeling very nostalgic about the dish. Unfortunately, in Jakarta, it’s not easy to find a place that offers food from the eastern part of Indonesia. For many Indonesians, eastern Indonesian cuisine is just as exotic as foreign cuisines.

Papeda kuah kuning (literally ‘yellow broth papeda’) is basically a congee made of sago (known as papeda in Papua), served with a turmeric fish soup. The result has a gooey texture and is made by dissolving sago starch in room temperature water, and then stirring it quickly in boiling water until it coagulates and turns completely translucent. It has a glue-like consistency and it doesn’t really have flavour on its own.

Kuah kuning is a yellow fish soup, commonly prepared with mackerel or other types of fish. It’s cooked with spices and herbs, such as chillies, ginger, turmeric, Indonesian basil leaves, etc. The turmeric lends the color to the soup.


Kuah kuning is served to accompany the papeda. To serve the dish, ladle the soup into a serving bowl. Separately, roll the papeda using two thick wooden sticks (or use a spoon), and then drop a couple rolls/scoops of papeda on top of the soup. Traditionally, the dish is savoured by slurping the papeda directly from the plate, but spoons and forks are always welcome! To complete the meal, side dishes such as tumis kangkung  or fried papaya flower buds are usually served.

For people living in the eastern part of Indonesia, papeda is a staple, and is the equivalent of rice, which is favoured by people in Central and Western Indonesia. Native peoples of the Maluku Islands and Papua, however, consume papeda instead of rice. 

I fell in love with papeda after my first try. I like how simple and easy it was to prepare the dish (it took less than 4 minutes!), and also that papeda is high in fiber and low in calories, while being filling. The most important thing is, papeda can also be paired with other soupy dishes such as pindang or even rawon. This really expands my carb options!

The cooking process

To help me learn how to properly cook papeda, my colleague and I decided to cook papeda kuah kuning at home. It was my first attempt making the dish, and I kept asking her questions to make her recall everything about the dish. The flavour, the texture, the aroma, everything she could possibly remember. I wanted to make it as authentic as possible.

For me, making kuah kuning was not difficult, as the dish is pretty similar to some of the dishes I’ve already known. But preparing papeda was totally a new thing! I was excited and nervous, especially when thinking about stirring the sago with the hot water. It turned out to be a simple process. We had so much fun preparing and eating the dish. It was a happy ending, and since then, I have remade the dish a couple of times.

Often, food is the reason we want to go back to certain places. A lot of memories, good or bad, are linked to food. Food reminds us of certain people, events, or places. Food also brings us new adventures and connections. It’s one of my happiest moments when I can bring a smile to people when they enjoy the food I prepared.

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Papeda Kuah Kuning: Papuan Sago with Turmeric Fish Soup

Papeda Kuah Kuning: Papuan Sago with Turmeric Fish Soup

  • Author: Nunuk Sri Rahayu
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 35 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
  • Yield: 3 1x
  • Category: Fish & Seafood
  • Method: Boiling
  • Cuisine: Indonesian
  • Diet: Halal


Papeda is a staple from Papua, consisting of coagulated sago starch. In this recipe, the papeda is enjoyed with a classic turmeric fish soup with herbs and spices, for a healthy and tasty meal.


  • 500 gr red snapper fillet 
  • 8 shallots, peeled, chopped 
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped 
  • 2 big red chillies, chopped 
  • 4 cm turmeric, peeled, chopped 
  • 2 cm ginger, peeled, chopped
  • 1 lemongrass, use only the white part, bruised, knotted 
  • 3 cm galangal, bruised 
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves 
  • 5 whole birds eyes chillies (optional)
  • A handful of kemangi (Indonesian basil)
  • 1 lime
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 tbsp cooking oil
  • 800 ml water
  • 150 gr sago starch
  • 700 ml drinking water


  1. For the soup: Slice the fish into 4-5 pieces, wash thoroughly and sprinkle with juice from half a lime. Set aside.
  2. Grind into a fine paste: shallots, garlic, big red chillies, turmeric and ginger. 
  3. Heat the cooking oil in a wok over medium high heat.
  4. Saute the ground spices until fragrant, around 3 minutes.
  5. Add galangal, lemongrass and lime leaves. Continue to fry for around 3 minutes. 
  6. Add the fish, mix with the spices. 
  7. Add the water.
  8. Add salt and a pinch of sugar.
  9. Cook until the soup boils, over medium high heat, then lower the heat to medium.
  10. Cook the fish for around 20 minutes. Add the whole bird’s eye chillies and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. 
  11. Add the kemangi leaves, stir, close the lid and turn off the heat.
  12. For the Papeda: Mix the sago starch with 50 ml of water until it is completely dissolved and there are no more clumps.
  13. Boil the rest of the water and pour it over the dissolved sago starch.
  14. Using a wooden spoon, quickly stir the dissolved sago, not stopping until the sago is turned completely translucent with no more whitish parts.


  • If the sago doesn’t coagulate when it’s stirred in hot water, heat it up over low heat until it turns completely translucent.
  • Any kind of fish can be used to make the soup.

Keywords: Snapper, Healthy, Galangal, Lemongrass, Kemangi

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