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Otak-otak wrapped in banana leaf, By: Steven Lee

Otak-Otak is Not Zombie Food!

By: Erna Dyanty

Otak-otak wrapped in banana leaf, By: Steven Lee

Otak-otak wrapped in banana leaf, By: Steven Lee

Otak-otak is a type of fish cake or fish pate that is cooked in a parcel. Otak means ‘brain’ in Malay and Bahasa Indonesia, yet otak-otak has nothing to do with brains, so don’t be afraid to try out this delicious treat! This parceled food can either be a meal on its own or a snack that contains either deboned fish fillets, prawn or crab meat. The seafood is smothered in a paste that blends chili, thick coconut milk, aromatic herbs and spices. The parcel that is made out of either banana or coconut leaves is either steamed or grilled.

This wrapped goodness is a famous snack in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. In Malaysia, you can find many different versions of the otak-otak, starting with the Nyonya Peranakan style where the parcel is folded into a bundle and eaten as a main dish. The Muar-Johor style folds the otak-otak into rectangular neat folds, which it is then grilled on a bed of charcoal, very similar to the Singaporean style and from the east-cost of Peninsular Malaysia in Terengganu known as the satah.

Otak-Otak Recipe

This recipe is a Nyonya Peranakan recipe that requires you to steam the parcel. Here is what you will need.


8 – 10 shallots
1 clove of garlic
½ cup of dried chilli paste
2 stalks lemon grass
1 inch of galangal
1 inch of turmeric
20g shrimp paste (toasted/optional)

500g of thick coconut milk
½ cup of water
4 eggs lightly beaten
4 kaffir lime leaves – thinly sliced
salt, sugar, pepper and 1 tbsp soya sauce to taste

200 g of fish (deboned and cut into 2” cubes)
200g of prawns (shells removed)
banana leaves
small soup bowl
A steamer (bamboo steaming basket, or you can use a drainer over a pan of boiling water)
bamboo tooth picks to secure the parcel

How to make Otak-Otak:

  1. Preheat the steamer.
  2. First blend all the ingredients in group A, set aside.
  3. Combine all the ingredients in group B in a separate bowl. Once well combined, add ingredients from group A into the bowl.
  4. Next, add to the mixture the fish chunks and prawns into the otak-otak paste.
  5. Use the small bowl to keep a secure shape for the parcel. Now, take the banana leaf, layer them on top of each other. One leaf horizontal and the other vertical.
  6. Take a spoonful of the otak-otak mix and gently place in the centre of the leaves. Now, bring the ends of each banana leaf closing on top of the fish – making a small parcel. It should look like a small purse. Secure the top with the bamboo tooth picks.
  7. Place the parcel into the steamer and cook for 20 minutes.
  8. Serve hot with rice, white bread or just have it on its own with a glass of ice cold cincau!

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