Last updated on June 29th, 2021
Otak otak or sometimes called otah otah or grilled fish cake in banana leaves has this amazing flavor of homemade fish paste grilled in banana leaves and served with tamarind peanut sauce. It is just out of this world.
This otak otak is my favorite snacks from childhood that I want to share with you guys. This is also my last post for 2016. I remember how I always chose otak otak at the bakery shop (yes, they sell these at the bakery shop) when my dad asked what we wanted. My dad was a huge bread person. He loved bread, cakes, and pretty much anything sweet, which often explained our frequent visits to bakery shops around the town. At some point he even considered franchising a bakery shop.
So, what is otak otak ? Otak means “brain” in Indonesian language. Yes, the brain that is inside mine and your head. Fret not, it is not made from any brain matter however. The reason why it is called that because of how it resembles the brain in certain way, white and soft. Indonesian otak otak is made of fish along with other spices processed into a paste and usually white in color. This fish paste is then wrapped in banana leaves and then steamed and grilled on charcoal grill, hence its translation: grilled fish cake in banana leaves.
Otak otak can be found in other parts of Southeast Asia like Malaysia and Singapore with some variations, usually brown reddish in color. It is also pretty similiar to Thai steamed fish cake / Ha mok pla too. I love them all. Otak otak can be eaten on its own or serve with nasi lemak / coconut milk rice. I haven’t had this in ages, and when I smelled the banana leaves being charred in grill…I was literally transported back to childhood!
Check out other Southeast Asia Recipes you might be interested in.
Indonesian Otak Otak (Grilled fish cake in banana leaves)
- 1 ½ lbs boneless skinless mackerel fillets- roughly chopped
- 5 shallots
- 3 cloves garlic
- 5 Tbsp of corn starch
- ½ cup of coconut cream
- 1 egg white beaten
- 1 tsp of salt
- ½ tsp of white pepper powder
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 3 stalks of spring onion finely chopped
- 10 pieces of 6 x 6-inch square of banana leaves and few extra in case some of them has some tear, or use aluminum foil if you can't find banana leaves
- Toothpicks or stapler
Tamarind peanut sauce:
- 1 cup of unsalted roasted peanut
- 1 ½ - 2 cups of water
- 3 Tbsp of tamarind paste
- 2-3 bird's eye chili more if you like it spicier
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- Pinch of salt
- Juice of 1/2 lime
You can prepare the tamarind peanut sauce few days before:
- Place all the ingredients in a food processor and process into a smooth runny paste. Have a taste and add more salt and sugar to your taste. Store in a glass jar and refrigerate
Preparing otak otak:
- Place the shallots, garlic, and fish in a food processor and process into a smooth paste. Stir in the rest of the ingredients (except for banana leaves) and stir well to mix in everything. Cover and refrigerate for about 20 minutes
- Wipe both sides of banana leaves cleaned with damp towel. Place about 1-2 heaped tablespoon of the fish paste in the center of the leaves and spread it with the spoon into a long vertical shape
- Roll both sides of the leaves over and then fold the leaf near your side over and secure it with toothpick or stapler. Repeat with the opposite side. Continue until you are done with the fish paste
- I cook the otak otak directly on fire on the stove top to get that char. Use a heat-proof tong to flip the otak otak over as you grill them. The aroma of the banana leaves are heavenly !
- Serve with tamarind peanut sauce