Otak-Otak (Nyonya Fish Custard Wrapped with Banana Leaves)

by Nyonya Food on November 3, 2009 · 30 comments

in Main Dish, Recipes

Otak-otak pictures (4 of 4)
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Otak-otak. Otak-otak!

The mere mention of otak-otak and the visual picture of perfectly steamed and moist fish custard wrapped with banana leaves often sets my mouthwatering. Otak-otak is a classic Nyonya dishbrightly flavored with various aromatic herbs, exotic spices, and infused with the sweet fragrance of rich coconut milk.

In Southeast Asia, there are variations of fish custard in the neighboring countries: in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore it’s known as otak-otak, in Thailand, there is a similar dish called Hor Mok that includes an assortment of seafoodfish fillet, shrimp, and squid, and in Cambodia their variation is called Amok. And needless to say, I have bias in favor of Malaysian otak-otakbe it Nyonya’s or the famed Muar grilled otak-otak

Now, what’s the secret ingredient in Nyonya version of otak-otak? Wild betel leaves or known locally as “daun kaduk.” Much like bunga kantan to Assam Laksa, without daun kaduk, you simply can’t—and won’t—have authentic otak-otak.

Otak-otak is impossibly delicious with a very complex taste structure, but they are not easy to make. If you are willing to invest the time and dedication, much like Nyonya cooks, you will be rewarded with parcels of steamed goodness.


Otak-Otak Recipe (Spicy Fish Custard Parcels)
Adapted from Nonya Flavours: A Complete Guide to Penang Straits Chinese Cuisine


1 banana leaf (cut into 8 x 10″ rectangles-shapped and soak in hot water to soften the leaf)
500g fish fillet (slices)
20-30 wild betel leaves (daun kaduk)

Custard ingredients:

2 eggs
1 cup coconut milk
2 tsp rice flour
3 kaffir lime leaves (finely sliced)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

Spice Paste

10 shallots
3 cloves garlic
5 fresh red chilies
4 dried red chilies
2 stalks lemon grass
1 inch galangal
1 inch turmeric
20g shrimp paste (toasted)


1.  Chop the spice paste ingredients and then blent it in a food processor until fine.
2.  Combine the custard ingredients,add in spice paste and mix well.
3.  Place 2-3 kadok leaves in the center of a banana leaf.Top with 2-3 slices of fish fillet 2 tbsp of the custard mixture.
4.  To form a pyramid-shapped. Fold up both sides of the banana leaf to meet in the centre and fold up the other two ends to meet in the center and secure with bamboo tooth picks.
5.  Heat up wok and boiling water.Steam for 10 minutes over rapidly boiling water.

6. Unwrap the leaves and serve immediately.


Lilian Lee Hoffmann November 3, 2009 at 11:24 am

Hi Alesia,
Just wondering if one can substitute the betel leaves for something else? I live in Germany and it’s rather difficult to find ingredients as exotic as that.
Any ideas?

dong lopez November 4, 2009 at 7:25 pm

you can used taro leaves

Nyonya Food November 5, 2009 at 11:06 am

Alesia, Dong,

NO, you can’t substitute betel leaves with taro leaves, they are completely different in textures and taste. If you can’t find betel leaves, it’s best you don’t use it. It will not be as good, but it will not be strange.

Asghar Mehdi February 20, 2010 at 3:39 pm

You might try some Indian / Pakistani/Bangladeshi grocery stores they usually refer to them as Pan Leaves but should also understand betel leaves.

I got addicted to Otak Otak in KL (Madame Kwans)and will try to convince my wife to try yours.


kl_changs November 3, 2009 at 6:46 pm


Been craving for otak-otak for some time now, Bee. But can’t find Daun Kaduk here :( Where did u get ur supply?

Nyonya Food November 5, 2009 at 11:07 am

We can get daun kaduk here in the US, at Little Saigon. :)

zenchef November 3, 2009 at 10:07 pm

How do you do it Bee? You blog so often, so well and every looks incredible.
From reading the list of ingredients this looks like another winner to me!

Nyonya Food November 5, 2009 at 11:08 am

Zen – this otak-otak is a winner. The flavor is very complex and alluring.

Noraini November 4, 2009 at 2:55 am

I love otak-otak and been craving for it. Like Lilian I also live in Germany and wonder if daun kaduk can be substituted for something else. Thanks.

Nyonya Food November 5, 2009 at 11:08 am

Just skip the betel leaves if you can’t find it.

Myf November 5, 2009 at 6:42 am

mmph! delicious. my fave nyonya food… mum always make these :-)

Nyonya Food November 5, 2009 at 11:03 am

Mas – would love to see otak-otak on your blog!

Ani November 5, 2009 at 8:01 am

Instead of daun kaduk, can I use kale? I like daun limau purut, can I use that too? Thanks

Nyonya Food November 5, 2009 at 11:03 am

If you can’t find daun kaduk, it’s better you don’t use it. No, kale is not a replacement. You can use daun limau purut, but you have to shred it very finely.

chareli November 6, 2009 at 9:40 am

oh yes! MUAR PRIDE! i’m from Muar and no other otak otak cuts it the way like Muar Otak Otak does for me!!! =D

Tuty November 6, 2009 at 5:59 pm

Hi Bee,
What type of fish did you use? Have you ever used the fish paste (sometimes sold in plastic tub or at the fish counter in Asian mart)?

chia February 4, 2010 at 8:01 am

i would also like to know what kind of fish to use! i live in switzerland, and miss otak-otak and all other nyonya dishes…

Su-yin November 9, 2009 at 4:27 pm

Otak otak! Omg I’m becoming so hungry looking at your last few posts. I absolutely love this, and haven’t had it in ages. Need to go on a hunt for daun kaduk and banana leaves (I’ll be optimistic as I managed to find fresh pandan leaves in Chinatown a week ago – much to my utter joy, haha).

Thanks for the recipe!

petite nyonya November 15, 2009 at 8:57 am

Haven’t had this kind of otak-otak for a long time. Looks delicious!

Nyonya Food November 20, 2009 at 3:30 pm

Yes, steamed otak-otak is great.

Zar Waterhouse November 18, 2009 at 5:01 am

Sounds nuts,,, but they stopped the import of blachan to Europe bout a year ago. Can u give me an idea of a substitude for blachan please. Ive been using anchovies instead but it does not have that umppppp!!!! if u know what I mean.

Nyonya Food November 18, 2009 at 11:47 am

Argh, that sucks. Oh well, if you can’t find belacan, you can try to use Vietnamese fish sauce. It’s not the same but OK.

Lin November 22, 2009 at 9:59 am

Oh my god Otak Otak..that’s my fav. If that is a ready made packet I believe everybody can’t wait to buy them. Just like other singapore asia ready made packets food. There are many oversea singaporean like me want to eat home foods. But where can we find them?

Nyonya Food November 22, 2009 at 6:25 pm

Unfortunately, you will have to make your own. It’s hard to find ready-made otak nowadays, even in Penang. Only a few places have them.

Su Yee November 25, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Dear Bee, How do you wrap your otak-otak parcel so beautifully, could you please teach me? THank you!!!!

Nyonya Food November 30, 2009 at 9:21 am

Hahaha, it takes a lot of practices.

charlotte chng December 20, 2009 at 2:26 am

Well for those of you who live overseas and the betel leave or daun kaduk is not available, the best substitute would be spinach leaves. May not taste as authentic but close to none.

Nyonya Food December 22, 2009 at 10:56 pm

Yes, spinach is a good substitute, or you can do without the betel leaves if you can’t find them.

nyonyachef January 2, 2010 at 4:09 am

Nice soft texture ! I can hardy find a soft otak otak nowadays. Mostly, I see the slightly harder orange/red type.

Steve February 6, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Wow Miss Nonya…Great site!…. was poking around for the Maur version but am def going to give this a go… very close to Thai Ha mok but they traditionaly use bitter Noni Fruit tree leaves… in the same way on the bottom of parcel….(Bai Yor)… their common western substitute is a neutral little slice of Nappa cabbage…with of course Thai basal on top for garnish and a lil flav.
but no dought would be wrong for your Nonya version
Everyone who has a viet owned market with produce look for ‘La-Lot’ leafs… Im in LA and go to either westminster markets (best place) or sometimes A1 on E. Sunset blvd 1/2mile or so e. of Alverado… (though there often out of it)… some san gabrial markets have it… Viet super store (forget name)… 10freeway ext roscrans go south or wherever you are and have a viet restaurant, look for ‘bo-la-lot’ on the menu… hit them up for where they get theirs… I know how it feels to not have the ‘missing ingrediant’ and I go nuts cross-referencing culturs till I get it… Thats how I managed to get 15 kilos of fresh Kencur – (cekur?) I have in MY freezur for many yummy indo/malay things… ok Cheers all and keep up all the good cooking!

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