Monday, November 23, 2009

Nyonya Otak Otak

Making this dish is not a problem, the biggest problem is getting the leaves - duan kaduk. Daun kaduk, or wild pepper (Piper sarmentosum), is the glossy heart-shaped leaf of a creeper that is often featured in Nyonya cooking. In Hokkien, the name is pronounced as lun kaduk, these leaves  provide the texture and aroma that is so essential to this dish, without it the taste will be vastly different.  I have wanted to make otak otak but if daun kaduk is not available, i will not waste my time to adulterate.  My chance at last arrived when my dear friend, Peng, who is in Colorado Springs, found the leaves in her asian store.  With all the ingredients complete, graciously contributed by Catherine, another dear friend who also share the same passion in cooking as Peng does.. we made some in Peng's house.  Thank you Catherine and Peng.   I can't remember when was the last time i had otak otak and when i opened up a freshly steamed parcel, the aroma jolted my "otak"(in Malay is brain) into rememberance of a good thing.

There are different forms of otak-otak originating from different regions. Nyonya otak-otak is of Peranakan origins from Penang, it is wrapped in banana leaves in a parcel and steamed. However, otak-otak from the south of Malaysia and from Singapore is wrapped up as a thin slice using banana or coconut leaf and grilled over a charcoal fire.


1 lb fish fillet preferably white fish - slice into thin slices
5 kaffir lime leaves - spines removed and finely shredded
1 large tumeric leaves - spines removed and finely shredded
30 leaves - daun kaduk(the more leaves the better) - spines removed
1/2 cup thick coconut cream
3 large eggs
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp rice flour
1 tbsp fish sauce
Salt, sugar and pepper to taste

Banana leaves - cleaned, cut into 8" x 8" squares and boiled, wipe dry.


1 x 1/2 inch galangal
2 stalks lemon grass - white part only
5 pieces candlenut/buah keras
1 tbsp shrimp paste/belacan granules
5 pieces fresh red chillies - cut into small pieces
5 pieces/3 ozs shallots - washed and peeled
5 cloves garlic - peeled
1/4 - 1/2 oz tumeric powder or 1 x 2 inch fresh tumeric
10 pieces dried chillies, cut into small pieces, soaked in hot water until soft, drained
3 fl ozs cooking oil for frying


Prepare the Rempah.

Grate galangal and lemon grass with a microplane zester.

In the food processor, grind the rest of the ingredients except the cooking oil, into a fine paste.(If using the blender, put all the ingredients in including the oil and blend to very fine.)

Pour blended ingredients into a microwable bowl and microwave on high for 5 minutes, stir and continue to cook on high 2 minutes at a time, until oil surfaces and paste is fragrant and almost dry.

Prepare the mousse:

Pat the fish dry and cut it into 2-inch slices.

Beat slightly eggs and egg yolk with fish sauce, salt, sugar, white pepper.

Mix cornflour and rice with the coconut milk.

In a large bowl, put in the sliced fish, eggs, coconut mixture.and cooled rempah. Mix well to combine.
Lastly add in the shredded kaffir lime  and tumeric leaves.
.To make otak otak parcels:

 For each parcel, , use a square of banana leaf and lay 3 - 4 leaves daun kaduk in the center.  Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of the fish mixture on top of daun kaduk.

Fold the banana leaf into half and hold on to the center.  Fold up the right side to the center and open up the leaf to form the parcel edge.  Repeat with the left side and using a staple or toothpick, secure the parcel.

Repeat making the parcels until all the fish mousse is done.

Put the parcel to steam for about 10 minutes.

Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.



Mary said...

This looks fascinating, Lily. I don't think I can get the ingredients needed to make them, but I can have sweet dreams.

Claire said...

This was delicious...thanks Lily for letting me taste some! I've had the Indonesian version where it was grilled but your steamed ones were fantastic!

Tuty said...

What fish would you recommend? There are so many white fish...

Is daun kaduk the same as betel leaf? The one that some people chew with betel nut and slake lime? It looks like daun sirih to the Indonesian.

Anonymous said...


This Penang girl loves Otak-otak, and yours look fantastic! Been wishing to make some but couldn't find Daun Kadok in Perth :(

*Still drooling*


lilyng said...


The spanish mackeral, threadfish, tilapa, cod, any fish of your choice.

daun kaduk is the wild betel leave and it is called 'la lot' in vietnamese. it is not the same as the betel leaves that are chewed like tobacco. Duan kaduk is soft and when cooked imparts a very fragrant aroma

Anonymous said...

Nice story as for me. It would be great to read more concerning that topic.
By the way look at the design I've made myself A level escort

Chris said...

Was just going to tell u abt "la lot" but seems u know that already. Thank god those leaves are readily available here in Tor all year. I have a lazy short-cut version of otak2...use the canned Thai curry paste; either the yellow or red paste works well. Still have to add in eggs, santan etc. I line a pan with defrosted banana leaves, pour in the mixture, cover with another layer of leaves, then steam. I am terrible at wrapping anything, hence the lazy version!

Uncle Lee said...

Hello Lily, I have not eaten this can't remember when. My mom was 4 generations Nyonya and used to make it.
When working in Penang and Singapore I used to have it.
And yours looks simply, sinfully delicious, ha ha....anymore left? Ha ha.
Have a nice day and keep a song in your heart, Lee.

Little Corner of Mine said...

I prefer this more than the grilled one too. Yes, the fragrant...

Mysweetkitchen said...

Hi Lily,
I've been a silent reader to your blog :) I love your blog and all your recipes..

Btw, may I have your email pls. Thank you.

lilyng said...


my email is

Peng said...

I was looking at the pic of the Daun Kaduk patch and my heart hurts!
I was reminded that years ago I passed by a patch just like that on my walk to school. I will kicked and mashed the leaves just like a inquisitive kid!
Now that I know what it is good for and the price I've got to pay for it, may God forgive me for not knowing that I am stepping on gold :)! Little did I know that one day I've got to search high and low for it and pay an arm and leg for a few humble sprigs of leaves. Ah! such is life.

Anonymous said...


Do you eat the daun kaduk ?

lilyng said...


yes, eat the leaves and all in the parcel

Kath said...

Steamed ones are more healthy and full of flavour. My backyard is overgrown with the daun kadok leaves and I have never made any otak otak :(

Pete said...

The otak-otak looks good. Wow, you manage to find lunkadok there. I have some planted in my backyards but have to get rid of them when they almost covered my backyard. I think there are some small plants left!

Sarah said...

Hi Lilly,

The otak looks great but there seem to be a sort of "soup" with the otak in the banana leaf when I ate it at one store in Penang that taste amazing. How would we create that "soup", haha I call it soup but it is really like maybe a tablespoon or two of liquid with the otak. It tasted a bit tomyam like! Thanks

lilyng said...


to get it more 'soupy' use more coconut milk and less the amount of eggs.

Anonymous said...

Hi lilyng,

Would like to know how many "parcels" does the recipe yield?
Thanks & Happy 2010.

lilyng said...


it is hard to say how many parcels. it all depends on how much you fill one parcel.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lily,

I manage to grow some Kaduk leave in Perth Australia and would like to make otak-otak. I can't find fresh galangal in Perth. Can I substitude galangal with ginger or dried/power galangal if I can find them? Thanks

lilyng said...


wow, how did you manage to porpagate the kaduk plant?

i could get frozen ones and bottled ones - they are better than the powder but the powder will do if there is no choice.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Lilyng.
I found some frozen galangal. Just made some otak-otak today and it was very yummy. My mum found the kaduk plant from someone backyard when she was doing her morning walk. She asked the owner for a branch to porpogate. The plant hardly had any leave during winter in Perth. In summer, it is ok. Last summer, my plants have only a few leaves. This summer, it has 30+ leaves.

lilyng said...


keep your kaduk alive, the leaves are so valuable especially for us who are residing in places where it does not thrive that well.

LI LAINE OOI said...

Dear Lily,

I'm a new reader of your wonderful blog , thanks to the word-of-mouth praises sung by my friends. We love your stuff!

I will be moving to Ft.Collins, CO very soon and was sad that I wont get to eat authentic Msian food. Now that I've found your blog, I'm more enlightened that I can find the right ingredients.

Would you mind telling me whats the better asian stores to shop for Msian grocery in Denver/ surrounds?

Bless you and your wonderful kitchen!

lilyng said...


welcome to colorado - fort collins.

i am staying in the southeast, nearer to DIA and i have asian markets about 15 minutes away but i like to go to chinatown which is in federa/alameda, it is further but i get good asain vegetables. For most asians up north, fort collins or longmont, thee is a Pacific Ocean in broomfield.

write to me - my email is

Lai Wah said...

I love your blog so...much.
I knew Peng when I lived in Colorado Springs for a year. She visited me and made me Thai Salad. Ask her if she knew Lai Wah and Daniel. That was, my goodness, 15 years ago. Ask her to email me at

lilyng said...

lai wah

mission accomplished - email address forwarded to Peng.

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