A hand-held fish, egg and onion pâté that comes in its own natural (and
biodegradable) package? For convenience, deliciousness and environmental
friendliness, this spicy Southeast Asian treat takes first prize.

In the Bahasa Indonesia and Malay languages, the word ‘otak’ means brains. But don’t let this keep you from trying otak-otak; the name comes from the colour and consistency of the dish, not its ingredients. Originating in Malaysia and Indonesia, otakotak migrated to Singapore, where it quickly became a hawker-centre staple. Foodobsessed Singaporeans are said to cross the causeway into Muar in southern Malaysia for a taste of that town’s otak-otak (said to be the region’s best).

You’ll need
400g (14oz) deboned
mackerel, minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ small turmeric leaf, thinly
2 kaffir lime leaves, thinly
2 tbs laksa leaves (Vietnamese
mint), thinly sliced
1 tbs oil (optional)
½–¾ cup coconut cream
1 tbs sugar
salt, to taste
banana leaves, cut to
20cm x 10cm (8in x 4in)
and microwaved for 1 min
to soften

For the spice paste
1.25cm (½in) turmeric root (or
¼ tsp powdered turmeric)
2–4 red chillies
4 pieces galangal, sliced
(ginger can be substituted)
1 lemongrass stalk
3 candlenuts
2 garlic cloves
6 shallots
1 tsp belacan (shrimp paste),

Cooking Method
1 Grind the spice paste ingredients to a fine paste.
2 Combine the spice paste with all the other ingredients (except the banana leaves) in a mixing bowl. Adjust to taste with salt and sugar.
3 Spoon 2 tbs of the mixture on to each banana leaf. Fold the leaf and secure it with a toothpick on both ends.
4 Grill or barbecue for about 10 minutes and serve.

Tasting notes
At first glance, the sight of long green leaves charring may lead the uninitiated into thinking that otak-otak is some sort of grilled tropical vegetable. But the charred green leaf is the packaging only – inside you’ll find a gelatinous cake that’s spicy and aromatic (with just a hint of the ocean). Otak-otak is best eaten at a streetside stall or inside a hawker centre, perhaps with a bottle of Tiger beer or an iced Milo. Though generally eaten as a side dish with other items (skewered chicken or grilled prawns make for a great combination), four or five otakotaks should be enough to hold you over until your next meal.

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