Monday, September 09, 2013

#Eatsomethingnice 10 - Otak Otak

proudly a part of #Saysomethingnice

image & video credit: Veronica Ng

Otak-otak is a classic Nyonya dish, best described as fish custard wrapped with Banana leaves. It is flavoured with various aromatic herbs, spices, and infused with the sweet fragrance of rich coconut milk. Spicy and savoury, it is a wonderfully versatile dish which can be enjoyed on its own, in bread, or as an accompaniment to rice or noodles.

In Southeast Asia, there are several variations of this fish custard dish. 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 seafood—fish fillet, shrimp, and squid, and in Cambodia their variation is called Amok.

Otak-otak is made by mixing fish paste, usually mackerel, with a mixture of spices. In Indonesia, the mixture typically contains fish paste, shallots, garlic, scallions, egg, coconut milk, and sago flour which can be substituted with tapioca/cassava starch.

In Malaysia, it is usually a mixture of fish paste, chili peppers, garlic, shallots, turmeric, lemon grass and coconut milk. The mixture is then wrapped in a banana leaf that has been softened by steaming, then grilled or steamed.
While fish otak-otak is most common variety, otak-otak is also made with prawns, often resulting in a more textured delicacy. In Muar, Johor, you can also find otak-otak made from cuttlefish, fish head and even chicken. In fact Muar otak otak has become synonymous with this dish.

So, what is the secret ingredient in the Nyonya version of otak-otak? Wild betel leaves - known locally as “daun kaduk.” Much like how bunga kantan is 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 it is a time consuming process and not easy to make. However, if you are willing to invest the time and dedication, much like the Nyonya chef captured in Veronica Ng’s video above, you will be rewarded with parcels of steamed goodness.

As is the case with most Malaysian delicacies, otak otak has also embraced modernization and can now be found in comfy air-conditioned tak otak specialty restaurants and cafes in shopping malls and urban suburbs.

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