|Place of origin||Insular Southeast Asia|
|Region or state||Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore|
|Main ingredients||Fish meat, spices, leek, wrapped with banana leaf|
Otak-otak (Chinese: 鲤鱼包; pinyin: lǐyúbāo) is a cake made of fish meat and spices. It is widely known across Southeast Asia, where it is traditionally served fresh, wrapped inside a banana leaf, as well as in many Asian stores internationally - being sold as frozen food and even canned food.
Otak-otak is found in certain parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. The southern Malaysian town of Muar in Johor is a popular destination for it — people from surrounding states and even Singaporeans often visit to buy the famous otak-otak in bulk. It is commonly known in Singapore as otah. Otak means brains in Indonesian and Malay, and the name of the dish is derived from the idea that the dish somewhat resembles brains, being grey, soft and almost squishy.
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 or can be substituted for cassava starch. In Malaysia, it is usually a mixture between 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, otak-otak is also made with prawns, often resulting in a more textured variety. In Muar, you can also find otak-otak made from cuttlefish, fish head and even chicken. The Muar otak is particularly renowned.
In Jakarta, Indonesia, one finds otak-otak being sold in small stalls near bus stops, especially during afternoon rush hour. Some of the best otak-otak can be found in Makassar; the main ingredient is fresh King Mackerel Fish, also called King Fish.
There are different forms of otak-otak originating from different regions.
In Indonesia, it originated from Palembang, South Sumatra. However, other regions in Indonesia also popular for their otak-otak such as Jakarta and Makassar. In Palembang, people eat otak-otak with cuko (Palembangese sweet and sour spicy vinegar sauce). While in Jakarta, they enjoy it with spicy peanut sauce.
Nyonya otak-otak (Malay: otak-otak Nyonya), with Peranakan origins, from the northern Malaysian state of Penang, is steamed as a cake in [banana leaf]. Otak-otak from Indonesia, the south of Malaysia, and Singapore is wrapped up as a thin slice using banana or coconut leaf and grilled over a charcoal fire. As a result, it ends up drier and with a more distinct smoky fish aroma. The color of otak-otak from Indonesia is whitish, while the otak-otak from Malaysia and Singapore is reddish-orange. Other varieties of otak-otak do exist. Although otak-otak is traditionally made with fish meat, modern versions of otak may utilize crab or prawn meat or even fish head.
A type of otak-otak from Terengganu is called Sata. A similar Indonesian dish employing banana leaf is called pepes. Other types of otak-otak include dishes called pais ikan, botok that are made of fish paste cooked in banana leaves. Otak-otak is quite similar to Szczecin paprikas (Polish: Paprykarz szczeciński).
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