Malaysian street food : Otak-otak (spiced fish cake)


Otak-otak is a popular street side snack, or kuih* all over Malaysia and in Singapore, too.

It’s a paste of minced fish and spices which is wrapped into a banana leaf and cooked over a barbecue. One way to tell if you have a good quality otak-otak is to open the banana leaf, if it is shiny it means that it has lots of fish in it.

The majority of Malay and Singaporean otak-otak are a reddish colour, due to the spice mix, whereas in Indonesia they tend to be a more creamy white colour – Otak-otak, in Penang is more like a Thai mok pla fish mousse. The direct translation of the word otak is brain – Nice.
*Kuih is an important snack for Malaysian festivals and celebrations (although, not exclusive to). the term can be quite broad and include sweets, like putu piring and savouries like otak-otak or curry puffs. The commonality between them all tends to be they are bitesize – similar, if only by definition to canapés.

Phrases worth knowing!

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello  – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry


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