For many Singaporeans living abroad, otak-otak is one of the things that they would literally kill for. The aroma of burnt coconut leaves combined with the scent of fresh fish pate marinated with a magnificent blend of spices is one of the greatest pleasures of life.

Ironically, otak-otak is extremely easy to make! In this recipe I am using Atlantic mackerels caught in the waters of northern Europe instead of the much smaller Indian mackerels (ikan selar) of the Indian Ocean that is traditionally used in the recipe. In early autumn in September and October, mackerels are abundant and are really fat and juicy. These are perfect for making a good otak!

I am also using banana leaves instead of coconut leaves. This is because it is impossible to find fresh large coconut leaves outside of the tropics for this purpose.

Serving: 13-15 otak-otak


  • 3 large Atlantic mackerels or 8 Indian mackerels (ikan selar), 1kg
  • Coconut cream, 220ml
  • Sambal chilli sauce, 1 tbsp (or 3 tsp chilli powder and 3 tsp of finely-ground dried shrimps)
  • Coriander powder, 1 tbsp
  • Galangal powder, 1 tbsp (or 1 tbsp of fresh galangal pounded into a paste)
  • Tumeric powder, 1 tbsp (or 1 tbsp of fresh tumeric pounded into a paste)
  • Kaffir lime leaves (fresh or dried) finely chopped, 4-5
  • Eggs, 3
  • Salt, 2 tsp
  • White Pepper, ½ tsp
  • Sugar, 1 tbsp


  • 3 long banana leaves (you can buy this either fresh or frozen in Asian supermarkets)
  • Toothpicks


  1. First prepare your banana leaves. They normally come in one long whole leave which is in fact half of a whole banana leave. Cut them into sections each with a breath of 20-25cm, do not trim the length. Put them in a basin and scald them with boiling water. This will cook them and make them more malleable to be wrappings later. Once the leaves turn more flexible, take them out and dry them with a tea towel. Set them aside.
  2. Clean your mackerels and empty the stomachs. Use a knife to cut out the filet from behind the head to the tail, do it on both side. Now use a teaspoon to scrap the meat off the spine. Then turn the filet over with the skin side facing down. Use the teaspoon to scrap the meat off the skin. Once you have all the meat, put them in a mixer bowl or a blender to grind them into a coarse paste. You should have about 700g of meat from 1kg of whole fish.
  3. Add your eggs, spices and seasoning into the paste except the coconut cream, mix well. Now add the coconut cream and mix well.
  4. Time now to wrap your otak. Lay out a sheet of banana leave with the waxy side facing upwards. With the length of leave placed horizontally, imagine the leave has horizontal sections, put about 3 tablespoonful of otak paste across centre section. Fold the bottom and the top sections to close the wrapping, then seal the sides by folding them inwards and locking each side with a toothpick. Now you have your first otak. Continue doing this until you finish the otak paste.
  5. To grill your otak-otak, switch on your grill and cook each side for 6 minutes.

What we do very often in Singapore is to make a sandwich out of it with bread and butter. Otherwise, they are a traditional accompaniment to the ubiquitous Nasi Lemak.

You can also freeze your fresh otak-otak so that you can enjoy them later on. Enjoy!