Otak means brain in the Malay language and for the uninitiated, for the plural form of nouns in the language, the word is repeated so in this context, otak-otak would mean “brains”.

However, when we talk about otak otak, we are actually referring to that culinary delight that usually has fish as the main ingredient. I did blog about it a long long time ago in 2011 – I guess I had a different set of readers at the time and since there were some questions arising, I thought I would just blog about it again.

The first variety of otak otak that I ever tried were those wrapped in leaves and cooked over an open charcoal fire by the roadside…

Supermarket otak otak

…or at the Ramadhan (the Muslim fasting month) stalls. These days, they are available in the frozen section at the supermarkets and all you have to do would be to heat them up a bit in the oven, open…

Supermarket otak otak, inside

…and enjoy. I’ve tried the latter before and I thought they were quite nice and on the other hand, I did buy some not-very-edible ones from those stalls. I guess like everything else, one would need to know where to go or who to buy from so one will not end up having to throw it all away and wasting one’s money for nothing.

These days, here in Sibu, one can also get them at one of those Singapore nyonya curry laksa franchise outlets…

Katong laksa otak otak

I cannot remember how much they cost now – all that I can recall is how the packets were quite big but you will get just a little piece of the otak otak inside…

Katong laksa otak otak, inside

As for the taste, it was quite good, similar to those supermarket ones.

But if you go up north in the country to places like Penang, for instance, you will get otak otak of a different kind…

Penang otak-otak

Wrapped in banana leaves…

Wrapped in banana leaves

…and steamed, inside, you will find egg custard, chunks of fish and some fragrant leaves. I know many who are not fans of it – some do not like the egg custard, others do not like the smell of the leaves but I do enjoy it very much and I would order one or more to enjoy whenever I see any, like this one…

New World Park otak otak

…at the New World Park Food Court in Georgetown city centre.

Of course, many would swear by the ones from Muar, Johore. Unfortunately, I have never tried any fresh ones there, just these frozen ones…

Muar otak otak

…that a friend/ex-student gave me the other day. I thought they were all right, nothing to get excited about and no, you will not find me wanting more of that…but I did enjoy what I had at a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur

Muar Restaurant, KL otak otak

…on more than one occasion and I liked theirs a lot so whenever I dropped by there for dinner, that would be one of the first things I would order from their menu.

Of course if you ask me to pick my favourite otak otak, it would be the one here at Payung Cafe

Payung Cafe otak otak

…which is all fish plus all the wonderful flavours of the very fragrant ingredients used in the making and it can be a bit spicy which I like.

So, there you are! A quick look at the otak otak that I’ve tried – I don’t know if there are others around here or in our neighbouring countries and if there are, I sure would love to have the opportunity to try them someday.

Author: suituapui

Ancient relic but very young at heart. Enjoys food and cooking...and travelling and being with friends.

18 thoughts on “Brain…”

  1. I love ‘brains’ too though I have yet to find a place that serve really good ones.

    Go try the one at Retoran Muar, Tengkat Tong Shin (next road to Jalan Alor, Bukit Bintang) – I liked theirs…and I hear the beef noodles at the roadside stall close by is good too, never tried.

  2. Otak is one of my favourites, just had two Otak that day after craving for it for so long, I like crab meat and prawn otak too

    Crab meat? Wowwwww!!! A class above, eh? 😉

  3. I didn’t know there are two types of otak-otak. I am only familiar with the grilled version. Are the ones that Libby mentioned, a modern version

    I bought the prawn one before from a stall one year at Ramadhan and it was awful so I just threw it away. The only other prawn one I had was the frozen one from my ex-student/friend. The ladies in the house enjoyed it. I thought they were just all right, both. Never had a crab one – would not be able to afford it, I’m sure.

  4. So far, I have tasted the ones from Muar only, like the one in the pix.

    I did not think they were really great, kind of mushy or soft. The one I had at the restaurant in KL was firmer – I liked that one a lot more.

  5. This post makes me crave for one!! Thinking back, I have not have otak-otak for a very long time. I think the last time I had it was in Sibu where I bought from the Ramadhan bazaar.

    …and that was a long time ago! I think they have them at Satok especially around Ramadhan but good or not, I would not know, never tried.

  6. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat otak otak again without thinking of the meaning of its name. Thank you for the story, and the little grammar lesson too. 🙂

    😀 😀 😀 Pig’s brain steamed with chicken soup and ginseng is a herbal soup that is the favourite of many – good for people with frequent headaches and migraine, they say. Used to enjoy that at a roadside stall, one of the lanes at North Bridge Road in Singapore…and in the mid-80’s at a coffee shop at Bukit Bintang in KL – no longer there, unfortunately.

  7. I’ve tried those thin otak otak and did not like them, could not taste the fish-element there or maybe I am just too used to those here in Penang

    Yes, no feel of the fish in those. The ones in Penang have chunks of fish in it but some people did not like the wobbly egg custard, geli, they said…and some did not like those leaves – I love the added fragrance and taste!

  8. We get the otak otak here too. Sometimes my wife brings back frozen ones; I don’t know if she froze them or they come frozen from the shop.

    Wrapped in attap leaves? Probably the frozen ones sold in plastic packs at the supermarkets, not bad – I bought once before.

    Once I bought a whole lot of the otak otak bun home from Singapore – the bakery was Bread Story or one of those, at Orchard Road. So so so nice – had the bun in the attap leaves – and the otak otak in the middle (placed exposed like sausages in sausage buns). That was so very nice but the next trip to Singapore, the bakery was not there anymore. 😦

  9. I am not a fan of otak-otak and the last one I had was many years ago. That strong smelling leaf is daun kadok, I think. My grandma used to put it in one of her curries. Not my favorite hee..hee..

    Oh? That is the leaf we use to wrap all the condiments when we have miang kham at the Thai restaurant. Very nice, no strong or offensive smell. I wouldn’t know – maybe it’s the daun limau perut, something like bunga kantan smell. I do like it though, nice!

  10. The spices used in otak-otak might be similar to each other… they are still “brain” food.. hahaha.. Only those Nyonya restaurant in Ipoh has otak-otak so that is why it is not so common here… I cannot remember we tasted the Payung’s or not… yes, looks kind of different from the ones I have before..

    Yes, you had that at Payung and yes, it looked the same. So long ago, you do not remember anymore, time to take some gingko nuts lor… Hehehehehe!!!!

    Nyonya? Probably the one in Ipoh would be similar to Penang’s then. Can buy the ones wrapped in attap leaves in packets in the supermarkets, nothing really sensational but not bad also – I bought once before.

  11. I like otah, I ever buy from pasar malam that is like what you mention not-very-edible…

    Yes, must know where to get the good ones, not all are nice.

  12. I love my otak-otak to be as thick and creamy as possible – I like this Cambodian variation very much: I haven’t been to Cambodia so I haven’t tried it there, but I’ve tried at indochinese restaurants in KL, and it’s deliciously rich-tasting …

    They have in Indochina too? Would love to try theirs as well. Read that the Indonesians have their own version and in Terengganu, there is the satar – I like that too, tried once before.

  13. I’m from Penang and the Penang version of otak-otak is still my favorite, tho some of those Muar otak’s pretty good too.

    I do enjoy the Penang ones too though some, like my missus, are not very fond of the egg mousse/custard and the strong smell of the leaves added – I like the special fragrance.

  14. I didn’t know there are two types of otak-otak. I am only familiar with the grilled version. Are the ones that Libby mentioned, a modern version

    A lot here that you are obviously out of touch with. Prawn otak otak has been around for quite a while but crab is exclusive, I guess – for the rich and famous, and you can count me out.

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