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Otah that's good enough for me!

Click on picture to see it up close. Otah goes great with bread as a snack, or with a meal that can include onion omelettes, sliced fresh cucumbers, and nasi lemak.

This is my dad's otah recipe that first turned out a surprisingly savoury and spicy smackeral* several years ago when he experimented with it in our convection microwave oven. This recipe makes about 10-12 pieces of otah. Preparation time is short (once you have the ground sambal ingredients) and so is the cooking time. For those of us in North America, staying outside of Singapore or Malaysia, despair not. Sambal ingredients should be available in most North American Chinatowns (San Francisco and Toronto certainly) and, if you're willing to pay a little more for the convenience, you can always order the nonya sambal online. I'm assuming for now, as a young housewife with very limited experience and knowledge, that what's commonly referred to as "sambal chilli" called for in this recipe is the same as what Prima calls "nonya sambal". (If you know more about this, please leave a comment. Thanks!)

A few simple steps:
Mince 200g mackerel (or some other oily fish) until very fine. Add 3 tablespoons corn flour, 3 rounded tablespoons sambal ingredients** (ground), 1 teaspoon oyster sauce, lime leaves [optional but some like it; and if you have access to it. I skipped this one], and some oil. Mix well and bake--wrapped in banana leaves (if available), or in aluminium foil. How thick or long you want the otah to be is up to you. I pressed the otah paste on greased aluminium foil until about 1 cm thick, threw it in the oven (230 deg C / 450F), and baked it for about 10 minutes. You really need to experiment a little to see what works for you. Remove otah at about 8 minutes, and every other 2 minutes or so, and when it looks firm and brown with a nice texture, you can use the taste test.

Loy says that the otah (or 'otah') I made tasted authentic enough, and plausibly sufficient to satisfy a craving for the real thing. Well, that's good enough for me!

*loose usage of the Milne word "smackeral", that can be defined as the amount of honey that Winnie the Pooh enjoys each time he puts his hand in the honey pot. Example: "Mmm delicious, just a smackeral of honey." (Taken from the urbandictionary.com)

**In my dad's words: "The sambal is the one we make with chilli, onion, garlangal (blue ginger), tumeric (yellow ginger), belachan, a few cloves of garlic, some lemon grass, candle nuts (blakalak buah keras) and ground together - same one we use to cook curry or assam fish or sambal prawns." Hmm... doesn't he make it sound easy...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

otah (or otak) literally means "brain."

mmm, appetising!

Monday, March 14, 2005 8:16:00 PM  
Blogger Elaine Loy said...

Thanks! I didn't know that. Do you know Malay? And now I'm wondering--if you're right about this, how did this savoury fish cake come to be called otah?

Monday, March 14, 2005 10:32:00 PM  
Blogger wahj said...

Hey there Elaine and Loy! It's Wahj, Loy's old schoolmate. I was pleasantly surprised when Nelson passed me the link to your blog - haven't seen you guys since the wedding. It's nice to find a way to keep up with how you're doing. Say hi to Loy for me, and tell him he can find my blogs at

Sunday, March 20, 2005 1:12:00 PM  
Blogger tausarpiah said...

hey hey elaine,
is there a substitute for candle nut? does macademia nut work?

Friday, April 22, 2005 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger Huichieh said...

Elaine's skeptical that it will work... but will check with her dad (now he's the expert, my father-in-law). In any case, you won't need this ingredient if you use off-the-shelf sambal. The Prima brand paste (note: not their "Nonya Sambal" but just "Sambal") is quite good for Otah. I think Prima ships overseas (our present stash came by mail from family).

Friday, April 22, 2005 2:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Candlenut is Buah keras in Malay, not "blakalak"! I wonder what language this is!

Friday, August 19, 2005 1:52:00 AM  
Blogger Huichieh said...

I'm sure you are absolutely right--it's just that that's how we say it, not knowing any better (possibly due to corruption from Hokkien). So thanks for the pointer.

Friday, August 19, 2005 1:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you said 3 rounded tablespoons sambal ingredients** (ground)
so you mix chilli, onion, blue ginger, yellow ginger, belachan, a few cloves of garlic, some lemon grass, candle nuts and ground together?

and what is the propotion of these ingredients?

ps: i am thinking of using this recipe for a camp can you please reply to my tag at vindic8d@gmail.com? THANKYOU! =D

Sunday, November 27, 2005 12:15:00 AM  
Anonymous SimCooks said...

I have been thinking of making otah! Thanks for the recipe! I can now satisfy my craving by making it myself (now that I live out of Singapore)

Do drop by my food blog too when you have the chance.

BTW, I love the Prima Taste premixes and pastes too! Have tried the Hainanese Chicken Rice, Mee Rebus, Mee Siam & Hokkien Mee. Great stuff for overseas Singaporeans!

Friday, December 22, 2006 6:07:00 PM  
Blogger The Expedited Writer said...

Hi, thanks for sharing this recipe. I was looking through the internet for some otak-otak or otah-otah recipe that I could adapt in my kitchen. I'm originally from Malaysia but I'm living Montreal now so you can imagine how I CRAVE my homeland's food...

I will have to try this recipe as it looks pretty authentic to the one in Penang. :)

Friday, March 23, 2007 6:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Otak in Malay means 'brain'; but the fish paste ' Otah ' I don't think means brain..
- a chinese singaporean

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