be daring….be innovative…be expressive!

On the weekend I had the pleasure of demonstrating the making of otak otak for the Peranakan Association of NSW, with a group of amazing cuisine enthusiasts. When I mentioned that the otak otak would be demonstrated using a readymade paste – Curry Kapitan paste, they were a bit surprised.

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Lay Ean @ PAA Otak otak demonstration

They were curious how I could actually make this amazing dish using a readymade paste and on top of that, using a paste of another popular nonya dish – Kapitan Chicken.

A brief background about nonya cuisine –

Nonya cuisine is one of the most amazing cuisines out there; the flavours are a fusion of many cuisines rolled into one and the presentations are refined and exquisite. Traditionally,  from a young age, the nonyas would be trained in the art of ingredients preparation and cooking, and I can tell you it is very labour intensive.

Therefore, before we started the demonstration, I shared my intention with the audience – Be daring to innovate and make nonya cuisine easy to cook and accessible to the public!

So, my intention on that day was not only to “share” with them how to make and wrap otak otak, but to encourage everyone to be daring and be innovative to try new ways of cooking.

I personally believe that –

Cooking is more than just following specific instructions from one recipe. It is about learning how a dish came about, studying how the previous generations cooked, understanding what ingredients to use, but also to be open to add, delete, swap, substitute ingredients to make the dish your own. This is especially so when you live overseas, as the ingredients you need may not be available.

So take otak otak for example, we have the same name for otak otak in Malaysia, but we have so many versions at the same time, depending on which part of Malaysia it is.

For example, in Penang, we steam the otak otak, but in the Malacca and Singapore, they bake or grill it instead. The packaging and presentation are different and spices vary, and for some versiosn of otak otak,  prawns are added to the parcel.

So you see, for a simple dish like otak otak, we have so many ways to cook and present it, so it just proves that there is no one way to cook a particular dish.

Making the otak otak [Recipe]

What I did was I still used the basic banana leaves, betel nut leaves, kaffir lime leaves, coconut milk, candle nut, and rice flour. However, instead of making the paste from scratch, I used a packet of readymade Kapitan paste, and the verdict was good.


The traditional way of wrapping otak otak

The improvised version by me

On top of showing how to use banana leaves to wrap the otak otak, I also showed them the “cheat” way by using a metal plate to cook it instead – which many senior nonyas would be horrified if they knew what I had done to this amazing dish.

So, give yourself permission to be daring and be innovative, and to try different ways of cooking. Mix ingredients to make your own signature dish, and know that there are so many ways to prepare a particular dish and not just one.

Also, be daring and make it your mission is to make home cooking joyful, pleasurable and mostly – sustainable!

Happy Cooking!

Get your fresh ingredients:

Little Nonya Curry Curry KapitanKapitan Paste


> About Curry Kapitan

> Otak otak recipe

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