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Jul 31, 2013 10:06 PM

Southeast Asian Fish in Banana Leaf - SF Dish of the Month August 2013

The SF Dish of the Month for August 2013 is Southeast Asian Fish in Banana Leaf (eg. mok pa, amok, pepes inan). For more details, see charliemyboy's (effective) "sales pitch" here:

The goal of Dish of the Month is to collectively try as many versions of fish in banana leaf as possible during the month of August! So let's start exploring and eating—report back with reviews and photos.

For those who have tried this dish before, this will be an opportunity to try different versions. And for the many people who have never tried it, this will be a great opportunity to taste something new.

Here's a link to the vote:

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  1. We had the Pla Pao at Soi4 in Rockridge last night and really enjoyed it. The fish was wild-caught Walu, rich butterfish, meaty, in a grilled banana leaf with lemongrass, and served with a lime-chili sauce (very bright and flavorful). The steamed vegetables on the side were neither here nor there (asparagus, squash, green beans and cauliflower), but at least provided another vehicle for the great sauce.

    2 Replies
    1. re: The Dive

      The take out Thai place in the Pacific east mall makes this phenomenal dish. It has the unfortunate name of "Mud fish". It is an open faced moist and flavorful fish cake with sauerkraut like cabbage underneath served on top of a rice leaf. The texture of the fish cake is just perfect. Fish cakes can sometimes be hard and or spongy but this one is moist not overly hard. It has the perfect amount of funky Thai flavors. And the tangy cabbage underneath is a good contrast to the flavor of the fish cake. The rice leaf is shaped like a little bowl to hold it together. Tastes like something you would eat in Thailand.

      Ran Khanom Thai

      3288 Pierce St., Richmond, the Pacific East Mall. No web site.

      1. re: Ridge

        Ran Kanom Thai, the organic Thai take out place at 99 Ranch marketplace in Richmond had "Mudfish" again today. A red coconut curry fish cake served in banana leaves. i posted some pictures.

    2. I don't live or work in the SF Bay Area anymore, so can't contribute to this. But can someone please go back to Battambang in Oakland and find out if their Amok Trei is still as good as I remembered? It seemed a lifetime away now, but I used to go back there for this dish almost once every 2-3 months. That dish was my ultimate fave, and attracted my attention when it was first mentioned in a 2001 Chowhound gathering:

      6 Replies
      1. re: klyeoh

        Haven't been to Battambang in years, and this dish is now on my list!

        1. re: klyeoh

          Hi, klyeoh! How nice to see you on the other regional board I frequent. If you, the SE Asia food guru, say that the Amok Trei at Battambang was one of your favorites, we shall do what we can to check it out and report back.

          Charlie, I found a link with the Battambang menu. Amok Trei is #94, and listed under "Specialties". That #95 and #96 are frogs' legs makes this an even more compelling candidate for a chowdown. How fast can you get over here, klyeoh? We have to report back by month end, but we can wait for you until then. :-)

          1. re: pilinut

            LOL! Well, pilinut, I worked for the American President Lines which used to have its regional office in Oakland, so I used to spend 30% of my time each year in the SF Bay Area. Unfortunately (for me), APL has since moved to Scottsdale, AZ. I miss eating out in Oakland. Amok Trei hit the spot for me due to its similarity with Hor Mok Pla, its more assertive-tasting Thai cousin, and also the Penang otak-otak, one of my fave food items of all time!
            A quick glance at how Penang otak-otak was prepared in this episode of No Reservations: Penang, where Anthony Bourdain has a taste of Penang otak-otak - see 21:59 to 22:35:

            1. re: klyeoh

              Thanks for the link, klyeoh! I watched it in fascination, waiting for the otak-otak to make its appearance. Five minutes into the film, I was so absorbed by the delights of Penang, which I have never visited, that I had to keep reminding myself why I had originally started watching. (On the strength of the recommendations I read on the Asia board, many of them yours, I am changing the "have never visited Penang" to "have not yet visited Penang.")

              I was a bit surprised to see the otak-otak prepared by having the curry poured over the fish morsels in the banana leaf which is then steamed. The otak-otak I recall is more like a homogenous spiced fish paste rolled in a piece of banana leaf, which is fastened at the ends and then grilled over charcoal. But I'd happily eat either version. Any version, in fact.

              1. re: pilinut

                Hi pilinut, that *other* type of otak-otak you mentioned is typical of those from Johore, Malaysia's southern-most state, linked to Singapore island via a half-mile long causeway. Consequently, the otak-otak we serve with Nasi Lemak in Singapore is similar to Johore's.

                The otak-otak I tried at Straits @Westfield SF Centre a few years back was more similar to Thai "hor mok" than what we have in Singapore.

              2. re: klyeoh

                Thanks, pilinut— it's good to know that Battambang still serves Amok, and my memories of Kim Thanh's frogs' legs has me eager to try other SE Asian versions. Given the weighty responsibility of having nominated this dish, I feel a moral obligation to visit Battambang before month-end and report back! It's tough work but someone has to do it.

                I'm not surprised there are quite distinct versions of otak-otak, especially given how many different countries it is found in. I've been checking out Mok Pa recipes and there is huge variation there as well. The Wikipedia entry for otak-otak doesn't mention the Philippines but gives some details on different versions in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore—

                I too was fascinated by the Bourdain video (my thanks also, klyeoh), and immediately began dreaming of booking a flight for Penang! Speaking of variations, Bourdain's affection for Laksa sent me to Wikipedia, where an extremely detailed entry lists at least 15 different types of Laksa by region, with a table detailing the differences between the various versions.

          2. I stopped by the San Jose branch of Chez Sovan on Monday to check out their Amok. Upon entering I was greeted enthusiastically by a tall man who was a source of great energy the whole meal, greeting each new customer, making jokes, giving detailed answers to my questions, and making sure everyone was satisfied.

            The Amok came in a little bundle of banana leaf, held together with a pin of banana leaf spine as seen in the first photo. Opening it revealed a custardy concoction with a green coating on the outside from contact with the banana leaf (photo 2). There were chunks of fish throughout the mousse as seen in the last photo. (My apologies for the poor photo quality.)

            Although I'm not the sharpest pencil in the box when it comes to deconstructing a dish to suss out its spices and other ingredients, the flavors of coconut and of citrus suggestive of kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass came through clearly. My host was happy to list the ingredients he recalled— coconut, curry, lemongrass, lime leaves, and paprika. He mentioned that preparation is a two day process and it's steamed for an hour to an hour and a half.

            As I believe is typical of Cambodian food, the Chez Sovan Amok isn't as spicy or intensely flavored as some of its SE Asian counterparts, but there was plenty of flavor to satisfy me. Next time I'll try a more aggressively flavored version like Pepes Ikan or Mok Pa.

            5 Replies
            1. re: charliemyboy

              Nice post, that looks really good. Did you eat anything else while you were there?

              1. re: Dave MP

                No, I stopped by after a South Bay morning appointment and it was too soon after breakfast to want to eat much. If I had seen prahok on the menu I would have gone for it though--the prahok at Angkor Borei is really good.

              2. re: charliemyboy

                Love your post! I wonder if one can find Singaporean otak-otak in the Bay Area. It will look *exactly* like the banana leaf-wrapped amok in your pics.

              3. Angkor-Borei's ahmohk is very good.

                1. OK, you guys & gals who voted for this dish, it's time to actually eat some and file a report!

                  To encourage more participation I've compiled the following list of sources from Internet, Chowhound and yelp searches. No guarantee of accuracy though so call ahead if you need to be sure. As you can see it's available pretty much everywhere. Please post any corrections or additions you know of.

                  * an asterisk means I've had the dish at the restaurant and I really liked it.

                  San Francisco & Peninsula—

                  *Angkor Borei
                  3471 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
                  AHMOHK a mild curry fish mousse served in a banana leaf basket. $ 10.95

                  1100 Burlingame Ave, Burlingame. CA
                  Banana Leaf Salmon 20 (GF) (Dinner Menu)
                  “Ikan Pangang” Salmon in Banana Leaf, Sesame, Cilantro, Mango Salsa, Lemongrass Chili Sambal

                  910 Woodside Road
                  Redwood City, CA 94061
                  79 - Hor Mok - House Specialty
                  Steamed with cabbage, fresh basil leaves, egg, coconut milk and red curry.
                  Rock Cod or Shrimp $12.95, Seafood $14.95

                  Karakade Thai Cuisine
                  593 G Woodside Rd, Redwood City, CA
                  46. GRILLED SALMON 15.95
                  Filet of salmon, wrapped in banana leaves, grilled and served with a spicy garlic lemon sauce.

                  Shiok Singapore Kitchen
                  1137 Chestnut St, Menlo Park, CA 94025
                  Seabass Steamed in Banana Leaf $23.99
                  Seabass fillet, ginger, shiitake mushroom, tomato, and red pepper steamed in Shiok! sauce.

                  South Bay—

                  *Bay Leaf Restaurant
                  122 S Sunnyvale Ave, Sunnyvale, CA 94086
                  PEPES IKAN < BALINESE BANANA FISH> $ 11.95

                  2155 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95050
                  79 - Hor Mok - House Specialty
                  Steamed with cabbage, fresh basil leaves, egg, coconut milk and red curry.
                  Rock Cod or Shrimp $12.95, Seafood $14.95

                  Jasmine Fine Thai Cuisine
                  1211 Franklin Mall, Santa Clara, CA 9505
                  Hor Mok Pla

                  Layang Layang
                  1480 S De Anza Blvd, San Jose, CA
                  Ikan Bakar -
                  Grilled Striped Bass coated in spicy lemongrass sauce and wrap in a banana leaf.

                  Chez Sovan
                  *923 Oakland Rd, San Jose, CA 95112
                  2425 S Bascom Ave, Campbell, CA 95008

                  Thai Town
                  542 Barber Ln, Milpitas, CA 95035
                  Ar Mok Pla 9.50
                  Stream fresh fish wrapped with banana leaf in red curry sauce

                  East Bay—

                  That Luang Kitchen
                  1614 23rd St., San Pablo, CA
                  Mok Pla

                  Dara Thai & Lao Cuisine
                  1549 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA
                  Hal Mok Pla – $15.95
                  Steamed red snapper cooked with herbs and spices served in a roasted young coconut shell.

                  *Jayakarta Restaurant
                  2026 University Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704
                  PEPES IKAN - $14.95

                  Battambang Cambodian Restaurant
                  850 Broadway St., Oakland, CA
                  Amok is mentioned in some Chowhound posts and on yelp but none are recent and the only online menu I could find (third party) didn't list it.

                  Phnom Penh House
                  251 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607
                  HAMOK TREI : Sliced fish cooked w / coconut juice, spices of lemongrass, wrapped & steamed.

                  Souk Savanh Restaurant
                  1927 International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94606
                  Mok Pa

                  *Vientian Cafe
                  3801 Allendale Ave, Oakland, CA
                  Mok Pa (on the separate Lao menu)

                  Angkor Grill
                  1319 Park St, Alameda, CA 94501
                  CAMBODIAN STYLED STEAMED FISH (Hamok Trei) 10.95
                  Sliced catfish wrapped and steamed with coconut juice and lemongrass spices

                  Green Champa Garden
                  42318 Fremont Blvd, Fremont, CA 94538
                  Catfish wrapped in banana leaf

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: charliemyboy

                    A few more candidates in San Francisco -

                    Marnee Thai, 9th or Irving locations offer hor mok on the weekends only.

                    Thai Time, 8th ave

                    Chili Lime Garlic Thai Cafe, 518 Bryant St

                    Basil Canteen, 1489 Folsom St
                    pla pao - roasted wild caught fish in banana leaf served with chili-garlic lime sauce

                    Gajalee, 525 Valencia
                    Meen Pollichathu - Fish $13.00
                    Fish marinated in home made spices and slow cooked in plantain leaf.

                    Then a couple that I've tried and liked very much,

                    Chabaa, 2123 Irving St
                    Hor Mok Talay (Steamed seafood curry custard with spicy Thai herbal sauce
                    Grilled fresh salmon in banana leaf

                    Wat Buddhapradeep, 310 Poplar Ave San Bruno, CA 94066

                    1. re: charliemyboy

                      Bay Leaf Bay Leaf Restaurant
                      122 S Sunnyvale Ave, Sunnyvale, CA 94086

                      also has this in their appetizer menu:

                      10. OTAK OTAK PANGGANG <BANANA LEAF FISH CAKE> (4 PIECES) ........ $ 5.95
                      Grilled fish cake wrapped in banana leaf serve with peanut sauce.