In a nasi lemak, between two buns, or on its own, otah is always a delight. Here is where to get the best otah in Singapore.
Otah is a grilled fish cake of Southeast Asian origin. Spanish mackerel is commonly used, which is pounded into a paste and flavoured with coconut milk and spices such as lemongrass, turmeric, and chilli. It is wrapped either in banana or nipa pam (attap) leaves, secured with toothpicks, and traditionally cooked over charcoal. It is then eaten with dishes such as nasi lemak, placed in a sandwich, or alone.
While the name otah is common in Singapore, it is a subversion of the original descriptor of otak-otak, or Bahasa for “that which looks like brains.” Other variations here include otar or otak. Whatever it is called, a good otah should be smooth and luscious.
Today, small hawker stalls in Singapore specialise in otah, which is why Tan Beng at Old Airport Road Food Centre is a gem. Other purveyors have since turned otah-making into an industrial process while keeping its enticing traits, such as Hiang Soon at Jalan Kayu and Hougang Otah. Check them out below.
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Where to get the best otah in Singapore:
(Hero and feature images credits: Tan Beng Otah Delights / Facebook)
This story first appeared in Lifestyle Asia Singapore
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With a signboard that has never seen an LED light and a handwritten menu, Hiang Soon is resolutely old-school. The otah specialist has been at Jalan Kayu for over 30 years grilling spicy and non-spicy versions made from fresh fish paste daily, wrapped in either banana or nipa palm leaves. While the otah is cooked over a gas-fired grill, it has a fantastic juicy interior.
(Image credit: @e._.laine / Instagram)
Hougang Otah started life in 1995 when Yeo Loo Hock and Ng Chew Hong started selling otah near Old Airport Road. It eventually grew into a wholesale and distribution business that still adheres to the couple’s original recipe. Besides the classic fish version, they now also have prawn and squid, as well as one of Singapore’s best otah buns, which features cheesy scallop otah. Order online or in-store at their locations in Bedok North and Old Airport Road.
(Image credit: Hougang Otah / Facebook)
Like the name suggests, Lee Wee & Brothers is a family affair. The business was started in 2000 by three siblings who prepare otah according to their mother’s recipe, as well as Peranakan renditions of curry chicken and nasi lemak. Otah flavours like petai and anchovy, and crab can be found at their physical locations, while the online store sells more modern creations like otah fries and otah croquette.
(Image credit: Lee Wee & Brothers / Facebook)
Namsam claims to be the inventor of the banana leaf-wrapped otah. The business started on Joo Chiat Road in 1999 before growing into an otah supplier with stores in Choa Chu Kang, Jurong West, and Bedok North. Varieties here include prawn, squid, fish head, and fish roe, as well as a Thai-style fish otah.
(Image credit: Tay Lawrence / Facebook)
Sean Soh was a civil engineer before he went back to his roots and opened Otah Boy. The business is an extension of his family business in Malaysia, which has been operating for the past 40 years selling Soh’s grandmother’s Nyonya Muar otah. The signature has fat chunks of fish in it or you can go for the alternative with succulent whole prawns. Better yet, buy yourself a box of his otah buns, which can be steamed fresh whenever you’re craving a snack.
(Image credit: Otah Boy / Facebook)
Located at Old Airport Road Food Centre, Tan Beng is run by an endearing husband and wife team who have been selling otah from a hawker stall for over 30 years. She’s in charge of filling the banana and attap leaves with fresh fish paste, while his task is to flip them on the charcoal grill until they take on a burnished char. Their otah has a wonderfully smoky flavour paired with a moist centre.
(Image credit: @leesgboyz / Instagram)