Bring the exotic flavours of Laos to your table with this zesty Lao Steamed Fish (Mok Pa). Wrapped in a banana leaf and infused with essential Lao ingredients, this scrumptious steamed fish looks amazing and is sure to be a hit with friends and family.
So… We’d fully intended to have this post up yesterday, but a home cooked feast and generous pourings of rice wine from our new hosts in the mountainous city of Da Lat, Vietnam, made for an amusing change to our plans.
Honestly, how could we refuse those steaming bowls of Vietnamese chicken, noodles and grilled pork, washed down with tiny glasses of rice wine and enthusiastic calls of ‘Mot Hai Ba Yoooo!‘, Vietnam’s beloved phrase for ‘Cheers!’.
Speaking of Vietnamese Cuisine, check out our free ebook Vietnam. Discover. Cook. Eat. Packed with tasty Vietnamese favourites and exclusive ebook only recipes. Subscribe for your copy plus more great recipes and stories.
Travelling is a whirlwind of adventure and chaos, but no matter where you go, it’s incredible how people are so willing to welcome you into their world.
Just like when we learned this recipe for Mok Pa, aka Lao Steamed Fish, with our new friend Vanpeng in Laos’ capital city of Vientiane.
Within minutes of arriving at her home we were talking and laughing just like old friends catching up for a family meal.
Lao Steamed Fish (Mok Pa)Bursting fresh from the banana leaf, this flavour infused fish is melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Click To Tweet
Padaek is a very strong smelling fermented fish paste that, on first impression, might singe a few nose hairs. But Lao cuisine wouldn’t be the same without it. Padaek provides that unique umami flavour (similar to miso paste in Japanese cuisine).
Thankfully once it’s cooked you can hardly taste the ‘fishiness’ at all.
If you aren’t able to find padaek at your local Asian grocery, you can substitute with regular fish sauce or anchovy paste.
With all those zingy Lao flavours added to our fish, all that remained was to wrap it up in the banana leaves. We set out two layers of banana leaf, with the outer layer placed ‘horizontally’ (according to the leaf grain) and the inner placed ‘vertically’.
This not only looks good but helps to lock in all those delicious flavours.
To fold up the parcels, pull together the top and bottom of the leaves, then fold in the sides, add a long strip on the outside and pin together in a triangular shape as you can see in our simple step-by-step guide below.
Don’t worry if you can’t find banana leaves though, you can easily substitute with cooking paper or aluminium foil.
Mok Pa is traditionally made with fresh-water fish fillets from the Mekong River in the land-locked country of Laos, but we think any white-fleshed fish fillets will work just fine. We might even try this with some freshly caught King George Whiting when we get back home.
It’s also perfect for people who don’t like strong tasting fish. Bathed in all those amazing Lao flavours, what you get is a creamy dish in both flavour and texture.
Our parcels of deliciousness were packed into a steamer to cook for about thirty minutes. Vanpeng told us to watch out for when the bright green banana leaf parcels softened and changed to a dark brown colour. Once that happened they were perfectly cooked and ready to eat.
One taste of that Lao Steamed Fish and we were in heaven. It’s something about that mix of flavour, that zingy lemongrass, chilli and onion freshened up with hits of fresh dill and kaffir lime leaf. The texture was great as well with the addition of the sticky rice powder, blending and binding the fish with all those incredible flavours. So good.
Vanpeng showed us the proper way to eat like a true Lao by tearing off a little ball of sticky rice and using it to scoop up some of the steamed fish. Sticky rice is probably the most important food in Laos. Not only do they eat it with almost everything, but they use it as their ‘cutlery’ as well!
And if you need more Lao food love be sure to grab your frypan and whip up this Simple Lao Omelette.
- 200 g white fish diced
- 5 cm lemongrass sliced and chopped
- 2 kaffir lime leaves finely sliced
- 2-3 cloves garlic chopped
- 2 small Thai onions or shallots chopped
- 1 cm fresh galangal chopped
- 1 birds eye chilli
- 1 tsp sticky rice powder or glutinous rice flour
- 1 tbsp padaek Lao fish sauce (substitutes: normal fish sauce or anchovy paste)
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup dill chopped
- 1-2 spring onions chopped
- Handful Thai basil leaves
- 8 sheets banana leaf or baking paper
- Place the chopped lemongrass, lime leaf, garlic, onions, galangal, and chilli in a mortar and pestle and crush into a smooth paste.
- Meanwhile, place fish into a mixing bowl. Add the herb paste, sticky rice powder, padaek (or fish sauce) and egg. Mix well.
- Add the dill, spring onion and basil. Continue to mix until well combined.
- Lay out two square pieces of banana leaf per fish parcel (outer sheet horizontal, inner vertical).
- Place a ladle full of fish in the centre of the banana leaf wrapper. Fold up into a parcel and pin with toothpicks. Place into a steamer.
- Cover and steam for 30 mins.
- Serve with steamed sticky rice.