Mekong fish and banana leaves

Mekong fish in banana leavesSteaming Mekong fish in banana leaves

Since we have spent so much time investigating the importance of Mekong fish to the diet of the Lao people (see Fish on a rope, Fish-kabob) staff visiting FISHBIO’s Lao office decided it was about time we learned how to cook up Mekong fish, Lao style. Mok pa, or steamed fish in banana leaves, is a common dish in Lao PDR. The word “pa” means fish, but any meat can be cooked in this way. Under the expert guidance of Nook, a chef from Lao Experiences, we learned to first use a mortar and pestle to grind a bit of Lao sticky rice into a paste, which would be used to thicken the sauce. Then, several fresh herbs, including dill, kaffir lime leaves, and holy basil, were combined with shallots and green onions and pounded into the rice mixture. Last, fresh fish filets and a splash of padek (an intensely pungent fermented fish condiment, which is a staple in Laos) were combined with the mixture. Nook demonstrated how to artfully fold the fish into a banana leaf so that none of the yummy ingredients could escape. We steamed the banana leaf packets in a traditional Lao basket over a charcoal stove. The results were delicious—and revealed why the extraordinary combination of fresh fish and herbs is so popular in Laos.