Utak Utak

Dive into the world of Tausug cuisine with this spiced fish cake! A flavourful fusion of tradition and taste that’s a must-try. #TausugDelights. Savor the unique taste of Utak Utak, a delicacy from the Philippine South made with spiced fish and grated coconut. A harmonious blend of flavours and culture!

Tausug cuisine, known for its captivating range of flavours, unveils a unique treasure – Utak Utak. This spiced fish cake is a fascinating amalgamation of shredded fish meat, aromatic spices, and grated coconut. The ingredients are artfully shaped, sometimes wrapped in banana leaves, before being coated with a delicate flour-egg-water mixture and fried to perfection.

Utak Utak finds its prime spot-on restaurant menus and special gatherings (Pagparkala), making it a cherished culinary delight for occasions.

Drawing inspiration from the Malay and Indonesian delicacy, Otak-Otak, Utak Utak stands as a delectable variation. The Otak-Otak, traditionally a mixture of ground fish, tapioca starch, and spices wrapped in banana leaves, holds its roots in the Palembang cuisine of South Sumatra.

The dish’s name, Otak-Otak, emerged from the notion that the Palembangese version resembled brain matter due to its soft, whitish-grey texture. The influence of this dish, with regional variations, spread across Indonesia and Southeast Asian countries. Singapore and southern Malaysia offer a reddish-orange or brown hue to its contents through the use of chili, turmeric, and spices.

Utak Utak’s journey traverses various regions. The town of Muar, Johor, in Peninsular Malaysia, boasts a renowned version of this dish. Tourists flock there to savour its unique taste.

In the Philippines, this dish took its own turn, evolving into Utak Utak. It mirrors the original concept of Otak-Otak but distinguishes itself with specific ingredients and preparation methods.

My own journey with Utak Utak is a tale of surprises. Having tried Otak-Otak by accident in Malaysia, I encountered a completely different texture and flavour profile. Initially hesitant due to its fishy notes, I realized it was a distinct culinary experience.

Recently, I revisited this dish under its Tausug iteration. Utak Utak, with its crispy outer layer and tender inside, delivered a delightful contrast of textures. The fried preparation was a game-changer, turning it into something reminiscent of a croquette, infusing a newfound love for the dish.

Utak Utak is more than a dish; it’s a journey through history, flavours, and personal discovery. This Tausug delicacy continues to display the exquisite artistry of regional cuisines, transforming simple ingredients into delightful symphonies of taste.

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Utak Utak

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  • Author: Raymund
  • Prep Time: 20 mins
  • Cook Time: 20 mins
  • Total Time: 40 mins
  • Yield: 10 1x
  • Category: Side Dish
  • Cuisine: Filipino


Savor the unique taste of Utak Utak, a delicacy from the Philippine South made with spiced fish and grated coconut. A harmonious blend of flavours and culture!



Units Scale

Fish Cake

  • 600 g tuna, cut into substantial chunks
  • 1/2 cup grated coconut
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, minced
  • 1 three-inch turmeric, minced
  • salt, to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper


  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp water


  1. Begin by steaming the tuna until it’s tender and fully cooked, approximately 15 minutes. Allow it to cool, then use a fork to shred it and remove the bones. Set this aside for later use.
  2. In a large mortar, combine chopped onions, minced garlic, ginger, and turmeric. Use a pestle to pound these ingredients together.
  3. Add the flaked fish and grated coconut to the mortar. Continue pounding until a smooth, pasty consistency is achieved. Set this flavourful mixture aside.
  4. Now, in a separate bowl, bring together all the components for the coating. Stir well until you achieve a smooth, lump-free mixture.
  5. Take about 1/4 cup of the fish mixture and shape it into a patty. Dip the patty into the batter mixture to coat it thoroughly.
  6. Carefully place the coated patty into a 180C prepared deep fryer, fry until the patty turns a beautiful golden brown.
  7. Repeat this process with the remaining mixture. Serve


You can substitute fresh tuna with canned tuna or canned mackerel.


12 Responses

  1. suituapui says:

    Hey! We have that here! I love it…a lot! We call it otak-otak but we steam it or cook it wrapped in leaves over some hot charcoal fire. We do not deep fry ours.

  2. Such a cute name for fish cakes. They look delicious!

  3. These look delicious, and the ingredients (coconut) are so different from any fish cake here. And I love that they call for tuna, as it is regularly available here.

  4. How interesting! I love fish and fish cakes, but I never would have imagined pairing fish with coconut (especially tuna). I bet the texture as well as the flavour is very nice. I’d definitely give it a try 🙂

  5. A very interesting recipe. I love that it’s made with fresh tuna!

  6. Neil says:

    Oh delicious! I love fish cakes. I would definitely love to serve these with some sweet chilli sauce as a dip.

  7. Coconut is an ingredient that would certainly add a unique flavor to these tasty sounding fish cakes.

  8. Ron says:

    Raymond, I’d order this just because I love the name. Utak Utak, is a new dish to me and you did a grand job of giving me an understanding of the dish. It’s also very doable here, although I might go with another fish as tuna is super expensive here. What do you think about using cod?

  9. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything quite like this, but then again I’ve never met a fried food I didn’t like!

  10. Michelle says:

    I definitely first thought of otak-otak when I first saw the name — love how you used tuna, which is readily available for the home cook!

  11. Vexijo says:

    These fish cakes are a delectable treat! Steamed tuna mixed with aromatic spices, coconut, and a crispy coating, they’re an explosion of flavor and texture. Whether using fresh or canned tuna, this recipe is a winner that will surely satisfy your cravings for a delicious snack or meal.

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