Some classics you just don’t muck about with. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey does not need a remake. New Order’s Blue Monday doesn’t need another remix. We might even say that Maggi Seasoning is perfect as it is.
Peranakan food, however, could use a modern intervention and reinvention. Lee Wee & Brothers, known for its homemade otah at its Old Airport Road stall, is putting a modern spin on traditional otah at its spin-off, O’tah.
“We want to put the spotlight on the otah because of its unassuming nature as a side dish, and make it more accessible to the international market. After all, we’re located inside an airport,” says Darren Lee – one of the second-generation owners of Lee Wee & Brothers.
First, they’ve updated their mother’s otah recipe by adding epicurean fillings like scallops, anchovies, pink salmon and even corn to the chewy Spanish mackerel (the fish of choice for old-school otah) to vary the textures and flavours of the fishy paste.
Then, they’ve cooked and presented it in next-level ways. Their signature special, O’tah Fries, a mix of regular shoestring fries and hand-cut chunks of mackerel otah, is an example. With its melange of spices and yielding, meaty bits, it is the otah equivalent of truffle fries on steroids.
The only thing O’tah hasn’t changed too much is the rempah, the spice base of the otah.
“My brothers and I are still heavily involved in the blending and frying of the rempah,” says Lee. “As some ingredients such as chilli and garlic vary in flavour from time to time, all the otah is still handmade in order to make the necessary adjustments to the proportions to achieve a consistent flavour and quality.”
We are happy to see that the otah is going first class, from Old Airport Road to the new airport hub.
This story was first published on Her World's June 2019 issue.