I am excited for dinner. My grub partner and I are grilling pompano fish wrapped in banana leaf. This dish brings back good memories. The first time I had this dish was when my grub partner and I went camping together. We prepared the fish the night before we went camping. To keep the fish fresh, we stored them in a Tupperware container filled with ice and frozen sponges. Oh yeah. Let me tell you. We ate good at the campsite. Really good. This dish also takes me back to how my late grandmother (my lola) prepared food in the Philippines. She used banana leaves to wrap food for cooking and serving. My lola also used them for steaming, grilling, and baking. Banana leaves are great for cooking because they also add aroma and flavor to the food.
Banana leaves are very easy to get in the Philippines. It is common to grow banana trees in the yard. Since banana trees are not common in Los Angeles County, I usually go to Asian markets for a frozen bag of banana leaves, or to Mexican markets for a fresh bundle of banana leaves.
Now let’s get started on the fish. My favorite fish to grill is the pompano fish. If you don’t like pompano fish, substitute it with your favorite fish, whole or fillet. Knowing my love for seafood, I am super excited for tonight’s dinner and eating with my hands. Yup! No spoon or fork. Filipinos traditionally eat food with their hands, and this has been passed on for generations. Why do Filipinos use their hands to eat? Because it makes food taste better!
Grilled Banana Leaf Wrapped Fish
2 whole fresh Pompano fish, cleaned
2 bunches of green onions
1 whole lemon, sliced
1 small sized ginger, thinly sliced
salt and pepper
Banana leaves, thawed if frozen
Freshness of the fish is very important. My lola told me that you can check the freshness of the fish through the color of its eyes. If the eyes are red, the fish is not fresh. My lola also taught me how to clean fish but luckily, the Asian market offers a free fish cleaning service. The market cleans the fish inside and out. They will also remove the fish’s head and tail per customer’s request.
Now it’s time to prepare the banana leaf for wrapping. Start by cleaning the banana leaf using a wet paper towel to wipe off white residues. Cut the leaf to about three times the size of your fish. Be careful not to split the leaves. Remember that the fish has to be completely wrapped in banana leaves.
Preheat the grill. Lay the banana leaf on a flat surface. Place the fish in the middle of the leaf. Season both sides of the fish with salt and pepper. Insert slices of lemon and ginger, and a bunch of green onion inside the opening (on the side) of the fish. Lay a few more lemon slices and ginger on top of the fish. You may also use other fresh herbs such as thyme and rosemary.
To wrap the fish, fold 2 sides of banana leaf over the fish to enclose it. Fold in the opposite sides to form a packet. To secure, tie the packet on both ends with strips of banana leaf. You will need about three strips of banana leaves tied together to form one long strip long to secure the banana leaf packet. You will need a total of 4 long strips to secure two fish wrapped in banana leaf. Place the two banana leaf packet on the grill and cook for 15 minutes on each side.
The fish is served with steamed white rice and spicy soy ginger sauce. The spicy soy ginger sauce is a mixture of rice vinegar, soy sauce, pepper, chopped ginger, chopped onions, chopped garlic, and thin slices of Thai chili peppers.
Unwrapping the banana leaf gave me an almost orgasmic culinary experience. The steam and aroma escaping out of the banana leaf makes my mouth salivate. I can barely wait to try the fish. Burning my fingers and tongue did not stop me from devouring the hot and steamy fish. There is a ménage à trois of flavors in my mouth from the spicy soy ginger sauce, the fish, and steamed rice. I kept wanting for more. Yes. It’s that good!