• Spiced tuna and sticky rice in banana leaf (China Squirrel)Source: China Squirrel

This is a fishy version of lemper ayam, a popular street food in Indonesia made using shredded, cooked chicken, which you can use in this recipe instead of the tuna.






Skill level

Average: 3.8 (10 votes)

The tomato side dish is a salady spin on sambal colo colo, a traditional tomato-based garnish for grilled fish from Maluku, and it makes an excellent, though not essential, accompaniment. Candlenuts, fresh galangal, makrut lime leaves and banana leaves can all be found at Thai or Vietnamese food stores.


  • 400 g (2 cups) white sticky (glutinous) rice, soaked overnight
  • 180 ml (¾ cup) coconut milk
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 large red shallots (about 90 g), coarsely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 4 candlenuts, chopped
  • 2 birds eye chilli, chopped
  • 1 lemongrass stem, white part only, chopped
  • 1½ tbsp chopped galangal
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tbsp peanut oil
  • 3 makrut lime leaves
  • 1 x 425 g can tuna in water, drained and coarsely flaked
  • 4 banana leaves
  • lime wedges, to serve


Tomato salad

  • 400 g mixed cherry tomatoes
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 2½ tbsp kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), or to taste
  • 2 tbsp lime juice, or to taste
  • small handful Thai basil leaves 

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Soaking time: overnight or 8 hours

Drain the rice well then transfer to a steamer lined with muslin or a clean tea towel, spreading the rice evenly. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, then cook over boiling water for 20 minutes or until tender. Transfer the rice to a bowl, add 125 ml (½ cup) coconut milk and use a large metal spoon to break the rice up and distribute the coconut milk evenly. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set aside.

Heat a small, heavy-based frying pan over medium-low. Add the coriander and cumin seeds and cook, shaking the pan often, for about 2 minutes or until the seeds are fragrant. Remove from the pan, cool, then grind to a coarse powder in an electric spice grinder or pound in a mortar using a pestle. Combine the spices in a small food processor with the shallots, garlic, candlenuts, chilli, galangal, turmeric and half the oil. Remove the thick veins from the makrut lime leaves and finely chop the leaves. Add to the processor then process the mixture until a coarse paste forms, adding 2-3 teaspoons of water, as necessary, to loosen the mixture.

Heat the remaining oil in a saucepan over medium, add the paste and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add the remaining coconut milk and the tuna. Cook for 2–3 minutes, stirring, until the tuna is broken up and the mixture has dried out a little. Remove from the heat and cool.

Wipe the banana leaves with a clean damp cloth, then trim the edges using kitchen scissors or a sharp knife. Cut eight 24 cm x 17 cm pieces from the leaves (note you won’t need all the leaves but the extra is to allow for tearing, etc). Holding each piece by a corner and using a pair of metal tongs, pass each piece briefly over a gas flame to soften all over. (If you don’t have gas, you can briefly blanch each piece in boiling water, to soften.)

Divide the rice mixture into 8 even-sized portions. Lightly oil your hands. Working with one portion and one piece of leaf at a time, and placing the banana leaf glossy side down on a work surface, press about two-thirds of a rice portion lengthwise in the centre of the leaf, to cover an area about 8 cm x 12 cm. Divide the filling into 8 even-sized portions. Place one portion of filling evenly on the top of the rice, piling it slightly and running it down the length of the rice. Take the remaining third of a portion of rice and use your hands to press it into a thin layer that will roughly cover the filling. Place it over the filling; don’t worry if it doesn't completely cover the filling. Fold the ends of the banana leaf over the rice mixture to cover the ends, then roll the banana leaf up over the filling to form a neat parcel. Using kitchen string, tie the parcel at 2 cm intervals to secure. Repeat with the remaining banana leaves, rice mixture and filling.

Place the parcels into a steamer, cover with a tight-fitting lid, then cook over boiling water for 20 minutes or until heated through. While the parcels are steaming, make the tomato salad. Cut large tomatoes into halves or quarters and cut any roma cherry tomatoes into thick slices. Cut the onion into petals. Combine in a bowl with the remaining ingredients and toss to combine well.

To serve, cut the strings from the parcels, then remove the banana leaves. Serve the rice parcels with lime wedges and tomato salad on the side.


Photography, styling and food preparation by china squirrel.


This recipe is part of our 10 ways with sticky rice column. View previous 10 ways with… columns and recipes.


When she doesn’t have her head in the pantry cupboard, Leanne Kitchen finds time to photograph food and write cookbooks. You can view her work on her website.


Luke Nguyen's Street Food Asia airs Thursdays at 8.30pm on SBS. Visit the program page for recipes, videos and more, or watch full episodes here.