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08 December 2013

Grilled Fish Wrapped With Banana Leaves

When I was young, I remember  growing up  watching the adults  prepare the milkfish before grilling them. First, they are stuffed with onions and tomatoes then wrapped with banana leaves tightly before they are sent out to the barbecue grill. I never really asked about the necessity of having the banana leaves around them. I just thought that it was the only way to grill fish. 

As the years passed, when access to banana trees became difficult, the leaves were then replaced with aluminum foil. I still preferred the banana leaves because of the scent that they were emitting. In our first house, where I spent my childhood years, I remember being surrounded by banana trees that just grew beside our fence. No one planted them and they were right next to our fence so it was just natural that we claimed "ownership" to them. 

Aside from the leaves, I remember the adults cutting away the banana hearts or inflorescence when they are ready to be cooked. The banana blossoms that become the fruit later on, are tucked inside layers of bracts and these bracts fall off one by one as the flowers become bigger and turn to fruit. For that I never saw those trees make any fruit. They were taken away as soon as they arrive to the right size. Here is a typical recipe I made on how you can cook the banana hearts with coconut milk. It's one of my favorite dishes!

When I moved to Italy, one of the first things I did was look for seeds of the fruit trees I grew up with that hold culinary uses. I found them over the internet, tried my luck in planting from seed and after years of patience, I am now a proud owner of a banana plant raised from seed. It never made any hearts and it never grew large leaves but I am already happy that I have one at home to use for wrapping the food with.

The banana leaves trap the moisture in the fish while it's cooking, thus it leaves the fish soft, moist and lightly fragrant with banana, onions & tomatoes. Since everything is eaten with white rice in the Philippines, this one is not an exception. It goes very well with a dipping sauce of soy sauce and calamansi (a kind of small citrus fruit).

Grilled Fish Wrapped With Banana Leaves


Serves 2

  • 1 (500 g.) fish, gutted (The fish used in the Philippines is milkfish while in Italy, I love using branzino because its meat goes perfectly well with this grilling.)
  • 2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 - 2 fresh banana leaf (depending on the size), rinsed well and dried
  • 1/8 cup soy sauce
  • 1 – 2 calamansi 

  1. Stuff the cavities of the fish with the tomatoes & onions.
  2. Slice away the ribs of the banana leaves and discard them.
  3. Wrap the fish with the banana leaves. Secure the leaves with kitchen strings.
  4. Grill the fish on a grill with coals (the best way) or on a griddle (medium fire) for about 1/2 hour. Cooking time always depends on the size of the fish.
  5. While waiting for the fish to cook, prepare the sauce. In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce and the juice of the calamansi. Adjust the amount to your preference.
  6. Serve the fish while still hot with steamed white rice and the sauce.