If you love fish (and maybe even if you don’t), you’ll love this recipe:

What could be better than fillets of fish, coated in spices and herbs, wrapped into a banana leaf package, and grilled over hot charcoal?

In this Thai recipe, I’m going to learn (yes, this was my first time to make it), and share with you, how to make a marvelous northern Thai dish called aeb (แอ๊บ).

You can make it with catfish or tilapia, or even if you don’t prefer fish, you can substitute pork or chicken, and I’ve even had it a number of times in northern Thailand made with brains (sorry we won’t be making that today!).

This is an awesome dish, and I’m extremely excited to share this Thai fish recipe with you.

market in Chiang Rai
Evening market in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Let me start with a quick story:

On my first trip to Chiang Rai, the evening I arrived I was exploring the market, and a little grilled leaf package caught my eye, sitting on the grill.

I moved over to the stall at the market.

“It’s called aeb (แอ๊บ),” she informed me in Thai, when I asked what it was.

And she had a number of different versions, some filled with catfish, a few filled with minced pork, and the one I decided to order, filled with boneless fillets of tilapia fish.

Chiang Rai, Thailand
A variety of grilled banana leaf packages in Chiang Rai

I ordered a couple filled with tilapia (tilapia is very commonly eaten in non-seaside locations in Thailand).

The fish, mixed with ground Thai herbs and spices, was wrapped in a couple layers of banana leaves, folded into a packet, and grilled on the side of the road at the market.

I immediate opened the packet, and an eruption of spice, aromatic herb, and steam filled my nostrils.

I’ll never forget my first moment eating aeb (แอ๊บ), it was sensationally delicious – I loved how the fish was moist and oily, yet is still had the smoky flavor of being grilled.

It was yet another food in Thailand that blew me away with both its flavor, use of ingredients, and method of cooking.

You’ll also find them pre-grilled at markets in northern Thailand

But here’s the problem…

While different versions of things cooked in banana leaves are available throughout Thailand, aeb (แอ๊บ) is extremely hard to find in Bangkok. So every time I’m in northern Thailand, usually the first thing I eat when I arrive, is aeb (แอ๊บ).

But instead of waiting to go to northern Thailand every time I want to eat aeb (แอ๊บ), I decided to make a recipe for it.

I cooked this recipe at my house in Bangkok, but at an Asian supermarket in the US, I’ve seen all the ingredients available – including the banana leaves.

Aeb (แอ๊บ) is not only a delicious mixture of ingredients, but it’s also a pretty healthy dish, and I think grilling things in a packet of banana leaves is awesome too.

This recipe might not be extremely easy to make (it’s not difficult, it just takes some time and planning), but I can guarantee you it’s a lot of fun to make, it tastes delicious, and it’s something unique you can cook.

Note: If you want to go straight to the recipe, scroll down to the recipe box below (you’ll see the video too). But keep reading and following the photos below for a more in-depth journey into aeb (แอ๊บ) and many more details about the process of cooking it.

วิธีทำ แอ๊บปลานิล
Aeb pla nin recipe (วิธีทำ แอ๊บปลานิล)

Ingredients you’ll need

  • Tilapia from 2 medium fish, each about 700 grams. But once boneless, I think it was about 500 – 600 grams of fish (pla nin ปลานิล)
  • Fresh banana leaves for wrapping (substitute foil if you need to ใบตอง) – I’ve often seen banana leaves at Asian supermarkets around the world.
  • Toothpicks or kebab sticks for fastening (fastening stick ไม้กลัด)

To grind into the spice paste:

  • 2 lemongrass stalks (takrai ตะไคร้)
  • 1 head garlic (kratiem กระเทียม)
  • 5 shallots (hom daeng หอมแดง)
  • 10 – 20 dry Thai chilies (prik haeng พริกแห้ง)
  • 3 – 5 fresh Thai bird chilies (prik kee noo พริกขี้หนู)
  • ½ kaffir lime peel (pew makrut ผิวมะกรูด)
  • ½ finger size of turmeric (kamin ขมิ้น)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (kleua เกลือ)

Mix in with fish:

  • 1.5 tsp salt (kleua เกลือ)

To add to each packet:

  • kaffir lime leaves (bai makrut ใบมะกรูด)
  • sweet basil leaves (bai horapa ใบโหระพา)
  • lemon basil leaves (bai mengrak ใบแมงลัก)
Tilapia recipes
Tilapia fish grilled in banana leaves

Again, I wanted to mention that I’ll be using fresh tilapia fish for this Thai recipe, the same fish you can also use to make salt crusted Thai fish as well.

I used whole fish – mostly because that’s the way they come in Thailand – but you could alternatively use a different type of fish, or pre-filleted fish as well.

Or you could go a completely different route and make it with minced pork or even chicken.

I had to fillet the fish myself, which was a bit of an adventure (as you’ll see in the video), but it did work out alright. I could for sure use some practice filleting fish.

Do you have any tips?

Once you have the boneless fillets of fish, cut them into pieces, about the size of 3 – 4 bites or so, about 1/2 the size of a deck of cards.

วิธีทำ แอ๊บปลานิล
Some of the ingredients for the chili paste

You could either choose to use a food processor or a stone mortar and pestle, but for the best taste, so that you slowly release all the oils from the ingredients, it’s best to use the latter.

Peel the garlic, shallots, and shave the lime peel, then cut all the ingredients into small pieces to make them easier to pound.

Begin with 1/2 tsp of salt in the mortar and first pound the dry Thai chilies. Once they become flakes, add the fresh chilies, and then proceed to pound and grind the res of the ingredients in any order as long as you add everything.

Note: Turmeric is sometimes included in aeb recipes (วิธีทำ แอ๊บปลานิล), and other times it’s not – I’ve seen it both ways. But I’m a huge lover of turmeric, and since it’s so incredibly healthy, I included it in my recipe. That being said, I used an entire finger sized piece in the video, but I think it was a little too strong, so in the written recipe here, I’ve only included 1/2 a finger.

Thai mortar and pestle
Pounding the Thai chili paste with a mortar and pestle

You don’t really need a fine paste, like you would for a Thai curry paste, instead you’re just looking for a coarse pounded mixture of spices and herbs.

This texture only took me about 15 minutes to pound, and like you can see, it’s not buttery at all, but all the ingredients are pretty well minced, and the mixture is even throughout, and a little oily.

Once your paste is like this, you can proceed on to the next step.

Thai recipes
Mix the fish with the chili paste and salt

The next step in this Thai street food recipe is to take a mixing bowl, toss in the pieces of fish, then add the spicy chili paste mixture, and season with salt.

Go in with your hands, and fully mix everything together, making sure each piece of fish is fully coated in the spices.

Note: If you mix with your hands like I did in the video, be sure to wash your hands immediately so the chilies don’t burn.

banana leaf uses
Using banana leaves for cooking

What’s one reason aeb (แอ๊บ) is such a fantastic thing to cook and eat:

The banana leaves.

Around the world, there are many uses for banana leaves, and whenever I travel, anything cooked or served in leaves, is something I’m immediately interested in learning about.

The good news is, banana leaves are used for cooking and serving food frequently throughout Southeast Asian and the Indian subcontinent, and so I have seen green banana leaves available at Asian supermarkets throughout the US.

Before you give up on finding the banana leaves, make sure you check an Asian supermarket if you have access to one.

Note: If you really can’t find banana leaves, you can alternatively wrap your packets in foil.

Thai street food recipes
Prepare the banana leaf packages, then add lemon basil and holy basil to the bottom

Banana leaf wrapping

Let’s quickly go over the anatomy of a banana leaf:

Don’t worry, we’re only going over leaf botany so it’s easier to explain how to wrap these packets.

Like most leaves, a banana leaf has a petiole, the middle stalk of the leaf that holds the leaf blades together. We’ve all ripped apart a leaf, right?

When you buy banana leaves at a supermarket, or even at a fresh market in Thailand, they will often strip the leaf blades off the petiole to make them easier to sell and transport. Also we’ll only be using the blades to make this recipe.

What you want to first do carefully is cut the banana leaves into about 30 – 40 cm (1 foot or a bit more) pieces.

On the side of the banana leaf blade that was attached to the petiole, it has a hard stronger outer edge, whereas on the other edge of the leaf blade, the banana leaf is pretty fragile and can be torn easily.

Keeping the shiny green side down, the white side up, take two banana leaf pieces, place them on top of each other, alternating the hard edge and fragile edge, so there’s one hard edge on either side, and one fragile edge on either side.

Make sure you also wipe down the banana leaf with a wet towel so there’s no dust on it.

Make sense?

It’s really not all that difficult, it’s much harder to explain in words than it is to just do it.

authentic Thai recipes
Then add a few pieces of fish on top

With your banana leaf in place, first add a handful, no need to measure, just a nice big handful, of lemon basil and Thai sweet basil to the base.

Top it with a few pieces of the fish, making sure it’s nice and coated with the spice mixture.

Next, and I actually forgot to add them on my first packet, is to take a kaffir lime leaf, tear it in half, and stick it on top of the fish before you wrap it.

แอ๊บปลานิล
Next, wrap it into a packet

Wrap it into a packet

Throughout northern Thailand, and even throughout other part of the country, banana leaf packets are wrapped in a multitude of different methods, shapes, and sizes.

For aeb (แอ๊บ), it’s usually wrapped in a very easy way, by just grabbing each side, folding them over to meet in the middle, then folding in the other two edges and fastening them together.

Thai cooking
Fasten with a toothpick

Many street food cooks in Thailand actually use toothpicks, or you could use kebab sticks that you shave down to about toothpick size.

Take a toothpick and fasten the banana leaf together, like a sewing stitch, in then out, making sure you poke through both sides of the banana leaf.

แอ๊บปลานิล
I made 6 packets of aeb (แอ๊บปลานิล)

Out of this amount of ingredients, I was able to get 6 packets of aeb pla nin (แอ๊บปลานิล), which should give you a range of about how much of the ingredients I used per packet.

If you think about it, and if you’re grilling with charcoal, you should probably light it before you start wrapping, that way as soon as you’re done wrapping the packets, you can start grilling.

แอ๊บปลานิล
Aeb (แอ๊บปลานิล) – little square packages

Here’s just one more photo I wanted to show, so you can see how aeb (แอ๊บ) is typically wrapped.

Cooking in banana leaves
Once you have a medium heat, start to roast the banana leaf packets

For the grilling, you want about a medium heat. No flames, but pretty hot coals. For a gas grill, I’d say medium high would work best.

แอ๊บปลานิล
Let the banana leaves blister and blacken

Grill the aeb pla nin (แอ๊บปลานิล) packets for a couple of minutes on the first side, and then flip them over. The outer banana leaf should start roasting, and it will probably blister up and begin to blacken.

But don’t worry if the outer banana leaf gets burned, because the inner fish will be protected, and all that smoky roasted flavor will transfer to the fish, without the char.

northern Thai food
Aeb pla nin (แอ๊บปลานิล) on the grill

Keep on roasting and flipping the Thai grilled tilapia fish packages.

I’m not sure exactly how to say when they are finished cooking, but for myself it took about 15 minutes.

I took one off too early, checked it, and it was a little undercooked, so I put it on for a few more minutes – I think about 15 minutes is around the time you should grill them.

aeb pla nin (แอ๊บปลานิล)
Cooked aeb pla nin (แอ๊บปลานิล)

Once you’re done grilling, you’ll have some awesome packages of delight, that should look similar to what you see above.

unique Thai dishes
When you open your packet, get ready for an amazing aroma!

One of the beauties of this northern Thai recipe is that it’s both grilled and kind of baked at the same time.

Get ready for an aroma explosion.

The grilling gives the fish a beautiful smoky flavor, and the packet of banana leaves not only hold in all the juices and oils of the fish, but it also provides a unique herbaceous flavor.

how to eat Thai food
How to eat Thai aeb (แอ๊บปลา)

How to eat aeb (แอ๊บปลา)

The best time to eat aeb pla nin (แอ๊บปลานิล) is just a few minutes after they are finished grilling, so they are piping hot, and still full of the delicious fish oil.

Be careful opening the banana leaf as it will be very hot inside, but what you smell and see will put a smile on your face immediately.

In northern Thailand, aeb pla nin (แอ๊บปลานิล) can either be a snack or a full meal, eaten along with sticky rice.

If you have sticky rice (recipe here), take a bite sized ball with your fingers, place it on top of the fish, and break off a piece.

aeb pla nin (แอ๊บปลานิล)
Eat aeb pla nin (แอ๊บปลานิล) with sticky rice

The fish, herbs, and spices, should flake off easily, and it should be oozing with juices and flavors.

Eat aeb pla nin (แอ๊บปลานิล) along with sticky rice, then repeat, and repeat again.

The fish will be moist and oily, the spices will give your tongue a blast of flavor, and finally you’ll enjoy that extra fresh dimension of taste from the banana leaf embedded into the fish, plus the basil, and finally the zesty flavor of the kaffir lime leaves.

Alternatively, aeb pla nin (แอ๊บปลานิล) also tastes fantastic with a plate of regular steamed rice.

Click below to watch the video now:

(If you can’t see the video, watch it here)

Aeb pla nin recipe (วิธีทำ แอ๊บปลานิล)

Total time: About 1.5 hours – 2 hours
Recipe size: The amount of ingredients I used made 6 individual packets; I ate three immediately.
Cooking utensils: Grill
Flavors: Spicy, herbs, salty
Eat it with: Most of the time in northern Thailand it’s eaten along with sticky rice, but with regular steamed rice it’s excellent too, or even just plain with no rice

5.0 from 2 reviews
How to Make Thai Fish Grilled in Banana Leaves (Aeb)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Aeb pla nin (แอ๊บปลานิล) is a dish that's commonly eaten in northern Thailand, and typically served at street food stalls and local markets. While it can be made with catfish, small river fish, or even minced pork, I love it best with tilapia. The tilapia is mixed with chili paste, wrapped into a banana leaf package, and grilled. Aeb (แอ๊บ) is typically eaten along with Thai sticky rice.
Author:
Recipe type: Grilled fish
Cuisine: Thai food
Serves: 6 packets
Ingredients
  • 500 - 600 grams of boneless filleted tilapia fish (I filleted 2 fish, but you could also buy pre-filleted)
  • Banana leaves for wrapping (substitute foil)
  • Toothpicks for fastening
For the chili paste:
  • 2 lemongrass stalks
  • 1 head garlic
  • 5 Thai shallots
  • 10 - 20 dry Thai chilies
  • 3 - 5 fresh Thai bird eye chilies
  • ½ of the peel of a kaffir lime
  • ½ finger of turmeric (in the video I added a full finger, but it was too much)
  • ½ tsp salt
To mix in with the fish:
  • All the chili paste
  • 1.5 tsp salt
To add to each packet:
Instructions
  1. Begin preparing the chili paste. Peel the garlic and shallots, and slice off the skin of the kaffir lime. Cut all the chili paste ingredients into small pieces, to make them easier to grind in a stone mortar and pestle.
  2. In a stone mortar, first add ½ tsp of salt, then begin pounding the Thai dry chilies until you have chili flakes. Then add the fresh chilies, and keep on pounding. Next add the rest of the ingredients and keep pounding for about 15 minutes. You don't need it to be smooth like a Thai curry paste, but you're just looking for a coarse chunky chili paste. You could alternatively use a food processor or blender.
  3. If you use whole fish, like I did, fillet the fish by slicing the meat off both sides. Then cut the fish into medium sized pieces, about ½ the size of a deck of cards.
  4. In a mixing bowl, add the boneless fish (skin still on is best), add the pounded chili paste, and season with salt. Mix thoroughly so all the fish is coated with chili paste.
For wrapping in banana leaves, if you have some time to watch this video, that would be best - so you can see exactly how to do it.
  1. Tear or cut the banana leaf into 30 - 40 cm (1 foot or a little more) pieces. Prepare about 12 pieces.
  2. Banana leaves have a strong side and a fragile side - keep this in mind. Take two of the banana leaf pieces, with the white dull side up (green shiny side down), and give the leaves a quick wipe with a wet cloth. Place one leaf down, then layer another on top of it, but turn it 180 degrees. So there should be a strong edge on one side, and a fragile edge on one side, but two leaves opposite of each other - one strong and one fragile side together.
  3. Place a handful of fresh lemon basil and Thai sweet basil in the center of the leaf, then top with a couple pieces of fish and chili paste. Then tear a couple of kaffir lime leaves, and add them to the top of the fish.
  4. To wrap it up, fold in one side, then the other side, then pull in the long ends, and fasten them at the top of the packet with a toothpick. It should be square or rectangular package.
  5. On medium heat, grill each packet of aeb pla nin (แอ๊บปลานิล) for about 15 minutes, flipping occasionally. The outside banana leaf wrapper will blister and blacken, but the fish inside will remain protected and absolutely delicious.
Notes
Aeb pla nin (แอ๊บปลานิล) is best if it's eaten right off the grill, so it's fresh and piping hot. In northern Thailand, aeb (แอ๊บ) is usually consumed with sticky rice.
Hope you enjoyed this recipe. Check out the full recipe here and watch the video here.

unique Thai recipes
A juicy banana leaf package of aeb pla nin (แอ๊บปลานิล)

Conclusion

In northern Thailand, common as a street food and at markets, there’s a dish called aeb (แอ๊บ), a packet of fish or meat, mixed with chili paste and herbs, wrapped in a banana leaf package, and grilled over charcoal.

Although you could use a choice of meat or fish to make aeb (แอ๊บ), one of my favorite versions is aeb pla nin (แอ๊บปลานิล), made with tilapia fish.

This style of cooking, grilling in a banana leaf, is not only a lot of fun to do, but it also preserves all the delicious juices and flavors of the fish and spices – it’s like baking and grilling and mingling spices all together in a single package of delight.

Are you going to try making this aeb pla nin recipe (วิธีทำ แอ๊บปลานิล)?

Leave a comment below, and if you liked this recipes, please share it with a friend (by e-mail, twitter, or facebook) – thank you in advance.

And for more Thai authentic recipes, go here.



16 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • U Myint Than

    2 months ago

    Thank You , you prepare and present really painstaking, appreciate from Singapore

  • Brian Mooney

    6 months ago

    I really enjoyed reading your article and watching your video! I’m going to try this dish tonight. The composition of both blog and vlog were exceptional as well as the clarity of your directions on preparation. I can’t wait to see some of your other stuff.

  • Nway

    10 months ago

    Hi Mark,
    I like this fish in banana leaf a lot since I was in my home town and I has been searching for this recipe for a long time. Now I found it because of you. Thank you very much.

    • Mark Wiens

      10 months ago

      Hi Nway, great to hear that, glad you enjoy it too!

  • Miguel

    1 year ago

    I love all kind of Thai Food 😃. 😜 CHEERS. MARK

  • FranDhi

    2 years ago

    Hi Mark,

    thank you for the great recipe. We made it today and still craving for more. Since we could’nt get kaffir lime leaves, we plucked some leaves from my lemon tree and it turned out nice.

    • Mark Wiens

      2 years ago

      Hi Fran, great to hear from you, so glad to hear you made this recipes, and glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for sharing!

  • Rocky

    2 years ago

    It’s basically steaming.

    The French call it “En papillote” and use parchment paper in an oven (with butter, fresh or dried herbs and lemon).

    For your readers abroad who want that Smokey grilled flavor without the hassle of lighting a charcoal grill, may suggest using aluminum foil as the wrapper and all the ingredients plus something called Liquid Smoke and your kitchen oven. Same flavor as banana leaf over a charcoal grill…

    • Mark Wiens

      2 years ago

      Hey Rocky, thank you very much for sharing, it’s a wonderful cooking technique. Yes, I think foil would work well, just wouldn’t have that banana leaf essence.

  • Steve Forbes

    2 years ago

    Hi Mark,

    Another great recipe! I have to compliment you on the photographs used in this (and all other) posts, you use of DOF and camera angle creatively.

    Cheers

    Steve

    • Steve Forbes

      2 years ago

      Take 2

      .. you use DOF and camera angle creatively.

    • Mark Wiens

      2 years ago

      Thank you very much Steve, I really appreciate it.