Home > Pepes Tahu (Steamed Spiced Tofu Cooked in Banana Leave)

Pepes Tahu (Steamed Spiced Tofu Cooked in Banana Leave)

Posting Date: 08/19/18

Pepes Tahu (Steamed Spiced Tofu Cooked in Banana Leave)

Pepes Tahu (Steamed Spiced Tofu Cooked in Banana Leave) originated in West Java. There are many variations of pepes. The most popular ones are Pepes Ikan (Steamed Spiced Fish Cooked in Banana Leave) and Pepes Oncom (Steamed Spiced Fermented Soy Bean Cooked in Banana Leave). Meat can be used, such as chicken, and vegetarian version can be made using oncom or tofu. My mom used to make Pepes Oncom but it is very difficult to find oncom outside Indonesia. So, I have to use tofu. The texture of pepes tahu looks like scrambled egg. It is soft and not dry because it is steamed. Because of the texture similarity to the scrambled egg, people who normally don't like tofu because of its texture have come to like and enjoy it. So, this is one of the tofu recipes that you could try if you have tofu haters in your home. In Indonesia, it is normally served with rice and other dishes.

In Indonesia, the spice ingredients for pepes use shallots, garlic, salt, pepper, and chili peppers. However, you can add other spices your heart desires, such as cumin, coriander, turmeric, etc. In fact, some pepes use turmeric as well. My mom added lemongrass, so every time she made it, it always smelled like lemongrass when we unwrapped the banana leave. If you have never worked with banana leaves before, the leaves are not eaten. They are used to wrap and cook food. It adds nice aroma to the food and makes the food moist. That's why it is sometimes used to grill fish because it keeps it moist and another reason to use it is to prevent the fish from sticking on the grill.

In Indonesia, 2 types of chili peppers are used in the pepes spice paste, Thai chili peppers and red chili peppers. The red chili peppers used are not as hot as the Thai chili peppers. In addition to adding the flavor, red chili pepper provides the red color making the food look more attractive. I cannot find red chili peppers in Asian stores, so I use Sambal Oelek to substitute for both Thai and red chili peppers. Sambal Oelek tastes hot and also provides the red color needed. The brand I use doesn't have garlic in the ingredients and thus, it is perfect for the purpose. You can use red and Thai chili peppers if you can find them in the store. In the recipe, I also use sliced red bell pepper because it adds texture. My mom used sliced tomato which adds texture and slight tartness to it.

Pepes is normally steamed in a steamer. You can eat it directly after steaming it or you can grill it on a griller or broil it in an oven after steaming to char the banana leave and thus, enhancing the banana leave flavor on pepes.

Before I use the tofu, I press it on top of a colander to drain as many liquid as possible. This will make it less watery after steaming and it will also make pepes more flavorful because the spice paste is not diluted with the liquid from tofu.

This recipe makes 5 packages of pepes.


  • 14 oz firm tofu
  • For spice paste: 3 small size or 1/2 large size shallot, quartered
  • For spice paste: 3 cloves garlic, halved
  • For spice paste: 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • For spice paste: 1 teaspoon sugar or to taste
  • For spice paste: 1.5 teaspoon sambal oelek or to taste. Instead of using sambal oelek, you can use 3-5 Thai chili peppers and 2 red chili peppers.
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • 5 pieces of 9"x9" banana leaves, wiped with damp paper towel to clean them
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 10 tooth picks to seal banana leave package


  1. Rinse tofu off with water and pat it dry with paper towel. Place the tofu on a colander and place a bowl underneath the colander to catch the liquid coming out of tofu so that the liquid doesn't drip on top of your kitchen counter making a mess. Put something heavy on top of the tofu, such as a tea cup or coffee mug. The cup or mug will help pressing the tofu to get rid off the water inside it. By removing the liquid, the pepes will not be wet once done. It will also make it more flavorful. Leave the mug or cup on top of the tofu for 1/2 hour.
  2. While waiting to drain the liquid from tofu, put shallot, garlic, salt, sugar, and sambal oelek into a food processor. Process until spice paste becomes smooth.
  3. Place tofu into a bowl. Mash tofu with a potato masher or a fork until there is no big chunk anymore. Add spice paste into the bowl and mix it well. Add sliced bell pepper and green onion. Gently mix them well.
  4. Make sure your banana leaves are flexible so that it will be easier for you to work with them. If they aren't, please read the tip on the note below. Place 1 banana leave on kitchen counter. Place 1 bay leave about 1" away from the bottom of the banana leave and on the center of the left and right side of the banana leave (about 3-3.5" from the left or right side). Place tofu mixture on top of the bay leave. When placing the mixture, put it 1" from the bottom and 1.5" away from both sides of the banana leave. I make it about 1.5" wide and about 3/8" thick. You can make it narrower or wider. However, if you make it wider, it could break apart easily when you take it out of the banana leave. When you put the mixture, make sure you pack the mixture by pressing it gently so that it wll not break apart after cooking. Fold over the bottom banana leave so that it will cover the mixture, like an envelope. Fold the top of the banana leave over the mixture so that it will cover the mixture and the bottom side of the banana leave. The top banana leave will be longer than the mixture, so fold it over to the bottom of banana leave by lifting the bottom so that it can slide underneath. Keep folding the banana leave until it has been used up. Seal the left side of the banana leave with a tooth pick. Make sure you place the tooth pick as close to the edge of the mixture. Insert a fork to the unsealed side of the banana leave. Press the mixture using the fork so that it will be compact and thus, it won't break apart after cooking. Seal the right side of banana leave using tooth pick and make sure the tooth pick is placed as close as possible to the edge of the mixture. Repeat this step with the remaining banana leaves. You can trim off the excess right and left sides of the banana leave to fit in the steamer if you have a small steamer.
  5. Fill up the bottom part of your steamer with water. Let the water come to a boil. Once the water is boiling, place the banana leave packages on the top part of the steamer with the seam of the banana leave facing down. Put the lid on top of the steamer. Steam for about 30 min.
  6. After 30 min, remove the top part of the steamer and take the banana leave packages out of the steamer. Open the packages, gently remove pepes from the banana leave and place it on a serving dish.
  7. Gently peel off the bay leave from pepes and discard it. Serve it with warm rice.


  • If your banana leaves are not flexible and thus, it is hard to fold, you can dip it inside a pot of boiling water for about 30 sec to 1 min. If you have a gas stove, hold it using tongs and warm it above the gas stove for several seconds until it becomes soft.

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