Do you eat the leaves or just peel back the layer and eat the contents inside? This is the dilemma that many people face when trying food that is unfamiliar to them on travels or at a local restaurant. Grape, bamboo, lotus, and banana are the more common leaves. Corn husks are used for tamales.
Whichever leaf is used to wrap food, the leaves are cleaned and washed. They are soaked for from an hour before use or up to overnight before wrapping so that folding is easier and cracking is avoided. Leaves can be bought fresh, dried or frozen.
Wrapped food adds the element of anticipation. Flavours are trapped and infuse the food, protect the food from flames or losing shape and keep in the heat, plus the outer wrappings come from nature. A perfect food or snack. While eating you can imagine people of yesteryear eating similar food with the same enjoyment.
Dolma – Baked stuffed grape leaves filled with vegetarian or with meat and various flavourings depending on the country. Found from the Middle East to Central Asia. So far I have tasted Turkish, Greek and Lebanese versions. All delicious. Cabbage leaves are used instead of grape leaves in some parts. The leaf is eaten. Small rectangular shape.
Sticky Rice (Lo Mai Gai) – Chinese steamed sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf is peeled back and only the contents are eaten. Filled with sticky rice, chicken, pork sausage, and mushrooms. Sometimes at restaurants the server will use scissors and cut into the lotus to make it easier for the customer to eat. Dim Sum/Yum Char commonly restaurants serve this steamed dish. The leaf is not eaten. Square or rectangular in shape.
Sticky Rice Dumplings (Zongzi) – Steamed or boiled bamboo leaf with sticky rice and various fillings. Found throughout Asia. The leaf is not eaten. Pyramid shape.
Pressed Sushi (Oshizushi) – Japanese vinegared rice from the west part of Japan, from Nara to Kanazawa, is sometimes wrapped in persimmon or bamboo leaves. Commonly with mackerel or saba topping. Sometimes you can buy a large flat round of pressed sushi. It is bought uncut. The leaf is not eaten. Rectangular shape or sometimes in a large round flat shape.
Tip: When cutting sushi. Wipe the knife clean after each cut and the sushi presents better.
Rolled Sushi (Makizushi) – Japanese vinegared rice wrapped in seaweed (nori). Various combinations from cucumber to raw fish. The seaweed is eaten. Log shaped.
Tamale (Tamales) – From Mexico, Central and South America the Caribbean, to the Philippines steamed corn based food wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks. Various combinations of ingredients, sweet or savoury. The leaf is not eaten. Rectangular or ball shape.
Grilled Chicken (Ayam Bakar) – Indonesian and Malaysian spicy marinated then grilled chicken is often cooked wrapped in banana leaves for flavour and to keep the grill clean. Presentation at the table looks nice too. The leaf is not eaten. Chicken piece shape.
Baked, Grilled or Steamed Fish – From Asia to Oceania to Central/South America to Africa fish is seasoned and cooked in banana leaves for flavour and to keep the grill clean. Fish scales are removed, then it is gutted and cleaned and left whole. After cooking the fish meat can be removed to another plate after displaying if preferred. Chopsticks are best to extract the fish in my opinion. Once one side is eaten, flip the fish over and eat the rest or you can remove the spine. careful of the small bones. The leaf is not eaten. Whole fish shape.