Southeast Asian recipes such as Amok are sometimes steamed in banana leaf containers. Since these are fairly expensive (and presumably not indefinitely reusable), is it possible to use, say, parchment paper instead?

What is a good low-cost and easy to find substitute for banana leaf in these recipes? (and for Amok in particular) If obvious candidates like parchment paper aren't suitable, why not?

4 Answers 4


If you can find a local Asian or Mexican specialty food store, you'll be more likely to find them, though they may be in the frozen section. Part of the uniqueness of these leaves is that they impart a slight flavor to the food cooked in them.

People in the tropics use these huge leaves to line cooking pits and to wrap everything from pigs to rice. The leaves impart a subtle anise fragrance to food and protect it while it's cooking. Frozen leaves--once thawed--work just fine. Boil the leaves before using them to keep them from cracking. Look for banana leaves among the frozen foods in Asian, Hispanic, or specialty markets.

If you absolutely can't find them there are several substitution options:

aluminum foil (as food wrapper) OR parchment paper (as food wrapper) OR corn husks (as food wrapper or to cover imus) OR hoja santa leaves (as a food wrapper, also imparts an interesting anise flavor)

Personally, I'd go for other leaves before foil or parchment. Particularly with steaming, I find that parchment can get soggy and may collapse if you're making it into boats, so you might want to test it before going crazy. Foil can be problematic because it can be very easy to puncture unless you get super heavy-duty foil and then you'd potentially lose all of the sauce.

It looks like you can easily make this using small bowls like ramekins, rice bowls or small souffle molds or hollowed out coconut halves. See the video here. The host mentions using the coconut halves due to not being able to find many banana leaves. They may be more expensive to start but you can likely use them many times before needing to exchange them.

  • Apart from the flavor, would you say there are any other reasons to use the leaves? Do things cook differently in banana leaves?
    – Jack M
    Feb 1, 2016 at 23:18
  • @JackM I don't have the personal knowledge to answer that. I'd guess not though... steaming shouldn't be particularly picky to the sort of container. In the video he notes that the coconut shells are nice because they also impart a bit of coconut flavor but, he seems happy to recommend small bowls as an easy substitute. They may take a minute longer to come to temperature but steaming heats stuff up very quickly, I've found.
    – Catija
    Feb 1, 2016 at 23:20
  • You may yet get other answers, though, so I encourage you to give your question some time for people to see it.
    – Catija
    Feb 1, 2016 at 23:21
  • How is imparting an anise flavor a good thing? Just asking... :)
    – Marti
    Feb 2, 2016 at 4:01
  • @Marti Cleaning up the explaining the joke comments, will remove this shortly as well. (You might have slightly better luck with winks instead of plain smileys, dunno.)
    – Cascabel
    Feb 2, 2016 at 4:30

Changing the leaf will surely change the flavor of the dish. However, if you are not reluctant to variations compared to the "authentic" dish, you can find other leaves :

  • Bamboo leaves are sold in Asian markets at an affordable price (dried leaves)
  • Other fresh leaves may be used in cooking : vine leaves, fig tree leaves.
  • Many other leaves might be edible : chestnut, morus... (you should search for edibility for unusual species)
  • But the key is: does it have to be leaves? Can it not just be parchment paper, or a ramekin?
    – Jack M
    Feb 16, 2016 at 16:59
  • @JackM It's a philosophical question : what is the core part of the recipe ? I can't answer. Of course you can use alternatives. When cooking traditional recipes I try to follow the whole process, but what about you ? I think replacing banana leaves by alternative leaves is more interesting than parchment paper .
    – TZDZ
    Feb 17, 2016 at 8:16

I sometimes use banana leaves and they do enhance the flavor of the cooked food. I have also used foil when banana is not available. Banana leaves don't have to be boiled, just steamed or run through hot water to make them supple.

  • This doesn't really answer the question. The post is asking for alternatives to banana leaves.
    – Catija
    Feb 17, 2016 at 0:10
  • @Catija It does mention foil as an alternative.
    – Cascabel
    Feb 17, 2016 at 0:53

I have heard collard greens work good too

  • I don't think collards would be a good substitute for banana leaf. Banana leaves are inedible and used as cooking vessels, especially in the Amok example where the dish is steamed. For most (all?) cooking techniques involving banana leaves, substituting collards would result in the collards cooking, which would make the leaves flimsy and the vessel would not keep form.
    – Soulis
    Feb 27, 2020 at 17:38

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