Thursday, October 1, 2009

What is the cornerstone of Nonya and Malay cooking?

This uniquely hot belachan sambal (chilli and dried shrimp paste) is the base ingredient and seasoning found in most Singaporean Nonya and Malay cooking. Most people conveniently buy a bottle of sambal belachan from the Asian kit ai tiam (stores) these days, but the classic home made recipe is here for those seeking to create an authentic Nonya or Malay dishes. It has a robust and feisty flavour, thanks to the happy marriage of tastes between the fresh chilli and the dried shrimp paste. The riotously pungent sambal comes from dried shrimp paste which emits a powerful smell when toasted, a smell most foul especially to the uninitiated. But to most Singaporeans, this fiery hot and addictive fix has whelped the appetite of many of us since our childhood.

Just as a dish is never complete without shoyu (Soy sauce) to the Chinese,Japanese and other Asians, the Peranakan flavours most of their dishes with sambal belachan. It is used most often as a dressing for most Nonya salads (kerabu) but it also goes well with vegetables and seafood such as prawn and sotong (squids).

150g Fresh red chillies
50g toasted belachan
5 limau kasturi aka sng kam (calamansi lime)

In a mortar, add the fresh chillies and pound well with a pestle to the desired consistency. Add the toasted belachan and mesh into the chilli paste. Squeezed the lime juice into the pounded sambal belachan just before serving.


  1. Hi Uncle Phil.,
    Nice post!

    U can add shallot / garlic, will bring more aroma to the sambal.

    or, u may try out the Indonesia sambal, and it quite unique too.. I learnt from my maid..

    Fry with some oil:
    - Chilies (small chili - for the spicy and add some big chilies - for the reddish colour)
    - Tomotoes
    - Shallot

    Then, pound to paste, lime, a bit sugar.

    And, eat together with raw cabbage, long beans, cucumber...

  2. Hi Pauline,
    Thanks for your visit. Thanks for sharing your recipe, especially to those who are living abroad. Look forward to your contribution to the blog. Cheers.

  3. My dutchman introduced me to sambal badjak when I came to live in NL. We used it mostly to mixed it with grated cheese n mayo for our sandwich spread. There r now more varieties of sambal in the shop than 26yrs ago when I first got here.

    Last year the EEC banned imports of toasted belachan. Only small bottles of powdered belachan (biege in color)r sold now. Cant even get a whiff to see if it's goed. Was quite desperate without it. Hubby loves his nasi goreng with it (according to the Indo cookbook). Fortunately he found the last 400gram block in a toko in Scandinavia while on bizz there ! I'm slowly phasing out recipes that requires belachan to avoid difficulties in the future. There's a beef rendeng recipe that requires only tumeric/oelek/onions/garlic n coconut milk. I add dried kaffir lime leaves to give it a refreshing lift. Fresh products r in the minority where we live. We hv to make do with the powdered alternatives.

    Ur fresh sambal makes me think of the great meals I used to share with my muslim colleagues back in SG. They all hv moms who r great cooks !
    I noticed that u hv access to lovely fresh produce .. oh how I envy u !

  4. Hi Dutchie,
    We marvel at your innovative cooking despite the unavailability of certain 'essential' ingredients at where you are living. We have experienced the same thing before the arrival of Asian stores in our suburb. We have to experiment and make do with what was available locally.Besides, we started to learn how to make basic things that we have taken for granted when we were living in our island home.We also started to grow some 'exotic' herbs in our backyard. Thanks again for sharing.

  5. phil, wonder if you have tried chincalok chilli sauce. there's this commercially produced one by taho. we managed to get it from the oriental grocery store when we were in melbourne recently. here's a picture of it .

  6. Hi YG,
    We haven't tried this product yet. BTW, is it available in OZ? We wonder Fairprice does home delivery?