Saturday, March 6, 2010

“A rose by any other name is still a rose”. Similarly,Blachan by any other name is still Blachan

The unmistakable smell of blachan still wafts across the house even after I have left the windows opened since last night. It seems impossible to disperse and get rid of the smell from the house, especially in the kitchen, where I prepared the sambal hei bee. To be honest, my wife and I would'nt mind the least except for my son who never understands why I have to use such an ingredient as the blachan in my cooking. It is a popular flavoring and an essential seasoning in the dishes of Southeast Asian countries particularly Malaysia, Burma, Thailand and Indonesia. This pungent, dark-brown dried shrimp paste is known as blachan in Malaysia, terasi in Indonesia, gapi in Thailand, bagoong in the Philippines and balichǎo in Macao. It is made mainly from shrimps that have been allowed to ferment and dry the sun until very pungent and odorous. It's then mashed and in some cases dried. Balachan is available in paste, powder or as hard slabs or cakes form in Asian markets or supermarkets. The Cantonese make a softer shrimp paste known as hump har, which is often used in a steamed pork ribs dish. Blachan varies in flavour and intensity from country to country or even region to region within some countries. There is a marked difference between the East Coast (Kelantan and Trengganu) and West Coast (Penang and Malacca) of Penisular Malaysia, in terms of colour and flavour. Blachan is always cooked to mellow its very pungent aroma and flavour, sometimes it is mixed into a curry paste before frying and other times grilled or fried before being blended into a sauce or paste (sambal).

Sambal Hei Bee (Sambal udang kering)Recipe


1/2 cup dried prawns (udang kering) - soaked in hot water to soften
2 medium sized onions
15 pcs of dried chilies - soaked in hot water
2 tbs of tamarind pulp - soaked in hot water to make the juice
11/2 inch belachan
8pcs kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced (if available)
Salt and sugar
1/4 cup cooking oil


In a traditional pestel and mortar or a food processor process onions, chillies until they are finely pounded or chopped. After soaking the dried prawns, pound them coasely in a mortar. Grill the blachan until slightly burnt. Heat oil in a saucepan or a small wok and saute the spices until the oil separates from the spices. Add in finely pounded udang kering.and add in toasted belachan and mix well into the spices. Pour in the tamarind juice and simmer until the paste thicken. Add sugar and salt to taste Finally add the kaffir leaves if available.


  1. We hv the same problem here - the pungent smell of blachan reeking for days whenever we make curry chicken (with chiam tau loti) or nasi goreng. I guess western homes r not built to air them out - haha.

    I envy the wide range of ingredients u can get there. I stock pile on powdered spices once a year when we made the long trip to Amsterdam.

    Another ingredient that locals commented on is the garlic. They will offer u a spearmint as a direct hint. What to do tho, asian dishes r so bland without the garlic ! My in-laws also made a big fuss abt the use of vetsin ....

  2. Hi Dutchie,
    If the weather permits, I do the cooking in the verandah where it is next to a park.

  3. some people will not settle for any belachan. it has to be melaka belachan! this evening - ya, i am in melbourne - i just cooked sambal belachan kangkong.

  4. Hi Yg,
    Blachan is addictive too! Haha. Some people simply cannot eat without a dollop of balachan as as a condiment with thier rice or noodles or fish at any time.
    Have a nice stay in Melbourne.

  5. Your post on belacan reminds me of an incident that happened many years ago when we were students living in a university hostel. One winter night, we tried to fry some beehoon for supper, with belacan that a fellow hostel mate had just received from his parents in Singapore. In those days, belacan was not available locally; it was a prized item that had to be sent through the post from overseas. We felt very much at home when the aromatic smell of belacan filled the small kitchenette. It didn’t take very long, however, for the strong smell to permeate the whole building, driving scores of Aussies students out of their rooms to protest and complain that the smell was terrible!
    Rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but in the case of belacan, it is quite a different story!

  6. Hi Uncle Phil,

    How are you doing? Whereabout in Aust are u lcoated may I ask? I am a Singaporean male in my 30s looking to relocate back to Australia.

    Know quite alot of people in Perth, WA, but not elsewhere.

    Thank you.

    Warm Regards,

  7. Hi pck,
    Thanks for visiting and sharing your memory of your uni days in OZ with us. You can get almost every spices or foodstuffs in the Asian kit ai tiams these days. But my wife and I still prefer and believe in the goodness of homemade stuff; that's the main reason why we write and record as many traditional recipes in this blog for all to share.

  8. Hi DT,
    Selamat Datang. I am living in Sydney. Visit the Overseas Singaporean Forum to get tips and info from fellow Singaporeans who are relocating or migating here. Amongst the forumers, we are the 3 Sg Uncles of OZ. There are two other Sg uncles beside me. There is Uncle Charlie in Brissy and Uncle Hokiehokie in Melbourne
    Best of Luck in your relocation. Seeya soon.

  9. Hi Uncle Phil,
    Thanks. I have already checked out the overseas spore forum. Looking to know more sporeans in aust, as I have not decided exactly which aust city to go to, though Sydney is one of the favourites as it offers the best job opps, while brisbane looks good too. Melbourne is not in the radar cos of the bad weather. Haha. Will get in touch if I am going to Sydney. Thanks. BTW, I sort of know 2 other sporeans in sydney.
    Warm Regards,

  10. very nice info here about sambal udang lanjutkan friend

  11. Hi iyan,
    Thanks for your visit. I have found your blog interesting too.

  12. Hello Uncle Phil,
    Thanks for all your recipes esp. the
    Bak kwa, love it.
    I am in Sydney from Ipoh, has been here for
    25 years, hope to meet you one day.

  13. Hi Tony,
    Thanks for visiting my blog. Have you tried making the bak kwa? Tell us about the result. We love to meet you too. PM us and leave your contact. We would like to add you in our invite for the next makan session.