Basic Malay Ingredients

Basic Malay ingredients will be revealed, one by one here, on this page. Come, let me teach you what they are. They are not as mysterious as you would think.

In Malay cooking, we normally divide food into several categories: dishes that accompany rice, dishes which are eaten on its own, snacks, preserves and desserts. Here I would like to focus on basic Malay ingredients that you most likely need for making dishes that accompany rice.  Here is the low down.

Belachan - "Malay" butter

If the French use butter generously in their sauces, the Malay use belachan (or can also be spelled belacan) instead. The smelly, humble shrimp paste, the butt of many jokes and idioms, is a must have ingredient in a Malay kitchen. We use shrimp paste like the Thai use their fish sauce. Except that we do not use it as a replacement for salt. 


Fresh Herbs / Fresh Ingredients

  • Curry leaves
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Onion / shallot
  • Chilies
  • Bird's eye chilies
  • Pandan leaves
  • Torch ginger (ginger flower)
  • Turmeric leaves
  • Turmeric Roots
  • Galangal
  • Freshly grated coconut
  • Coconut milk

Those listed above are the basic ingredients that housewives usually store in their fridge or plant in their yard.

Dried Spices / Dried Ingredients

  • Dried chilies (whole)
  • Dried chilies (soaked, de-seeded, strained and ground) or also known as "chili bo"
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Cardamom pods
  • Star anise (whole)
  • Cloves
  • Mustard seeds
  • Candlenuts
  • Coriander seeds
  • Mixed fenugreek mix (fenugreek, mustard, fennel, cumin and urad dhal)
  • Meat curry powder
  • Fish curry powder
  • Turmeric powder
  • Chili powder
  • Shrimp paste block (belachan)
  • Liquid shrimp paste

Sugar / sweetener

  • Palm sugar
  • Jaggery powder
  • Rock sugar
  • White sugar
  • Pandan syrup

Souring agents

  • Tamarind
  • Tamarind apple
  • Artificial vinegar
  • Lime juice
  • Calamansi lime juice

Preservatives / Preserves

Sauces in cans or bottles

  • Sweet chili sauce
  • Various kinds of soy sauce, salty, sweet or "lemak"
  • Oyster sauce
  • Lime juice

These are enough to make up a feast using basic Malay ingredients!

Ingredients listed above are pretty cheap in comparison to other cuisine ingredients (for example European style cooking) as dairy products are hardly used at all. Throw in your protein of choice: meat, fish or even vegetables, you can create so many Malay dishes with the list. The ingredients can be found at grocery stores, supermarket and of course at the wet market as well.

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