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Sambal Belacan

Sambal Belacan or sambal belachan must be the only true Malay food trademark. You are not considered as a Malay if you do not like or perish the thought, never ate sambal belacan. What is sambal? What is belacan?

Sambal refers to any kind of ready-to-eat fresh chili paste mixed with a variety of spices like onion, garlic and ginger. The paste must have some mixture of spicy hot, sour, salty and sometimes a little sweet taste.

sambal belacan
sambal belacan

Belacan is dried shrimp paste cake. Penang incidentally makes the best belachan in the world (I am not kidding or being biased, okay?). There is a version called belachan madu, available at Taman Tun Sardon. The taste of sambal made with this belacan madu it SO GOOD! Sambal belacan usually is made of fresh red chilies or bird's eye chilies, a little shallot or onion, sometimes ginger, a squeeze of lime, belacan and a little sugar.

The belacan must be roasted first for a few minutes over naked flame (like roasting marshamallow). Sambal belacan is distinguished from other kinds of sambal being that it is not cooked at all, rather, the ingredients are mixed together raw. The smell of roasted belacan is truly disgusting but what a taste you will enjoy a few minutes later!

This is different from another Malay favorite sambal tumis which is sambal sauted in oil and has fish, meat or ikan bilis in it.

These ingredients are made into a paste using the old faithful pestle and mortar or an electric blender. Some people like it to be finely grounded while some people like some bits and pieces of chilies to be still visible when they tuck in. Sometimes, tomatoes are chopped inside the sambal and when the paste is used a a stuffing for fish, it is truly delicious!

It is also an appetizer, used as a dip when you have raw vegetables like cucumber, salad green, long beans, angle beans and shredded cabbage. In Malay culture, all these raw vegetables are called ulam, some ulam-ulaman are unique to us, like boiled banana flowers and also daun kaduk but I will write a few pages on these ulam alone later.

When you eat out for lunch at a typical Malay nasi campur restaurant, sambal belacan is always served in a HUGE pestle on the buffet table. People tuck in, get sweaty and grit their teeth in pain because of the fiery chilies but it is a small price to pay for this legal high. Coupled with grilled fish or other seafood, this condiment is really really a great complement. Need I say more?

Here is my very own recipe of sambal belacan, I was told once the taste is heavenly. Go on, have a try. You will not regret it. Do not forget to serve it with hot steamed rice with plenty of fresh sliced cucumber or other salad and big jugs of cold water to drink.

Also, be prepared to shield your eyes from chilies juice splattering about when you are pounding the mortar. If your fingers are in pain after handling the chilies, see these tips to reduce the pain.

Smack your lips in anticipation of a good lunch. Preferably do not have it on a day you are supposed to give an important presentation later at the office in the afternoon :=)~~

  • 6 fresh medium sized red chilies
  • 2 medium sized red bird's eye chilies
  • 2 inches long belacan (roasted)
  • 2 shallots (sliced thinly)
  • 1 clove of garlic (sliced thinly)
  • 1 medium sized tomato
  • Juice from 1 big fresh lime (about the size of a golf ball)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt


  • Remove the stalks from both red chilies and bird's eye chilies.
  • Break the chilies into several pieces using your hand. (If you use a knife to cut them, the taste will not be the same!)
  • Chop the tomato.
  • Put chilies, tomatoes, shallots, belacan and garlic into a pestle.
  • Pound them with the mortar according the the consistency you prefer.
  • Scoop the mixture into a bowl. Spoon two tablespoon of water into the pestle to dilute the remains of the sambal and pour the water into the bowl.
  • Add in lime juice, salt and sugar.

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