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Sambal Ikan Bilis

Sambal ikan Bilis or ikan bilis sambal (dried anchovies cooked in spicy paste) is synonymous with nasi lemak in Malaysia. This is a must have side dish for nasi lemak (steamed rice with coconut milk). If, you are inclined, you may grind the ikan bilis finely before making the sambal and voila! You get anchovies pate.

There are several versions of the sambal: some omit the coconut milk, some do not use cashew nuts, instead, candle nuts are used. Also, a variation of this dish, sambal hei bee (with dried prawns) use lemongrass.

The quality of the raw ingredients play a major part in this dish. Ikan bilis (dried anchovies) come is many sizes and grades. Needless to say, the better quality will make much better sambal. In order to choose ikan bilis, you need to know several things:

  • What is the color of the ikan bilis? The whiter the fish, the sweeter the flesh is.
  • What are the size of the ikan bilis? Generally, the smaller the fish are, the better they taste.
  • Is there any preservatives used during the drying process?

Sometimes, thinly sliced potatoes and petai are also added. However, the use of belacan is compulsory as well as the fiery dried chilli paste and tamarind. Either way, this spicy dish is very versatile, found as filling in pastries, sandwiches, buns and even on top of curry mee and also lontong.

So, below is your sambal ikan bilis (spicy anchovies recipe), Malaysian style.

Spice paste (pounded or blended):

  • 10 dried chillies
  • 10 shallots
  • 4 cashew nuts
  • 2 tbs belacan (dried shrimp paste)

Other ingredients:

  • 1 tbs tamarind pulp
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 tbs oil
  • 100 g raw peanuts with skin intact
  • 1 cup oil for deep frying ikan bilis
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk mixed with 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 100 g ikan bilis (heads removed), rinsed and drained well.


  • Mix tamarind with water then strain over fine sieve, discard pulp.
  • Heat 2 tbs of oil over medium fire, stir fry peanuts till golden.
  • Remove and drain on paper towels.
  • In the same pan, add oil for deep frying. Heat oil over high fire and deep fry ikan bilis till crispy. Drain ikan bilis on paper towel.
  • Discard oil from the pan.
  • Using a clean pan and new oil for saute, heat 2 tbs of oil and fry spice paste for two minutes.
  • Add half the coconut milk and fry another 2 minutes until fragrant.
  • Add tamarind extract, sugar and salt.
  • Lower fire and simmer until thicken, about 2 more minutes.
  • Add ikan bilis and peanuts to the sambal paste. Stir to mix well.

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