Always accompanying Southeast Asian food, belachan is a mainstay in cuisine from south of China, to Thailand, to Malaysia, to Singapore, to Indonesia and to reaches far and in-between. Needless to say, as Straits-cooking is a fusion of Malay, Chinese and Dutch influences, it is an essential condiment to nonya or Peranakan food. At its heart is shrimp paste. Preparation from there on varies widely based on culture, cuisine and heritage. Some version of it can be easily found in any Asian food store around the world. However, every Southeast Asian family is likely to know someone who will insist that so-and-so in the family makes the best homemade belachan ever, and proclaim it with quiet pride. I am no different. I like mine spicy, made with chilli and sometimes a touch of lime for an added zing.
One of the dishes we request for when we are back in Singapore is Babi Pongtay. It is a Peranakan dish. Each family has their own special version. I learnt my first one from my mother-in-law, and subsequently added potatoes after seeing other recipes that included it. I also added sweet sauce and reduced the amount of sugar used. This is best eaten over a steaming bowl of rice. I get carried away and easily eat twice the amount of rice to savour the sauce. Do not try to use leaner cuts of pork. The layer of fat and skin is essential to the unique taste of this dish and for the melt-in-your-mouth goodness. It tastes even better overnight, after the sauces meld together.
1½ lb/800 g pork belly (五花肉, twee bak)or pork shoulder, cut into ½ inches
10 shallots, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp fermented soya bean paste (豆酱 tau cheo)
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp sweet sauce
1 oz/30 g gula melaka (palm sugar) or 2 tbsp brown sugar
8 chinese dried mushrooms, reserve the liquid
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 cinnamon sticks
2 potatoes, quartered
1 cup bamboo shoots
Spring onions (for garnish)
Marinate in soy sauces and pepper.
Fry the shallots and garlic till slightly golden. Add fermented soya bean and fry till fragrant and slightly dry. Reduce heat.
Add soy sauces and sweet sauce. Fry quickly for a few seconds.
Add pork pieces. Stir fry on low-medium heat till pork is no longer pink or translucent. Add gula melaka, stirring till well blended.
Add mushrooms and fry till edges are slightly soft. Add chestnuts.
Add potatoes and fry till edges turn slightly translucent.
Add about 1 cup of water and continue to stir fry till the mixture thickens.
Add liquid from mushroom and extra water to cover. Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat after 20 seconds. Cover and simmer for 2 hours.
Garnish with spring onions. Serve with sambal belachan over steaming rice.
The colouring in this Nonya desert is from Bunga Telang or Blue Pea Flower. It is commonly used as a natural food dye in Nonya dishes such as Pulut Inti, Pulut Tai Tai, Kueh Salat/Kueh Seri Muka and Nasi Kerabu. However, blue is not a colour used by the Chinese. The plant flowers all year round and blooms in 6 weeks from seed.
100g gula melaka (palm sugar)
40g sugar (optional)
300g grated coconut
3 tbsp glutinous rice flour mixture
16 banana leaf squares, 15x10cm each
Preparation for Rice:
Rinse and soak rice for 2 hours. Drain.
Add salt and pandan leaves and mix well. Steam for 30 minutes.
Add coconut milk slowly to loosened rice. Add bunga telang juice. Colouring does not have to be even.
Set aside to cool.
Preparation for Coconut topping:
Boil ½ cup of water. Add gula melaka and sugar. Cook till sugar dissolves.
Add grated coconut and a pinch of salt.
Cook till mixture is nearly dry.
Add glutinous rice flour mixture. Stir and cook till dry.
Set aside to cool.
Boil banana leaves till soft.
Add a portion of rice in the middle of a leaf, and top with filling.
Bring both sides of banana leaf to centre and fold edges down, under the rice.
Tip: Glutinous rice flour mixture is made by mixing 1½ tsp of glutinous rice flour to 2 tbsp of water.
Tip: Make sure coconut mixture is dry. Drain any excess moisture to prevent rice from becoming sticky and wet.
Kueh Pie Tee is a popular nonya appetizer. Crispy shells are filled with a sweet mix of turnip or jicama and variety of vegetables, all thinly sliced or grated, topped with prawns and sambal chilli. Part of the fun in eating it is assembling them with together with family and friends around a table.
This is a vegetable dish. You can substitute any of the vegetables. Those without a high water content works best.
Traditionally, it is served over longtong/ketupat (rice cakes). A link to Ridha’s recipe is included below. To save time, I use adabi brand “Ketupat”, which tastes good and smells authentic.
1 inch ginger
2 cloves garlic
½ inch tumeric
1 dried chilli, soaked, boiled & blended / or 2 tbsp chilli paste
20g dried shrimp
1 candlenut (buah keras)
500 ml coconut milk
½ handful long beans, cut into 5cm
½ small cabbage, cut into pieces
1 carrot, cut into 2cm pieces
1 stalk lemongrass
½ inch blue ginger (galangal ), smashed
8 cubes fried beancurd or 4 beancurd strips, cut into 5cm
1 tbsp grated coconut, dry fried with touch of palm sugar
4 tbsp oil
2 eggs, hard boiled
Pound ingredients to make a fine paste. If using chilli paste, don’t pound it. Just set it aside.
Fry paste (including chilli paste) in oil till fragrant.
Add coconut milk. Bring to boil and lower to medium heat.
Add beans, carrots, cabbage, blue ginger.
When soft, add beancurd.
When serving, sprinkle grated coconut and add halved eggs.
Ridha’s method for making Longtong: