All-Essential Condiment: Belachan

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 my favourite store-bought version is from Glory Foods:
Glory Sambal Chilli with Prawns

For more information about Shrimp Paste, follow this link.
For more information about Straits Chinese or Peranakan, follow this link.


Mapo Tofu 麻婆豆腐

This is a popular dish from the Sichuan province. The tofu can be cubed prior to cooking for nice, evenly shaped pieces. I like a tossed-together look and go for irregular pieces, chopped up using the spatula during the cooking process. Other meats I’ve enjoyed include luncheon meat and lap cheong (chinese sausage). The meat can be left out for a vegetarian version. Adding sweet corn (canned) also adds a nice touch and added texture. For an even more decadent meal, lightly toss cooked rice in fried shallots and chopped ginger for added aroma to rice.

1 box (14 oz) of tofu, preferably fairly firm
4 oz minced pork or diced chicken
Garlic, minced
1 tbsp sweet sauce
1 tbsp plum sauce
1 tsp cooking wine
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp chilli sauce/paste
Spring onion, sliced, to garnish

Serves 2

Stir fry chicken over heated pan. Add cooking wine and soy sauce.
When chicken is ¾-cooked, add garlic and fry till fragrant.
Add sweet sauce and plum sauce. Adjust to taste.
Add tofu. Cut into irregular pieces with spatula.
Add chilli and stir well.
Add sesame oil and bring out the aromas.
Serve over hot rice and garnish with spring onions.

Sayor Lodeh

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 shallot
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

Serves 4

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:

Sayor lodeh 20131215

Spicy nuts

½ lb / 220 g almondsDSC03238
½ lb / 220 g cashews
¼ cup white sugar
1½ tsp kosher salt
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp honey or maple syrup
1 tsp oil


Toast nuts at 350 F (175 C) till golden brown, about 10 minutes. Watch closely as they burn easily.
Mix sugar, salt and cayenne pepper in bowl.
Add water, honey, oil in a pan over medium heat.
Add toasted nuts when mixture is heated. Coat evenly.
Pour nuts into sugar mixture and coat evenly.
Spread onto a baking sheet in a single later to cool.