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.
Summer brings with it long days, sunshine, clear skies and its cornucopia of lush fruits and vegetables. Looking around my kitchen one afternoon, wondering what to make for dinner, I pondered a single leftover sun-ripened tomato-in-vine and an ear of white corn that recently left the farm. Now I can feast on corn boiled in nothing but water for the entire harvest season, as I had done the past 2 days, but my husband does not care for the flossing that needs follow. A quick look around my pantry resulted in this global mix of cuisine – north asian noodles with south-east asian dried seafood with summer bounty found in western climes.
2 skeins shanghai (white) noodles, cooked according to instructions
1 ripe tomato
1 white or sweet corn, kernels shucked
3 sprigs leaves from shallots, chopped finely (or spring onions)
4 chinese dried mushrooms, soaked and sliced
tip-of-handful dried shrimp, soaked
tip-of-handful ikan bilis (anchovies), soaked to remove excessive salt
2 dried scallops, soaked to soften
chinese cooking wine
Saute garlic till fragrant.
Add corn kernels and stir-fry generously for about 30 seconds.
Add in dried mushrooms and keep frying at high heat.
Add in shrimp, ikan bilis and scallops till mostly cooked.
Toss in tomatoes and give it quick stir. The ingredients should be mostly quite dry by now.
Add a splash of cooking wine, a dash of fish sauce adjusted to taste and about 2 tbsp of water reserved from soaked shrimp and scallops. Keep heat high for 10 seconds before lowering to medium heat to simmer for about 1 minute.
Stir in shallot leaves before serving.
3 bushels bee hoon
¼ handful dried shrimp
1 dried scallop
1 cup dried bean curd strips
½ cup green beans, cut into 1″ strips
¼ cup mushrooms, dried or tinned
¼ carrot, julienned
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 spring onion, sliced thinly. Save some for garnish.
1 tsp soy sauce
Fried shallots for garnish
1 lap cheong (chinese sausage, sliced)
Soak and drain bee hoon, dried shrimp, scallop and dried bean curd strips.
Fry garlic and spring onions till fragrant. Fry lap cheong.
Add dried bean curd strips and cook till softened.
Add green beans and mushrooms.
Add soy sauce. Adjust to taste.
Add bee hoon to ingredients and mix well, adding a little water or leftover water from shrimps/scallops it gets too dry.
Crack egg over bee hoon and stir well into it.
Top with shallots and spring onions to garnish.
Serve with chilli.
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.