Wednesday, 18 February 2009
Shrimp paste is a common ingredient used in Southeast Asian and Southern Chinese cuisine. It is known as terasi in Indonesian, kapi in Thai, Khmer and Lao language, and belachan (also spelled belacan) in Malay.
It is made by fermenting ground shrimp, sun dried and then cut into fist-sized rectangular blocks. It is not to be used for immediate consumption - it has to be fully cooked as part of a dish, prior to consumption since it is raw. To many Westerners unfamiliar with this condiment, the smell can be extremely repulsive. It is however an essential ingredient in many curries and sauces. Shrimp paste can be found in most meals in Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines. It is often an ingredient in dipping sauce for fish or vegetables.
Belacan, the Malaysian variety of shrimp paste, is prepared from fresh tiny shrimp of a species known as geragau in Malay. These are mashed into a paste and buried for several months. The fermented shrimp are then dug up, fried and hard-pressed into cakes.
Belacan is used as an ingredient in many dishes, or eaten on its own with rice. A common preparation is sambal belacan. There are many variations of this dish – it can be made with or without cooking the mixture. One method is by mixing toasted belacan with fresh chillies, minced garlic, shallot paste and sugar and then fried. The aroma from the frying mixture can be unpalatable to Westerners who have not become accustomed to it, but is an absolute delight to the Asian connoisseur.