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Belacan Yam Leaf (Sweet Potato Leaf) Recipe

Belacan pictures (2 of 3)

I do eat vegetables and other foods. I really do. I just don’t post them that much on this blog (which I intend to change soon) because seafood dishes are a lot more photogenic than, say, tofu, beans, turnip, chicken with skin and bones. I am partial to seafood, but I also love my greens, poultry/pork, eggs, soy products, and other foodstuff. One vegetable dish that I simply can’t do without in my cooking repertoire is a signature Malaysian dish called kangkung belacan or stir-fried water spinach/morning glory with shrimp paste, even though it means that I have a stinky house! The key ingredient is none other than belacan, the Malaysian variety of shrimp paste. (Shrimp paste is an essential flavoring medium in Southeast Asian cooking.) Strong, pungent, yet aromatic at the same time, the pairing of belacan with vegetables is probably one of the most interesting stir-frying techniques for vegetables. The taste is bold, exquisite, and never boring…

For today’s creation, I used yam leaf/sweet potato leaf (蕃薯叶), which works as well as water spinach. While it might seem or look simple, perfect execution is not easy. Wok hei (the breath of the wok) and timing are exceedingly important; a little too much wok hei or a tad too long in the wok can render the dish a complete failure, for example: burned belacan that tastes bitter or overcooked vegetables that look purple-ish in color.

While I love this recipe, I must warn you that it’s an acquired taste, especially for an American palate. However, it’s well worth a try because you probably can’t find another vegetable dish as intriguing or delicious as this one! Other signature Malaysian recipes\ can be found here.

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42 COMMENTS... read them below or add one

  1. Mandy

    At first glance, I thought the shrimp paste was yam flavor ice-cream! ;p

    I love anything with belachan, but don’t use it often because of the smell that lingers long after the meal is done.

  2. Andaliman

    I had blanched yam leaves with samba lado mudo once instead of using cooked cassava leaves, since I can’t find fresh cassava leaves. It turned really good. I should try your recipe one day

  3. Tracy Tan

    i am also malaysian now living in china. i had some stir fried vege with belacan yesterday at a singaporean restaurant cooked by a malaysian chef and it was a taste of home!

    i hope to try out your recipe at home when i feel like a taste of malaysia :)

  4. Lucy

    Wow, was wondering when you were gonna get to this dish. It’s my all-time fav vege dish to order when I eat out. Will need to try making this soon. Only you can make the yam leaf look so appetizing. Well done!

  5. bayi

    The finished product looks superbly delicious. But would the vegetable be sweet potato leaves instead of yam leaves?

    I have eaten the former and the dish is superb.

  6. zlamushka

    Hi Rasa,

    very nice recipe. I use exactly the same one, but instead of shrimp paste, I add oyster sauce, I think that is the Thai style…

  7. IronEaters

    this vege is my all time favourite!but didn’t see them around here in Melbourne though. remember my grandma used to plant it around her house, n whenever we visited her, she would pick some yam leaf and cooked for us *how fresh!!*. miss those times =)

  8. tigerfish

    You can seriously consider some belacan ice-cream! It is IT! :D

    I also like this dish a lot. Best to do at home since the restaurants typically charge US$8-9 for it, and I bet it’s worth to do it at home, WITH the stinkyness.

  9. veron

    I wondered what was yam leaf – I thought it looked like kangkong (which is what we called it in the philippines) – then upon reading your post II guess it’s a substitute for Kangkong. Oh and with shrimp paste – this is exactly how I like it.

  10. team bsg

    here in Malaysia , this dish is a common order as much craved as the kangkong ! some people cannot tell da difference between the two, both so delicate and green

  11. Anonymous

    Hi there,

    Scrumptious pics! Could you tell me where I can buy belachan in north California (San Jose)? I can’t find it at the local 99 Ranch. Thanks very much!


  12. joey

    YUM! We have a very similar dish here and I love it! Simple but so very tasty :) We use bagoong which is our local shrimp paste, and kangkong (water spinach) :) Something in common! :)

  13. Laurent

    I love stir fried greens, spinach and swiss chards in particular. But I knew about neither yam leaves nor Belacan. Looks like an interesting combination. I’ll try it when I have a chance. Thanks for the recipe and the beautiful picture.

  14. Y3K food & travel

    Hi Bee Yinn,

    Like your blog very much. Good photos, good layout, and good recipes too.

    I would like to share some cooking tips for your consideration when preparing food using belachan.

    Toast belachan over direct fire till aromatic, then dissolve it in some water into a paste. This will bring out the taste of belachan.

    Another way is to toast it in a dry clean wok till powder form. Do this just before cooking, not in advance.



  15. Rasa Malaysia

    Ari, Amy, East Meets West Kitchen, Mandy – Thanks. Yeah, I tried to trick people in believing that those scoops are ice cream! Hehe.

    Andaliman – cassava leaves? What are those?

    K & S – Thanks.

    Tracy – Yeah, you can try my recipe at home, just make sure you “smuggle” some belacan into China the next time. I am not sure if you could get it in China or not.

    Lucy – I checked out your blog, it’s fanstastic. Love the dishes you cook.

    Bayi – yam leaf = sweet potato leaf. Sweet potato is marketed as yam here in the US, and yam is called taro here. Don’t ask me why. Hehe.

    Zlamushka – that’s probably Chinese style if oyster sauce is used, but yeah, Thailand has the same dish too.

    Ironeaters – yep…just pluck from the garden and cook it…I miss those days too, but lucky I can get them here in California.

    Tiga – You know, if shrimp paste is ever on Iron Chef, I am sure one of the iron chefs will definitely make it into an ice cream. LOL!

    Veron – wow, I didn’t know that kangkung is called kangkong in Tagalog. It looks like we share some similar words…no wonder I always thought I can undertand Tagalog (from the sound of it) but when I paid attention, I can’t. Hehe.

    BSG – I agree, they taste similar. In fact, I prefer sweet potato leaf.

    Babe – yummy yes.

    Jasmine – you should be able to find belacan at the R99. It’s probably not made in Malaysia, but you can get the ones made in PH or made in Thailand.

    Tummy – yep, it’s a loud statement to my neighbors…but they probably think I have a dead animal in the house.

    Joey – I didn’t know that PH has a similar dish. Thanks for telling me. Quick quick make a dish for me to see. :)

    SC – You’re always welcome…no need to thanks. :)

    Lemongrass – :)

    Laurent – thank you.

  16. Dalicia

    my first time here! i live in the west coast. i remembered when my uncle told me he cooked belachan in his apt in UK. the neighbors thought there was a dead rat!!

    will dropby again

  17. Anonymous

    Fantastic webpage! I’ve been looking for a great Malaysia food blog. I’m bookmarking it, and thanks for visiting my site.

    – Evil Jungle Prince

  18. Cynthia

    I have Thai shrimp paste that I bought and used recently to make a sambal I saw on Eating Asia blog. Recently I’d been feeling that I’m neglecting using my shrimp paste for other things but now I see you use it and stir-frying veggies, I am so going to start using it that way when I’m cooking my veggies, which happens regularly.

  19. Nate 2.0

    I don’t care what anyone else says about belacan, I love it. Kankung belacan is always one of the dishes I order whenever we eat out at a Malaysian restaurant. But yam leaves / sweet potato leaves are a little less chewy / fibrous. The best choy over all would be Sabah choy but it’s so hard to find, even in M’sia.

    I’ve seen belacan at the Ranch 99 in the aisle where they have all the Indonesian condiments. Or you could use Chinese harm-ha for an approximate flavor.

  20. cooknengr

    Awesome, picture perfect down-home Kampung vegetable. btw, no Okra nor Mani chai this season, three rows of special breed okra was attacked by bad bunnies in one night and I only manage to harvest a spoonful of Mani chai before the cold season kicks in….but the spoonful of mani chai tasted so good with a little egg and 江魚仔.

  21. Deborah

    I was so excited to come across your blog and it brought back fond memories of all the foods back from Malaysia. You have excellent pictures and I just love your recipes and since I don’t really know how to cook, your recipes come in handy.

  22. jennee

    Hello. I stumble upon your web page when I am looking for nyonya PERUT IKAN curry recipe. I am hoping to able to cook it. Finding that lengkalok leaf is big task in KL, Malaysia. Wonder how u find in in US ? arent you based in US now ?
    I browse thru your website & love all your food photographs. They so beautifully delicious. U r good at it.

    Jen Nee, KL

  23. Anonymous

    I am so excited to learn that you can use the patato leaf to make a healthy meal. Thanks a lot for your blog it is very handy.

    Nelle, Caribbean

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