New Recipes

Sambal Belacan

Cut the chilies for easier pounding
Cut the chilies for easier pounding pictures (3 of 8)

Following my recent post on sambal asparagus, I thought I would show you how to make sambal belacan from scratch–a must-have Malaysian condiment and the basic building block for many delicious Malaysian recipes.

Sambal belacan consists of chilies, belacan (Malaysian shrimp paste), kalamansi lime (limau kasturi), and salt and sugar (to taste or optional). In the US, kalamansi lime is scarce so lime can be used as a substitute. However, in reality, kalamansi lime is made for sambal and lime is inferior when it comes to sambal belacan. So, if you have access to kalamansi lime, please use it, or if you have some, please give them to me.

Sambal belacan as a condiment is something that I can’t do without. I eat my rice and noodles with it, and some Malaysian dishes such as my favorite sweet and sour eggs (masak belanda), Penang char hor fun, grilled fish with banana leaves are total awesomeness with sambal belacan.

Anyway, learn how to make sambal belacan with my recipe below and click on the gallery above to learn the step-by-step guide.

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75 COMMENTS... read them below or add one

  1. This looks and sounds deliciously fiery-hot! The way you describe how you eat this is very much the same way we eat hot pepper sauce in the Caribbean.

    I noticed that you did not include the seeds, was that deliberate or are the seeds not generally used? Also is there any particular chile that should be used to make this wonderful sambal?

    • Cynthia – despite our origins, I guess the food culture and principle stay the same. :)

      I discarded the seeds because they are very hard to pound using a mortar and pestle, plus I think there is a belief that they are not great for the digestive system. I don’t mind some of the seeds in my belacan actually because it gives some extra “texture.” I guess it’s personal preference.

  2. David

    I am from New Zealand and recently had a chance to try out sambal belacan while traveling in Penang. I have to say that it tasted strong for my palate at the first taste, but then very quickly, it won me over. I agree that sambal belacan is a perfect dipping sauce for ikan bakar. It was probably the best grilled fish that I had ever tasted in my life. The aroma of burnt banana leaves and the sambal are simply perfect. Thanks for this great post!

    • David – I am glad that you tried the ikan bakar with sambal belacan. One of the many best dishes you can try in Malaysia! Yes, I love sambal belacan with fish, without it, it’s just not the same!

  3. I’ve been reading the blog for a long time – I’m a Chinese-American, and lived in Singapore for a year. Really miss the sambals from Singapore/Malaysia. Glad to finally see a recipe.

    Just wondering – in US grocery stores, I can find key lime, which looks like calamansi lime. Are they the same?

  4. sydneyfoodie

    Hi, I live in Australia and have been reading your blog for awhile now. My mum does her sambal belachan in bulk and it keeps in the freezer for ages. She divides them up in ice cube containers. The only difference in her recipe is after cooking the belachan she adds in the pounded chilli, salt and sugar and cooks it. She does this to kill all the bacteria etc so that it will keep in the freezer. She doesn’t add the lime…..only when she’s brings it out of the freezer to use, will she then add the lime juice.

    • Right, that’s the way to freeze sambal but I usually make some to last me for a few days. Adding lime when serving is right, but I don’t always have lime juice in my fridge so I add everything first. ;)

  5. Those kumquat trees in CNY not kalamansi lime tree hor? …….
    hmmm….remember “kalamansi’ drink bring made from those limes from kumquat trees before…..

  6. Sambal Belachan…my favorite too. Sad to hear the kalamansi is rare in US. Must find a way to preserve it. By the way,…nice mortar & pestle. Can hardly find a nice one nowadays.

  7. rachel ong

    kalamansi leaves it is same as kaffir leaves? how can i find all types of leaves for perut ikan.. i miss that! thank you

  8. david

    I’m pretty sure the Kalamansi you are talking about is the same as the ones Filipinos use, spelled Calamansi/calamondin though. It isn’t that hard to find if you know of a Filipino market in your area such as seafood city, or island pacific, you can purchase a whole bundle for a good price.

    • David – yes, it’s the same. Not sure about the actual spelling because I have seen it spelled with k and also c. Anyway, where can I find a Filipino market in southern CA? Please let me know.

      • david c

        Yup spell it with a k, or a c all the same haha. You can try Seafood City or Island Pacific Both markets have branches in [Cerritos,Carson, LA, West Co., & Panorama] addresses are on their sites. I’m from LA & calamansi can thrive perfectly in Socal weather. We used to have a tree that bore fruit year round, so if you can try buying one for yourself go for it! The seafood city I work in sells calamansi trees, so im sure you can get one for a good price at the one nearest to you.

  9. Hi Bee! Thanks for sharing your recipe – we have tons of kalamansi here and it is also very popular to use as a condiment, or part of condiment sauces. I’d love to send you some but I don’t know if it would survive the trip there — or get caught on the way! What chilis do you use here if not bird’s eye?

    • Joey – thanks so much but David above told me I can get them at some Filipino stores. I used regular Mexican chilies. I didn’t add bird’s eyes, only use them if I want them spicy.

  10. Nishi

    Yum…it’s a good thing I made instant noodles before coming across this page. You’re really making miss home right now. I always bring about three bottles of sambal belacan back to AUstralia when I’ve gone home

  11. Verdegrrl

    Great topic! Thanks! My FIL eats fresh sambal with almost every meal.

    My fav is the stuff served up by a small restaurant chain in Singapore called Sanur. It packs a wallop that doesn’t immediately strike – instead building gradually until you’re almost crying. But it’s so good you just need one more bite! And another. And another.

    If anyone has an approximation of that recipe, please share!

  12. Mel

    Your recipe call for seeded chillies. What type of chili do you use? I have been searching for red chilies (like the one we have back home in Malaysia) for a while now but I just can’t find them!

    Your recipe looks simple and can’t wait to try it!

  13. amira

    Thank you for posting this lovely recipe…I haven’t had sambal belacan for few years now, thus I decided to make sambal belacan today to accompany it with some vegetables. Although I had to substitue kalamansi lime for normal lime juice it turned out great. Wonderful!

  14. Jayne

    I came across another sambal belacan recipe that required cooking the sambal until the oil separates. Yours doesn’t require cooking. Is it a different kinda sambal belacan?

    • Jayne – this is a uncooked sambal for eating with rice and dipping purposes. I have another cooked sambal recipe which is more like a spice paste, for cooking, that’s why you need to cook until the oil separates.

  15. Shu

    Hi thank you so much for your awesome recipes!(:

    In this recipe, I noted that you wrote 1 tbsp shrimp paste, does that mean you aren’t using the block form type of belachan?

    I have a jar of Lee Kum Kee fine shrimp sauce, it’s kind of purplish in colour, and of puree consistency, made of fermented shrimps. Is that alright to use? Do i still need to toast till it’s dry then?

    Please help, thank you!!!

    • Yes, belacan (Shrimp paste) is in a block, but I used 1 tablespoon of it. I have to measure it somehow so I cut out a small piece and measured it precisely with tablespoons. No, LKK fine shrimp paste is not for this recipe, you have to use Malaysian belacan.

  16. atheniancat

    Please cafirm that the smell of toasting dry belachan is not pretty on the nose
    We just came back from KL and we used to eat Kangkong Belachan
    But we cant replicate it at home in Perth
    My husband grows his own Kangkong, but we buy the sambel belachan in a jar. Can you give me a good recipe for Kangkong belachan so I can make it from scratch please.

  17. chacha

    i adore sambal belacan. Your recipe is very good except for the sugar bit. I do have to say something as i feel very strongly about this. I find even a hint of sugar in a sambal belacan is horrifyingly disgusting and wrong.

  18. Christine Loo

    I am a fan of your website. Thank you for sharing. May I ask where did you buy your mortar here on this picture? I plan to get the same one as it looks really nice!

  19. Can I use Thai shrimp paste in this? (it is called gkapee) It is a solid block like belacan and will dry out when toasted in a pan. It is the same color and texture too.

  20. elizascott

    Thank you so much Bee for the greats pictures and wonderful recipes. I am Malaysian who moved to SF for 12years now. I am grateful to found your website. Will get your cook book next.

    Terima Kasih!

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