Kitchen Tips

Belacan, Cincalok and Tempeh

Malaysian & Indonesian cuisine employs ingredients and techniques that makes its taste and flavour fresh. The fermented foods – Belacan, Cincalok and Tempeh add that extra vigour to dishes. These are also used in a wide variety of ways, including dips and dressings.


Belacan - Cooking Pastes

Image Courtesy: Irwandy Mazwir used under the Creative Commons Licence

Belacan, the Malaysian variety of shrimp paste. It is made from fermented ground krill or shrimp. To cook the Belacan, it is cut into thin slices and placed slightly apart on wok or frying pan for roughly 5 minutes (or until the edges start to brown). This roasted Belacan is then mashed into a paste with chilli peppers, minced garlic, shallot paste and sugar. It is then deep fried and stored for months. This exotic shrimp paste adds aroma and flavour to a variety of oriental dishes including stir-fries, soups and noodle dishes. It is also used as a fiery dipping sauce for fried or grilled meat, fish, vegetables and wontons. Try using it as a salad dressing and watch this otherwise tasteless dish transform.


Cincalok - Cooking Pastes

Image Courtesy: WP Ho used under the Creative Commons Licence

Cincalok, a Malaysian shrimp sauce which originates from Melaka, is made from fermented tiny shrimp. It is a very salty and pungent sauce as a result of which, it is an acquired taste. Cincalok has a strong and distinct taste, making it a good dip for bland dishes such as fish or steamed pork belly. This simple sauce is made by adding fresh small prawns, salt and rice in equal proportions. On thoroughly mixing the ingredients, it should be sealed in a jar and allowed to ferment for three days. A variety of dishes can be made from Cincalok such as Cincalok omelets and Cincalok chicken. It is also commonly served as a condiment along with shallots, calamansi lime juice and chilies.


Tempeh - Cooking Pastes

Image Courtesy: tomatoes and friends used under the Creative Commons Licence

Tempeh is a traditional soy product, originally from Indonesia is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form. The result is a delicious and nutritious cake suitable for vegetarians. To prepare Tempeh for cooking, it is cut into pieces, soaked in brine or salty sauce, and then fried. Cooked tempeh can be eaten as is, or used in stir fries, soups, salads, sandwiches, and stews. Tempeh’s have a very complex flavour, and can be described as nutty, meaty, and mushroom-like.  It can be used as a beef substitute as it works well with cheese. When thin-sliced and deep-fried in oil, it obtains a crisp golden crust on the outside, maintaining a soft sponge-like interior, making it ideal for marinating. It is rich in nutrition as the fermentation and retention process give it a high content of protein, dietary fiber, and vitamins.

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