Saturday 21 June 2008

kangkung belacan

Kangkung Belacan is a quintessential Malaysian dish: healthy, spicy and full of flavour!

Belacan (also known as belachan and blachang) is a shrimp paste sold in blocks and is made from tiny shrimp, which Wikipedia claims “are mashed into a paste and buried for several months. The fermented shrimp are then dug up, fried and hard-pressed into cakes.”

Mmmm. Tasty.

To most Westerners the smell of the paste (even when cooking) is pretty horrid, but it delivers such a rich, salty flavour to the food that it’s worth a little unpleasantness during the cooking process.

Kangkung Belacan
Anna’s very own recipe. Serves 2.

500g kangkung, washed and chopped roughly
80g dried shrimp, soaked & drained
1cm piece belacan
2 red chillies, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon soy sauce
¼ teaspoon sugar
Peanut oil, for frying


1. With a mortar and pestle, form a paste using the belacan, dried shrimp, garlic and chillies.

2. In a large wok, heat only a little oil and fry paste with shallots until fragrant.

3. Add sugar and soy sauce and combine

4. Add kangkung and stir fry until wilted. Add a few drops of water if needed to moisten the sauces, which should coat the greens but not contain too much liquid.

5. Serve with rice as a side dish.

Now I might have described the belacan, but this is Weekend Herb Blogging so it’s time to talk about the vegetable: water spinach.

Water spinach is commonly known in Australia as ong choy because it’s a popular vegetable amongst the Chinese who seem to be the main grocery sellers.

I first encountered it in Indonesia and so the name kangkung is what stuck in my head, and it’s the same word in Malaysian since the two languages are so similar.

Closely related to sweet potato, Ipomoea aquatica grows in tropical regions and is a semi-aquatic, climbing plant with long hollow stems allowing it to float.

It’s been cultivated so extensively that its origins are unknown, although these days it’s mostly grown in East and South East Asia. Although in the USA (Florida & Texas) it thrives so well it’s been officially declared a noxious weed. Maybe some people should get out to the swamps and start eating!!!

The Chinese (always a very symbolic people) were concerned that over-consumption of water spinach would lead the eater to become weak and hollow, like the stem and therefore discouraged eating too much.

Water spinach is very easy to grow and be cultivated by breaking off a stem and planting it in moist earth. In greenhouses it can grow about 10cm (4in) a day and reports have seen yields of 10kg per square metre (22lbs per 1.2 square yards)!!!

Water spinach is known by so many names, some of which you may have heard before. In English we call it swamp cabbage, water convolvulus and water morning-glory. In other languages it appears under the banners kangkung (Indonesian, Malay), kangkong (Tagalog), eng chai (Hokkian), tangkong (Cebuano), kang kung (Sinhalese), trawkoon (Khmer), pak boong (Thai), rau muống (Vietnamese), sum choy (Hakka), kongxincai, ong choy or tung choi (Chinese).

Water spinach has a lovely mild flavour, without the bitterness of it’s land cousin, and contains high levels of iron and calcium. But just don’t eat too much or you’ll discover it has a mild laxative effect!!!

This is my contribution to Weekend Herb Blogging. Head over to Joanna's Food in a few days for Joanna's round-up.




  1. Very interesting, both the water spinach and the shrimp paste. I've heard of swamp cabbage, but never seen it.

  2. yuuuum! pity Dorbs doesn't do spicy! so many other things from ur blog that I'd like to request for Wed...! :)

  3. I love kankun, unfortunately cannot find this in the UK. It' s a very simple and a delicious dish, especially with a drink.

  4. I've gotta get some dried shrimp...great addition to many dishes

  5. I love kangkung - did you make the pelecing (?) dish at Casa Luna cooking school. I just can't get enough of the stuff!

  6. This is also widely used in Filipino cooking. I really like how it tastes and always wonder how other cultures treat it.

  7. That looks great! Could I use your photo on my Mama Lisa's World site linking back to you and giving you photo credit?



  8. Where can you buy belacan in Sydney? Can you get it in the standard chinese grocey store? I live in Manly and am in the city about once a week.


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