November 7, 2010

Kangkong Belacan

Whenever I dine at a Malay or Indonesian restaurant, it's almost a compulsion for me to order a plate of Kangkong Belacan.  Here's why - when paired with steamed white rice, this glorious dish would take you to a dreamy gastronomic haven that you wished was your final destination.  Ok, a little exaggeration and fond hope won't hurt, will it?  In simpler terms, Kangkong Belacan is a must-have and will-love dish in the encyclopedia of Malay/Indonesian cuisine.  The marriage of these leafy greens with the saltish belacan (Malay for "shrimp paste") and mildly hot chilli paste is one that is truly descended from food paradise.  I love cooking this simple dish, which was one of the first dishes I made since I started learning the names of various vegetables.

Popularly known as kangkong in Southeast Asia, this vegetable carries other names too
such as water glorybind, water spinach, water convolvulus and swamp cabbage

The thing about kangkong that I have been advised by my mum is that, while they usually come in a large bouquet, do not be worried that you would have plenty of leftovers when you cook the whole bunch.  The leaves shrink during the cooking process.  Forget about eating just a few pieces like you would lettuce because one fork will grab a sizeable amount of kangkong and more often than not, you won't stop at just one serving.  In fact, for a complete white rice-kangkong enjoyment, you shouldn't stop at just one serving. 

At this point, I must highlight a little bit about belacan, which is the main ingredient in this dish.  Belacan is a Malay word and is pronounced as "be-la-CHAN" as opposed to "can" like in "can-not".  The Indonesians call it "terasi".  It is chiefly made from fermented, sun-dried shrimp and processed in many food factories all over Southeast Asia.  In Malay cooking, belacan is a staple ingredient as it gives a superb salty flavour and unique pungent aroma (an oxymoron, eh?) that's unmatched by any other ingredient on this planet.  Having said that, I felt compelled to issue a friendly advice pertaining to belacan: it's not for the faint-hearted.  Most non-Asians would find the smell off-putting.  So, there.  If this explanation of belacan terrified you somewhat, take a deep breath.  Like blue cheese and durian, it's an acquired taste for beginners but 100% edible.  Once you're hooked on it, it becomes a life-time affection.  Just like this Kangkong Belacan dish.

Belacan is as common in Malay cooking as garlic is in Italian cuisine


1 bunch kangkong - washed, drained and cut into 2-3 inches length including the stems
2 tbsp cooking oil
1 tsp tamarind juice
Sugar to taste

For chilli paste
6 dried chillies (washed and soaked in warm water for 5 minutes before use)
2 shallots (small onions) - chopped
2 cloves garlic - peeled and sliced
2 tsp belacan


1.  Finely grind all ingredients for chilli paste. 

2. Heat wok on high, add oil and stir fry chilli paste for 1-2 minutes.  Reduce heat, fry the paaste further until fragrant and it turns a shade darker.  Be careful not to burn the paste.

3.  Add kangkong, tamarind juice and sugar to taste.  Stir-fry on high heat for 2-3 minutes. 

4.  Turn heat off.  Serve hot immediately on a dish while the kangkong is still crunchy.


- Belacan is already salty but you may add salt to taste at Stage 3, if still required.
- Kangkong Belacan goes excellently with steamed white rice or porridge and is best served hot. 

Fearlessly Simple & Home Cooked

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