Belacan Sauce

June 3, 2022

Dried shrimp, fresh and dried chile, and fermented shrimp paste are all ingredients in a Malaysian-style sambal called belacan sauce. This Malaysian-Chinese condiment is as addicting as our chili oil, XO sauce, and ginger scallion oil, with powerful overtones of garlic and shallots. It could become one of your go-to condiments!


In our household, we mainly served belacan sauce with rice or congee because it is very salty. We’d also use it as a flavoring ingredient in some recipes. Belacan sauce can be substituted with shrimp sauce if it is not available.

My personal favorite method to consume it is by sprinkling a few tablespoons over a bowl of steaming white rice.

Noodles plus a healthy dollop of sauce can be a quick and easy supper or snack!


This dried shrimp belacan sauce was a staple in my childhood diet. Cantonese speakers use the term “ma lai zan,” while Mandarin speakers use the term “ml zhn.”

Doyers Street in New York City’s Chinatown has a modest Malaysian eatery where we used to get ours. This belacan sauce was a predictable purchase during our weekly trek from Catskills to Chinatown to buy fresh vegetables, Chinese packaged items, and dim lunch from the mysterious soda fridge in the corner of the tight eatery.

I’ve been craving this belacan sauce lately, so I decided to make it from memory. Developing this dish was a challenge because I had to choose between dried shrimp and little dry anchovies. I’m going with the tried-and-true shrimp dish.

There is no way it could be mistaken for a raw sambal belacan, which is often prepared in the same way, but with the addition of cooking. Dried shrimp sambal was also spicier than this version (known as hai bee hiam in Cantonese).

This shrimp belacan sauce recipe, on the other hand, is pretty close to what I remember eating as a child. I’ll probably keep tweaking the recipe in the future, as new memories and tastes come to mind. For the time being, this recipe will be kept in the family’s cookbooks!

Nonetheless, if you’ve ever had something like this, please tell us how you made it in the comments below! It’s okay if you liked that tiny Malaysian restaurant on Doyers Street as much as we did.


  • 16 dried and deseeded Sichuan chili peppers
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 7 holland chilies
  • 3 Thai chili peppers, chopped (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons of belacan shrimp paste
  • 2 tablespoons of light brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup of sliced shallots
  • 1 cup of chopped dried shrimp
  • 1 tablespoon of fish sauce
  • 2/3 cup of canola oil


  1. De-seed and soak the dried chili peppers in 1 cup of warm water for 15 to 20 minutes before using.
  2. Remove the membranes and stems from the Holland peppers while the dried peppers are soaking. The seeds are optional if you prefer a very hot sauce. Cut each pepper into three equal pieces. Chop the Thai chilies if using.
  3. Finely chop half of your shallots. Slice the other half into thin slices.(You can also chop them, but I prefer the slices since they provide another dimension to the finished sauce.)
  4. Remove the dried chilies from the water and reserve the soaking liquid. Chop up the dried peppers, Holland peppers, Thai chilies, and half of the shallots (reserving the slices for later), as well as mince the garlic and ginger. Blend until the mixture is smooth or a coarse paste is desired. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the bowl’s edges to ensure that the mixture is thoroughly mixed.
  5. Over medium-high heat, place a frying pan or wok. Chop the dried shrimp and add it to the oil. For 3-5 minutes, cook on medium to medium low heat.
  6. Using a mortar and pestle, grind up the belacan. Into the pot you go! The belacan should melt into the sauce in about 3-4 minutes.
  7. Toss in chopped shallots and remove from heat.
  8. The paste of chili, garlic, and shallot should then be added. Add 1/2 cup of the reserved pepper soaking water and mix well. Stir occasionally and cook for 5 minutes. Mix in the brown sugar and fish sauce. Another 15 minutes of cooking time is necessary.
  9. Transfer the mixture to an airtight jar once it has cooled. Frozen or refrigerated for up to four weeks (it should last up to 1 year frozen).
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