Malaysia's Belacan Shrimp Sauce

Savory Symphony: Malaysia’s Belacan Shrimp Sauce

Belacan Sauce: Malaysia’s Tantalizing Treat

Imagine a sauce, epitomizing Malaysia’s Belacan shrimp sauce, steeped in the rich essence of fermented shrimp paste and harmonized with a medley of fresh and dried chilies. Introducing garlic and shallots to this mix, you’ve got a Malaysian-Chinese culinary wonder: Belacan Sauce. Standing tall beside renowned condiments like chili oil and ginger scallion oil, this sauce ensures a tantalizing experience for your taste buds with each use.

Serving Suggestions: Elevate Every Meal

Often, we’d pair this robust sauce with plain rice or congee to balance its saltiness. However, think of it as a secret weapon for various dishes. And, if ever you find yourself out of belacan, a shrimp sauce can play the substitute role quite well. Relishing it with a bowl of warm rice is still my favorite indulgence. For those who adore noodles, stir in a generous spoonful, and you’ve got a meal that’s both quick and irresistibly good.

A Nostalgic Culinary Journey

Growing up, “ma lai zan” or mǎ lā zhǎn in Mandarin, was a staple. It transports me back to those days when we’d eagerly grab a pint from a cozy Malaysian eatery in NYC’s Chinatown after a long shopping day. The quest to replicate this cherished sauce led to the memory-driven recipe shared below. While this is a cooked version, distinct from the raw sambal belacan, it beautifully encapsulates the essence of the original. As time progresses, I’ll undoubtedly refine it, letting each taste revive those fond memories.


  • 16 dried Sichuan chili peppers (10g; deseeded)
  • 7 Holland chilies
  • 3 Thai chili peppers (optional for extra kick, chopped)
  • 1 1/4 cup shallots (about 6 large, split into halves)
  • 8 garlic cloves (approx. 40g)
  • 2/3 cup canola or peanut oil
  • 1 cup dried shrimp (finely chopped)
  • 3 tbsp belacan shrimp paste
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce (optional but recommended)
  • 2 tbsp light brown sugar


  1. Immerse dried chili peppers in warm water for 15-20 minutes.
  2. As they soak, prep the Holland peppers by de-stemming, de-seeding, and slicing them into thirds. For added spice, chop Thai chilies.
  3. Divide shallots: finely chop half, and thinly slice the other.
  4. Drain soaked chili peppers, retaining the water. In a blender, combine dried peppers, Holland peppers, chopped shallots, Thai chilies (if using), and garlic. Blend until you achieve your desired consistency.
  5. Warm oil over medium heat in a pan. Add the dried shrimp, cooking for about 3-5 minutes.
  6. Using a mortar and pestle, crush the belacan. Add it to the pan until it integrates with the sauce over 3-4 minutes.
  7. Stir in sliced shallots, cooking until they turn translucent.
  8. Incorporate the chili-garlic-shallot paste, followed by half a cup of reserved chili water. Cook for 5 minutes. Then, stir in fish sauce and sugar. Allow it to simmer for 15 more minutes.
  9. Once cooled, transfer to an airtight container. Refrigerate up to 4 weeks or freeze up to a year.

Expert Tip:

This sauce yields about 2 cups. Perfect as a gift, or to have on hand for your culinary adventures. Enjoy a tablespoon per serving for the best experience.

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