Sambal Belacan

Just like rice, South East Asians are very specific about the type of sambal belacan (sambal balacan), or shrimp paste chili dip they enjoy. Different ways of preparing can affect the way it taste. My family sneered at my sambal belacan made using electric blender – lack of character, they said. Pounding using mortar and pestle is really good exercise for your arm. After a few try, I am grateful I am not selling authentic sambal belacan for a living.

Sambal Belacan with Lalap Vegetables

We serve our sambal belacan with fresh vegetables such as lettuce and cucumbers or boiled vegetables such as long beans and carrots. This is called lalap, vegetables served with sambal belacan. We have lalap as our version of fresh salad. Sambal belacan to us is what olive oil and balsamic vinegar to Italians.

If you would like to keep your kitchen pungent-free, try the shrimp paste-free sambal belacan.


Sambal Belacan

Makes 1 cup


1/8 cup cooking oil
1 (120 g) medium size tomato, halved and seeded
5 (20 g) shallots
10 (75 g) red chilies
8 (25 g) green chilies
1/2 tbsp (5 g) shrimp paste (belacan/balacan)
2 tbsp shaved palm sugar (gula melaka/gula merah)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 lime


Heat 1/8 cup cooking oil in a skillet over medium heat for 3 minutes. Fry tomato and shallots till soft and brown for 3 minutes. Remove and set aside

Next fry chilies until they turn a shade lighter for one minute

Drain the oil, leaving only 2 tablespoons of oil on the skillet and turn down the heat. Fry the shrimp paste quickly, break the paste using the spatula for 2 minutes. Remove from heat for later use

Pound the chilies and shallots in a mortal using pestle hard and slowly for 8 minutes. Add tomato halves (skin removed), shrimp paste, palm sugar and salt.

Pound till everything mixed well for 5 minutes

Squeeze lime juice into the mortar and mix well with spoon. Serve with selections of fresh and boiled vegetables

Chilies used here are mixed of green and red chilies, for presentation purpose only since I thought all-red sambal is boring (although equally delicious). Red chillies are more common for sambal belacan.
If less hot sambal belacan is preferred, the chilies can be seeded before frying.
Some people likes smooth sambal belacan, some preferred a bit of texture to it. I like coarse, so pounding using mortar and pestle is the best way for me to get the specific kind of consistency. Smooth sambal belacan can easily be made using spice grinder / electric blender.
Sambal belacan can be stored in refrigerator in a covered container. Good for three days. Longer than that, the texture can be a little bit dry.

Step by Step

Ingredients prep for sambal belacan

Preparing ingredients

How to Make Sambal Belacan

Preparing Sambal Belacan using granite mortar

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10 Responses to “Sambal Belacan, the Famous Spicy Dip with Shrimp Paste”

  1. 1

    Pepy @Indonesia Eats — June 15, 2010 @ 4:17 pm

    I never fry my terasi anymore since I live here. All I do, place all ingredients for sambal on a baking pan and toast in the oven. Less stinky smell comes out from my kitchen, means less grumpiness from my husband.

    • Jun replied: — June 16th, 2010 @ 2:34 am

      We have an open-air kitchen at home. But if we don’t, I am sure we won’t prepare it that way as well. Too stinky! Do you spray some oil on the ingredients before toasting?

  2. 2

    Lick My Spoon — June 15, 2010 @ 11:31 pm

    Such a colorful dish, perfect for coming summer. This may have an edge over“generic” dips; must try for an alternative flavor! Thanks!

    • Jun replied: — June 16th, 2010 @ 7:57 am

      Not many people can handle the taste. Haha :P

  3. 3

    noobcook — June 17, 2010 @ 5:00 am

    hard work to use m&p (lazy, no pride me use electric blender)… but as I can see from your photos, it’s totally rewarding. your sambal looks divine. maybe one day when I’m feeling hardworking, I will use the m&p to pound them. love your photos!

    • Jun replied: — November 6th, 2010 @ 3:31 am

      If it is up to me, I would choose the electric blender, seriously!

  4. 4

    Fragrant Coconut Milk Rice — October 10, 2010 @ 1:46 pm

    [...] Shrimp paste chili (sambal belacan), recipe here [...]

  5. 5

    asianfoodophile — August 3, 2011 @ 3:28 pm

    I can finish off a big plate of plain rice with just sambal and some purplish coloured young and tender leaves of the cashew nut tree.

    Or, another favorite of mine is to soak some dried shrimps in water, blend them coarsely and mix with sambal to go with sliced cucumber. Yummy.

    • Jun replied: — August 4th, 2011 @ 9:44 am

      I have never had those leaves before, nor heard of it. Now I am curious.

  6. 6

    lani — February 16, 2012 @ 2:23 am

    an indonesian room mate introduced me to sambal belacan and now my meal is not complete without it

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