Belacan, also known as (and pronounced) blachan, has a gloriously foul, dead-fishy stench - the street smell of Malaysia - giving you a real whiff of the wharves covered in trays of tiny salted, fermented shrimps all along the Malaysian coastline. When cooked, this dried shrimp paste has a rich, complex flavour and - thankfully - a more acceptable aroma. Serve as a side dish to char-grilled fish, a fiery Malaysian curry, steamed prawns, or fried noodles.
Wash water spinach and shake dry. Grind, pound or blend drained chillies, garlic, nuts, shallots or onion, belacan and dried shrimps to a paste. Heat oil in wok or frypan, and fry paste until fragrant. Add spinach and toss to coat in paste. Add sugar as soon as the leaves start to wilt, and keep tossing until stems soften and leaves have wilted.
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