A Guide to the Secret Ingredient of Peranakan Cuisine

Do you cook with belacan? Many chefs claim that belacan is vital to the amazing flavours of Peranakan cuisine. Find out more about this unique ingredient, how to use, and where you might find it.

What is Belacan?

Belacan (pronounced buh-LAH-chan by English speakers) is made from miniature shrimp, which are mixed up with salt into a rough paste and fermented. Once fermented, the paste is ground into a finer, smoother texture, then dried in the sun. Afterwards, the belacan is formed into rectangular blocks and is fermented even longer.

What Does Belacan Look Like?

Belacan often comes as an unappetizing block that looks much like a brick. It’s smelly and chalky to many, and it doesn’t appear to be anything you may want to use in your recipes. However, this ingredient is the key to unlocking a whole world of flavour possibilities.

How Is Belacan Prepared?

You wouldn’t want to cut off a slice of belacan and eat it. It must be toasted before it can be used. Take about a tablespoon or two of the paste, wrap it in foil, and squeeze it tight in your hand. Toast it over a gas stove burner on low heat for up to a minute. It will start to smell smoky and stinky, as if it is burning. Make sure that you open windows and turn on the fan above your stove during this process, or you and everything in your home will smell like stinky belachan.

How Do Cooks Use Belacan?

Typically, a Malaysian or Peranakan recipe only involves about a teaspoon of belacan. It’s there to enrich the dish and bring just a hint of deeper, more interesting flavour. Often, chefs and home cooks use it in their chilli sauce or sambal, as well as other sauces, curries, and pastes.

Is Belacan Healthy?

Belacan is not necessarily a healthy ingredient on its own, due to its high salt content; but in small quantities as a condiment, it is perfectly fine to consume. In fact, some people claim that the whole shrimp used in it contribute helpful amounts of calcium and protein.

Where Can I Find Belacan?

You can purchase belacan at your local supermarket or grocery store, usually in brick or block form. After you open the slab to use it, wrap it up in plastic before putting it back in the fridge. As long as you wrap it and keep it refrigerated, it can last up to six months and provide you with flavour for many dishes.

Can I Order Peranakan Catering in Singapore?

If your mouth is watering for some Peranakan cuisine, but you don’t want to toast the belacan yourself, you can order Peranakan food from Eatz Catering. Check out our fantastic array of Peranakan menus online, or explore our specialty options like Nyonya chicken dumplings. We also offer a tasty Fusion Asian buffet and other dishes that incorporate belachan. Place your order today for your next private dinner, professional lunch, or family celebration.