How to make sambal belacan

Fined For Lack Of Belacan, an article in the Daily Chili of the Star newspaper, sure brought back some memories. As a young boy, I ate a lot of “nasi lemak” wrapped in banana leaves.

If you are wondering why your nasi lemak lately seems to have lost its “oomph”, permit me to tell you why.

The Daily Chili, in its short article on 22nd October 2009, reported that shrimp or “belacan” maker, Rohani Ali, 56 of Dungun, Terengganu, was charged in the Dungun Magistrate’s Court for selling belacan or shrimp paste with insufficient “pungency” and protein in it.

The reporter further said, the belacan which Rohani sold, looked like belacan, smelled like belacan, but the Magistrate reiterated was not the “bona fide” stuff it was meant to be.

In the end, Rohani Ali, who had been selling 400 gm packets of shrimps paste was found guilty. She had violated the Food Regulations 1988. So, there you have it.

For your information, the nasi lemak, was not surprisingly, nearly voted as the most popular Malaysian dish favoured by most of us in a popular radio show held recently.

For your information also, raw belacan, when uncooked, smells putrid and pungent, exactly like wet, soiled and unwashed shoes.

Little wonder, even Malaysia’s national airline carrier, M.A.S. has banned belacan from being brought on board its flights.

Together with the King of Fruits, itself, the “durian”, it is banned. My little knowledge on belacan tells me, belacan is essentially made out of small, little shrimps with salt added and left to dry in the hot Malaysian sun.

I used to visit a “Bagan” or fishing village. At a ram-shackled fisherman’s hut in Kampung Perepat, Jalan Kapar, authentic belacan was made.

Belacan if you have seen it being processed, undoubtly smells horrible. No word can describe it.

But toast the belacan, add it to pounded chilies, and lime juice or vinegar and not forgetting onions as well, and you have the best concoction most of us love, the “sambal belacan”!

If you cannot imagine how pungent and putrid raw belacan is permit me to quote you a well known peribahasa or proverb’ “Seperti kera kena belacan” or literally translated into the English language, means “Like a monkey being given belacan”.

It is said, if should a monkey be given a piece of belacan, the animal will end up screaming, jumping up and down and doing somersaults. As if, the world is coming to an end. In short, the monkey will become berserk.

So my dear readers, if you should intend ever to pay a visit to Zoo Negara, please for heaven’s sake, do not bring a piece of belacan.

Like fish, shrimps are hard to come by these days. So as I read about shrimp maker Rohani’s predicament, it is feared one day soon, who knows, we may end up, having no more belacan on our tables.

Can you imagine having no more nasi lemak?