A bit on the side!

Hello beautiful people! What a scorcher it’s been, with temperatures in my kitchen reaching 34 degrees at one point. Whilst standing over a hot wok frying a mountain of prawn fritters with only a small pathetic fan to keep cool, I felt like an ice lolly melting on the sidewalk!


Now after a couple of rainy days I find myself moaning that the sun has disappeared. Perhaps it’s human nature to always want what we don’t have. Anyways, this week’s blog is not about my fickle mindedness as that could go on forever but instead let's chat about Malaysians and their long love affair with condiments.


Condiments, sides, accompaniments or whatever term you prefer, is the one similarity which is ever present in all cultures (albeit in different forms) with the sole aim of enhancing a meal. At the risk of some of you wanting to throw darts at my photo, I have to declare that many mass produced tomato ketchup and BBQ sauces don't make the cut, as I feel it only serves to mask the true flavour of food as opposed to heightening the eating pleasure. There, I said it! Oops I’m sorry not sorry!



Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a snob and a burger or a hot dog almost demands to be slathered in the aforementioned, but that’s where the need for it’s existence ends I’m afraid. For me, condiments have to offer so much more than a gloopy blob on a plate, they have the ability to truly tantalise every corner of my taste buds ranging from salty, sour, sweet, spicy, or in some cases all of the above. 


In Malaysia almost every meal is served with something on the side. Nothing is random as the choice will be dictated by the main dish and the best flavour that compliments it, but there is of course personal preference. It’s a common sight to see glass jars filled with pickled chili and fresh chili sauce dotted on tables in food stalls and restaurants, and the Indian restaurants will have an impressive selection of pickles and chutneys.


Needless to say It would prove a mammoth task to list every single condiment available so without boring you to tears I’m only focusing on firm family favourites that make a regular appearance at meals and which I replicate here too. 



Sambal belachan


If you’re not a major fan of shrimp paste then I would head for the hills right now! In all honesty, the smell is so incredibly pungent that it permeates every inch of the house and surrounding area which can sometimes be rather unpleasant.


Most oriental supermarkets in the UK will stock it either in a plastic tub or in a block and it doesn’t make a difference which one it is. A friend of mine who lives in a flat said that the lady below would thump the ceiling with a broom every time he cooked anything with shrimp paste until he sent her a little taster covertly hidden in some stir fried noodles. Apparently all ‘thumpings’ have since ceased!


Making sambal belachan is so simple  that it can be rustled up in minutes if you have the ingredients which are red chili (or even green or both), a dash of salt, toasted shrimp paste and fresh lime. Everything except the lime is roughly pounded in a pestle and mortar and then mixed with a generous amount of freshly squeezed lime juice.


Lime wedges are served alongside for those who want to increase the sour taste. It’s by far the most popular as it seems to be the perfect pairing to many dishes like curry, Nasi goreng (fried rice), and noodles. If you’re brave enough to tolerate the smell then I promise there will be no turning back even if the neighbours are secretly petitioning to have you evicted!



Achar (pickles)


Everyone loves pickles and chutneys and I can say with utmost confidence that every single household cupboard worldwide will have something of sorts nestling somewhere. Whether homemade or shop bought it lends itself so well to sandwiches, ploughmans, curries, and anything else that takes your fancy.


My mum’s salt fish pickle is what I can only refer to as ‘the bomb’ and of all the recipes she’s given me, this is by far my favourite. I just couldn’t wait to make it once it was in my grasp and I’ve made it on a regular basis ever since thanks to my customers who are now totally addicted!



My mum’s fish of choice is the local ‘kurau’ (Threadfin) which is of a thick and meaty texture and in the absence of kurau here in the UK, I found that boneless Jamaican salted cod is a perfect substitute.


The whole process is quite laborious as the salt fish has to be painstakingly cut into small cubes and deep fried,  then there’s the paste and finally the long cooking process. But as I’ve said time and time again, anything that’s lip smackingly delicious is worth the effort. The added bonus is that it keeps for up to 6 months in the fridge although it’s always devoured before the best before date! With a heady hit of garlic, a sweet tinge courtesy of raisins (yes raisins!), crunch from cashew nuts, heat from whole green finger chili, and that enticing Umami flavour from the fish, it’s fast becoming my best seller. 

My mixed vegetable pickle (Achar Awak) is another versatile number that compliments both eastern and western food. Traditionally it makes an appearance on special occasions like Chinese New Year and Christmas but really you won’t be arrested by the ‘acar police’ if you have it all year round!


What makes it quite unique is that although jam packed with vegetables (as it says on the jar!), the whole concoction is enveloped in a thick sauce made of crunchy peanuts and sesame seeds which provides a wonderful texture and many have told me that one spoonful is never enough.


As always my customers have found new and innovative ways of enjoying it and I’ve been told that a dollop goes well in a sandwich, cheese and crackers, or even a burger. Production of this acar is even more time consuming then the salt fish pickle but yet again the end result is totally gratifying.


All the vegetables have to be peeled and cut into small batons, blanched in vinegar and sugar, then dried until every bit of moisture has evaporated. The paste which eventually becomes the sauce has a host of blended ingredients like garlic, ginger, dried chilli, onion, lemon grass, and finally the addition of toasted crushed peanuts and sesame seeds which brings everything to life. Made from plant based ingredients it’s really an all rounder that can be enjoyed by vegans and vegetarians too.



Fresh chili/chili sauce


Malaysians adore a chili kick with everything and whether it’s in the form of a sauce, fresh, or pickled, it’s all fair game. Back to my earlier disparaging remarks about tomato and bbq sauce, I have to admit sheepishly that we are known to have bottled chili sauce although in our defence it would be the absolute last resort.


The first port of call would be a simple blend of chopped chili and garlic in light soy which is by far the best option if you have time constraints. However if you can work at a leisurely pace, roughly blend fresh red or green chili, garlic and ginger, then mix with white vinegar, sugar and salt.



This simple mix makes a great dip for bbq’d meats, spring rolls, or as a side to noodles and fried rice and keeps well for at least a fortnight in a glass jar refrigerated. Hubby is such a fan that my fridge has to have stock replenished on a regular basis. 



Sambal goreng


Sambal is one of the most popular sauces in Malaysia and is usually part of a main dish with meat, seafood, or veg. Sambal ‘goreng’ however is a much drier version although there is still a considerable amount of oil.


Many types of sambal goreng are found in Malaysia and most are closely guarded family recipes. Apart from it’s function as a condiment, Malaysians also have it in sandwiches and no party or celebration would be complete without it.


For something that has a longer shelf life, the addition of dried prawns or anchovies are more suitable and can be stored for a few weeks in the refrigerator. Some noodle stalls in Malaysia are renowned not just for their noodles but their special ‘sambal’ which customers can buy separately to cart home. 



I hope you enjoyed this week's read and if you’d like to try anything that’s been featured then do get in touch. Until next time keep safe and well.


All my love,

Mariae xxx


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