Malay street food : Kangkong belecan (water spinach stirfried with shrimp paste)

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Sometimes you discover awesome foods by accident.

For example when you feel like you’ve eaten your body weight in rice and just want any veggies, so you order whatever the  throw-up restaurant has and a deliciously spicy, pungent moreish kangkong belecan is presented to you.

Kangkong is a type of green leaf, widely eaten across Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and many other parts of South East Asia. It’s sometimes referred to as morning glory which is a different plant – It’s correct name is water convolvulus. It’s has a fairly similar taste to Chinese broccoli (known in Malaysia as Kailan).

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The other main ingredient, belecan, or sometimes ‘belechan’ is a far more complex ingredient, which can be commonly described as shrimp paste. A dried, fermented shrimp paste that is pressed into dark blocks that look a bit like black pudding and smell very strong – not quite durian strong, but it’s got some tang –  The hard paste is cooked off with roasted chilli and garlic to create Sambal belecan a spicy, fishy, pungently flavoursome dressing for the kangkong. Dried shrimp can also be added to increase the fishy intensity.

A story I read recently in the AirAsia 3Sixty magazine stated that a popular tale in Malaysia is that in the times of Hang Tuah, a legendary warrior from Melaka who visited the emperor. In the emperor’s court visitors were forbidden from looking directly at the emperor and at meal times Hang Tuah would ask for fresh, whole (stalk and all) kangkong so that as he ate the stalk with the vegetable hovering above his mouth he could steal a peak at the emperor!

It’s a great way to sneak some greens into your diet, as a side with some meat and rice and something we can never get enough of.

Phrases worth knowing 

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello  – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you (people will often respond with ‘sama sama’ which means’ you’re welcome)
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry

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