"Sambal belachan is a much loved condiment of Malaysian households. It’s very useful to have around because you can create a huge amount of instant flavour by adding it to noodle, soup or rice dishes. There are many types using slight variations of a similar recipe but sambal nasi lemak is my favourite. I love mixing it into a mountain of rice with a couple of fried eggs and plenty of freshly sliced cucumber to cool the lips. It's my favourite dine alone meal!" Poh Ling Yeow, Poh & Co.

2 cups





Skill level

Average: 3.3 (59 votes)


  • 20 g belachan (see Note)
  • 20 small dried red chillies, plus 5 large, deseeded, snipped into small pieces, covered in freshly boiled water for about 30 minutes or until soft (see Note)
  • 5 long red chillies, sliced
  • 3 tsp tamarind paste
  • ½ cup (125 ml) vegetable oil
  • 3 medium brown onions, peeled and sliced
  • 3 tbsp caster sugar or to taste
  • salt to taste 

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Soaking time 30 minutes

Preheat the oven to 180ºC or 170ºC fan forced.

To prepare the belachan, wrap in a double layer of foil and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until dry, crumbly and fragrant. Blitz in a food processor with the rehydrated dried chillies and chilli water, fresh chillies and tamarind paste until a fine paste forms.

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the chilli paste, stirring continuously and cooking for about 5 minutes or until the mixture is a thickens and darkens in colour. Add a few tablespoons of water to loosen the mixture and cook until a deep mahogany colour. When the sambal is adequately caramelised, the oil will begin to pool around the edges of the saucepan and separate from the mixture. Add onions and sugar and season carefully as the belachan is high in salt. As soon as the mixture begins to bubble again, remove from the heat. If the paste is very thick, stir in a few teaspoons of water. Taste at the very end to see if more sugar, salt or tamarind is required for balance. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 1 month or 3 months in the freezer.



• Belachan can be found in Asian grocers and some supermarkets.

• If you would like to use only fresh chillies, try substituting the dry ones with a total of 12-15 long red chillies and 1 bird’s eye chilli for a medium heat, but don’t hold me to it! I usually slice the top off the chilli and lick the underside of the cap to decipher how much to use of each since the heat of fresh chillies can be very unpredictable. Good luck!


This recipe is from Poh & CoAirs 8pm Thursdays on SBS ONE.


Photograph by Randy Larcombe Photography.

Reproduced with permission from the book Same Same But Different by Poh Ling Yeow, published by ABC Books/HarperCollins Publishers Australia, 2014.