Traces of Balachaung

Signs you’re in an Asian house #45 :

We were over at Jaime’s place a couple of weeks ago and before leaving, Jaime invited us to take some cake and iced buns home. After not much feeble protesting, we acquiesced and she proceeded to pull out some plastic take-away containers from her cupboard. That was when I noticed exactly how many take-away containers she owned.

You know it’s an Asian house if there’s tons of take-away containers in the cupboard, Jaime said, with a grin. Not that I ever thought about it before, but now that I have, I too have a collection (though a more humble sized one). At home, my mom has a mountain of plastic containers. Probably enough to supply a Chinese restaurant. It’s for leftovers (no one ever ever throws out leftovers) and all those occasions when you have people over and insist on pressing food into their hands as they walk out the door. I’d like to think that these plastic containers stay within the circle of food-givers, getting recycled over and over again as vessels for kuih, fried rice and frozen curry puffs, so hopefully, it’s not all that bad for the environment!

Signs that you’re in an Asian house #46 :

That day, Jaime also introduced me to a fantastic Burmese condiment called Balachaung. It’s a concoction of dried shrimp, fried garlic and shallot, flavoured with shrimp paste and is extremely good sprinkled on anything. I tried making it today, and as soon as the shrimp paste started toasting and the dried prawns hit the oil in the pan, that characteristic smelly prawn smell I get virtually every time I cook something Malaysian, enveloped the entire kitchen. This smell, is going to take a week to rid the apartment of!, I thought with a big sigh. Don’t get me wrong, I love shrimp paste but only when I’m eating, not as a room fragrance.

Signs you’re in an Asian house #47 :

You’re visiting a friend’s place and the conversation lurches from iced buns to Balachaung in the one breath.

Sambal Balachaung :
(makes 2 cups; from Green Mangoes and Lemongrass by Wendy Hutton)

125 ml vegetable oil
3 tablespoon sesame oil
10 shallots, sliced
10 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
125g dried prawns
60ml (1/4 cup) rice or white vinegar
1 – 3 teaspoons crushed dried chilli flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon toasted dried shrimp paste

Heat both lots of oil in a wok. Add the sliced shallots and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until they are golden brown and crisp. Lift out with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel, leaving the oil in the wok. Add the sliced garlic and cook as for the shallots, making sure it does not turn dark brown. Drain and set aside.

Do not soak the prawns but put them into a food processor and process to a powder. Reheat the oil left in the wok and add the prawn powder. Stir fry over low heat for 5 minutes, then add the vinegar, chilli flakes, salt and shrimp paste. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Remove from the wok and spread on a couple of layers of paper towel to absorb the oil. When completely cold, put the prawn mixture in a bowl and toss with the fried shallots and garlic. Transfer to a tightly sealed jar.

[Note: If you’re feeling lazy, you can use bought fried shallots and garlic. Just proceed with the prawn part of the recipe, and after the prawn mix has cooled down, add 1/2 cup fried shallots and less that amount, of fried garlic. Delicious!]


  1. Aran said,

    May 6, 2008 @ 2:45 am

    Very unusual for me since I am not acustomed to Chinese cuisine (authentic chinese cuisine) but it sounds delicious and your photos are sooo good! well done!

  2. Lorraine E said,

    May 6, 2008 @ 9:22 am

    LOL it’s so true about the plastic containers! Do you know that some of those $2 stores sell them in packs of 5 or 10? I can imagine the Chinese community completely laughing at that-most could supply a store with them 😆

  3. Y said,

    May 6, 2008 @ 3:08 pm

    Aran: It’s really tasty stuff.. I could eat it on it’s own even! My Burmese friend says she also has it on white bread like a sandwich filling.

    Lorraine: Hehe… yes I can’t imagine ever wanting or needing to buy take away containers considering that they always seem to be in circulation amongst my family.

  4. John T said,

    January 15, 2010 @ 4:25 am

    If you’re not making it and just want to buy it where can you buy it in the UK and what name would it be under?. This is not normally available in British Supermarkets

  5. Y said,

    January 15, 2010 @ 9:29 am

    Hi John T! I have to say, I haven’t seen it for sale here either. If you’re lucky, you might be able to find it in an Asian grocery store. But it’s less common because it’s a Burmese condiment. If you happen to have a Burmese friend, they probably have containers of the stuff in their freezer (like my friend does).

  6. Karin de Nijs said,

    June 27, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

    At the beginning of the recipy your write “(makes 2 cups; from Green Mangoes and Lemongrass by Wendy Hutton)”

    But I can not find these ingredients listed in the recipy below.

  7. Y said,

    June 27, 2012 @ 11:04 pm

    Hi Karin, “Green Mangoes and Lemongrass” is the name of the cookbook by Wendy Hutton.

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