Shrimp paste or shrimp sauce, is a common ingredient used in Southeast Asian and Southern Chinese cuisine. It is known as terasi (also spelled trassi, terasie) in Indonesian, Ngapi in Burmese kapi (กะปิ) in Thai, Khmer and Lao language, belacan (also spelled belachan, blachang) in Malay, mắm tôm in Vietnamese, bagoong alamang (also known as bagoong aramang) in Filipino and hom ha/hae ko (POJ: hê-ko) in Min Nan Chinese.
It is made from fermented ground shrimp, sun dried and then cut into fist-sized rectangular blocks. It is not designed, nor customarily used for immediate consumption and has to be fully cooked prior to consumption since it is raw. To many Westerners unfamiliar with this condiment, the smell can be extremely repulsive; however, it is an essential ingredient in many curries and sauces. Shrimp paste can be found in most meals in Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines. It is often an ingredient in dipping sauce for fish or vegetables.
Belacan, a Malay variety of shrimp paste, is prepared from fresh tiny shrimp of a species known as geragau in Malay. These are mashed into a paste and buried for several months. The fermented shrimp are then dug up, fried and hard-pressed into cakes.
Belacan is used as an ingredient in many dishes, or eaten on its own with rice. A common preparation is sambal belacan, made by mixing belacan with chilli peppers, minced garlic, shallot paste and sugar and then fried. The aroma from the frying mixture can be unpalatable to Westerners who have not become accustomed to it, but is an absolute delight to the Asian connoisseur.
Unlike in other parts of Southeast Asia, where the shrimp are fermented beyond recognition or ground to a smooth consistency, the shrimp in bagoong alamang are readily identifiable, and the sauce itself has a chunky consistency. A small amount of cooked or sauteed bagoong is served on the side of a popular dish called "Kare-kare", an oxtail stew made with peanuts. It is also used as the key flavouring ingredient of a sauteed pork dish, known as Binagoongan (lit. "that to which bagoong is applied")
The word bagoong, however, is also connoted with the bonnet mouth and anchovy fish version, bagoong terong.
Shrimp paste continues to be made by fishing families in coastal villages. They sell it to vendors, middlemen or distributors who package it for resale to consumers. Shrimp paste is often known for the region it comes from since production techniques and quality vary from village to village. Some coastal regions in Indonesia such as Bagan Siapi-api in North Sumatra, Indramayu and Cirebon in West Java, and Sidoarjo in East Java, as well as villages such as Pulau Betong in Malaysia or Ma Wan island in Hong Kong, Lingayen Gulf, Pangasinan in the Philippines are well known for producing very fine quality shrimp paste.
After being caught, small shrimp are unloaded, rinsed and drained before being dried. Drying can be done on plastic mats on the ground in the sun, on metal beds on low stilts, or using other methods. After several days, the shrimp-salt mixture will darken and turn into a thick pulp. If the shrimp used to produce the paste were small, it is ready to be served as soon as the individual shrimp have decayed beyond recognition. If the shrimp are larger, fermentation will take longer and the pulp will be ground to provide a smoother consistency. The fermentation/grinding process is usually repeated several times until the paste fully matures. The paste is then dried and cut into bricks by the villagers to be sold. Dried shrimp paste does not require refrigeration.
Shrimp paste can be found in nations outside Southeast Asia in markets catering to Asian customers. In the United States brands of Thai shrimp paste such as Pantainorasingh and Tra Chang can be found. Shrimp pastes from other countries are also available in Asian supermarkets and through mail order. In Europe it can simply be bought in the supermarket.
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