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.
Possibly, fishermen first created the salted aged shrimp product as a means of preserving their catch. Another theory is that it was created so that tiny otherwise unmarketable shrimp could be sold. Whatever the reason, shrimp paste is an integral part of Southeast Asian cuisine
. The shrimp paste industry has been important to the development of many coastal Asian communities.
Shrimp pastes vary in appearance from pale liquid sauces to solid chocolate-colored blocks. Shrimp paste produced in Hong Kong
is typically a light pinkish gray while the type used for Burmese Cuisine
, Lao cuisine
, Khmer Cuisine
and Thai cooking
is darker brown. While all shrimp paste has a notoriously pungent aroma, that of higher grades is generally milder. Markets near villages producing shrimp paste are the best places to obtain the highest quality product. Shrimp paste varies between different Asian cultures and can vary in smell, texture and saltiness. Therefore, the correct shrimp paste should be chosen for the food being prepared.
A watery dip or condiment that is very popular in Myanmar, especially the Burmese and Karen ethnic groups. The ngapi (either fish or shrimp, but mostly whole fish ngapi is used) is boiled with onions, tomato, garlic, pepper and other spices. The result is a greenish grey broth like sauce, which makes its way to every Burmese dining table. Fresh vegetables and fruits, such as mint, cabbage, tomatoes, green mangoes, green apples, olives, chili, onions and garlics are dipped into the Ngapi Yay and eaten. Sometimes, in less affluent families, Ngapi yay forms the main dish, and also the main source of proteins.
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.
Terasi, an Indonesian variant of dried shrimp paste, is usually purchased in dark blocks, but is also sometimes sold ground. The color and aroma of terasi varies depending on which village produced it. The color ranges from soft purple-reddish hue to darkish brown. In Cirebon
, a coastal city in West Java
famous for fine quality terasi producer, terasi is made from tiny shrimp called "rebon", the very origin of the city's name. In Sidoarjo
, East Java
, terasi is made from the mixture of ingredients such as fish, small shrimp, and vegetables. Terasi is an important ingredient in Sambal
Terasi, also many other Indonesian cuisine
, such as sayur asam (fresh sour vegetable soup), lotek (also called gado-gado
, Indonesian style salad in peanut sauce
), karedok (similar to lotek, but the vegetables are served raw), and rujak
(Indonesian style hot and spicy fruit salad
Bagoong Alamang is Filipino
a shrimp paste, made from minute shrimp or krill (alamang
) and is commonly eaten as a topping on green mangoes
or used as a major cooking ingredient. Bagoong paste varies in appearance, flavor, and spiciness depending on the type. Pink and salty bagoong alamang is marketed as "fresh", and is essentially the shrimp-salt mixture left to marinate a few days. This bagoong is rarely used in this form, save as a topping for unripe mangoes. The paste can be sauteed with various condiments, and its flavour can range from salty to spicy-sweet. The colour of the sauce will also vary with the cooking time and the ingredients used in the sauteeing.
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.
This Chinese shrimp paste is popular in southeastern China. This shrimp paste is lighter in color than many southeast Asian varieties and is often used in Pork and vegetable stirfries. The shrimp paste industry has historically been important in the Hong Kong region.
means prawn paste in the Hokkien
dialect. It is also called petis udang in Malay. This version of shrimp/prawn paste is used in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. This thick black paste has a molasses like consistency instead of the hard brick like appearance of belacan. It also tastes sweeter because of the added sugar. It is used to flavour common local street foods like popiah
spring rolls, laksa
curry, chee cheong fan
rice rolls and rojak
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.
Preparation techniques can vary greatly; however, the following procedure is most common in China, and much of Southeast Asia.
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.