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Sambal Belacan (Shrimp Paste With Chile and Lime)

Sambal Belacan (Shrimp Paste With Chile and Lime) 6.000

Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

Jan 20, 2022

No Malaysian nonya would be worth her salt (or shrimp paste) if she could not concoct sambal belacan, a fermented shrimp paste with lime juice and chiles, at home. Though nowadays, you can find packaged belacan in many Asian markets, every family has its own method of making it. Cookbook author Sharon Wee prefers shrimp paste made in Malacca, which she finds less salty than those made in Penang. The sambal is ideal with Ngo Hiang (Five-Spice Pork and Shrimp Rolls; see related recipe), but also brings out the flavor of the Lunar New Year soups dishes, and can be used as a seasoning for fried mackerel or as a marinade for chicken. The color of your sambal will vary from dark red to brownish-red, depending on the chiles and shrimp paste you use.

Before making, taste a tiny pinch of the shrimp paste to gauge its saltiness, as it varies. Use sparingly if too salty, and adjust according to your taste.

Find more Lunar New Year recipes here: 5 Asian cooks share dishes from their celebrations.

Total time: 25 mins

Storage Notes: Refrigerate for up to 5 days.

Where to Buy: Belacan fermented shrimp paste can be found in Asian markets and online. If you can't find it, substitute another shrimp paste, such as gapi or terasi, but keep in mind that they vary in flavor, pungency and saltiness.


When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 6 servings; about 6 teaspoons

  • 1/2 to 1 ounce belacan fermented (shrimp paste), diced into 1/2-inch cubes (see NOTES)
  • 3 fresh red Holland chiles, seeded, if desired, and finely chopped (see NOTES)
  • 1 fresh or frozen makrut lime leaf, stem removed (optional)
  • Granulated sugar, to taste (optional)
  • Fine salt, to taste
  • 1 lime or 2 Key limes, quartered (see note), plus more to taste

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In a small nonstick skillet over medium heat, toast the shrimp paste, using the back of a silicone spatula to rub the paste against the surface of the skillet. Continue to toast until the paste is fragrant, brittle and dry, about 5 minutes.

In a mortar and pestle or in a mini food processor, pound or blend the chiles and makrut lime leaf until the leaf is minced and well combined. Add the shrimp paste and continue to pound or blend until you have a dark, well combined paste. It is usually unnecessary to add more salt, but you may add a little sugar if you wish to tone down the pungency.

Scoop 1 teaspoon of sambal into each small sauce dish, and place a lime wedge on the side. When the meal begins, squeeze the lime juice into the sambal and stir to combine, adding more lime juice if desired.

NOTES: If you can't find Holland chiles, you can use Thai red chiles or Fresno chiles, adjusting the amount according to taste. If you can't find dried Thai chiles, use arbol or japones, but do not use ancho, chipotle or pasilla chiles, as they are too aromatic and smoky.

The smaller the chiles, the hotter they will taste, so consider removing the seeds or cutting back on the quantity to control the heat. Wear food-safe gloves when handling chiles, if you are concerned about the burning or stinging skin.

If you’re unaccustomed to heat, judiciously add the chile a little bit at a time until you get the level of spice you can tolerate.

Recipe Source

Adapted from Polly Wee, mother of cookbook author Sharon Wee.

Tested by Ann Maloney.

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Nutritional Facts

Calories per serving (1 teaspoon, with 1 quarter lime wedge): 24

% Daily Values*

Total Fat: 1g 2%

Saturated Fat: 2g 10%

Sodium: 358mg 15%

Total Carbohydrates: 4g 1%

Dietary Fiber: 1g 4%

Sugar: 2g

Protein: 1g

*Percent Daily Value based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Total Fat: Less than 65g

Saturated Fat: Less than 20g

Cholesterol: Less than 300mg

Sodium: Less than 2,400mg

Total Carbohydrates: 300g

Dietary Fiber: 25g

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