Sambal Melanau + Stir-fried Bean Sprouts


We were not expecting good food during our trip to Mukah, Sarawak years ago. A colleague, Diana Rose, had opened a homestay in her hometown, and we thought it’ll be all sago and pepper. Then again, we knew next to nothing about Sarawakian food except for Sarawak laksa and kolok mee in Kuching.

It turned to be a delightful gastronomic trip – we had everything from the yummy sago maggots (it’s all fat and it’s deep-fried) to linut (a starchy literally glue-like translucent mixture that you twirl around a stick and dip in sambal) to umai (raw fish in lime juice with sliced shallots and chillies).

Then, there was the sweet sweet pineapples. I am usually a little wary of pineapples because they gigit the gums, but the Dalat pineapples we had were out of this world. I don’t think I have had such sweet pineapples since that Mukah trip.

There was a brillant cook at Diana’s homestay, and we had the best meals. We had rice and dishes, and one of the first condiments we savoured at his table was his sambal to accompany the fried fish.


His sambal whets the appetite, and is substantial as it has ikan bilis. The ingredients are also easy to find, so it’s not hard to make. I made it during a camping trip to Belum, Perak. Everyone else had gone hiking, and we were staying in an island away from shops and kopi tiams.

There wasn’t much in the kitchen, but there were chillies, shallots, ikan bilis, and limes. It was enough for me to make my sambal because there was also a portar and mestle. And just like that, our plain meal of rice and fried fish was transformed into a feast with this humble sambal.

And that is why I chose to highlight this recipe for our cooking column in The Star on Monday.

I used the small white ikan bilis because that was all I had. But it’s much much better with the bigger ikan bilis as they are much tastier. A colleague who went with us on the Mukah trio said that his mother used to make him the sambal with ikan bilis left over from making stock for his toddler’s porridge.


Anyway, here’s the recipe again

Sambal Melanau

4-5 red chillies

2-3 shallots

1 clove garlic

50g ikan bilis, washed and drained

5cm belacan, roasted

Juice of 1 kalamansi lime

Salt and sugar, to taste

Pound all the ingredients, except the lime juice, until fine. Add the lime juice, and mix well.

The sambal goes nicely with Bean Sprouts Stir-fried with Tofu and Shrimps


3 tablespoon of cooking oil
1 square tofu, sliced
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
10-15 prawns, shelled
200g bean sprouts, clean and remove the tails
2 stalks of spring onion, cut the same length as the beansprouts
salt, to taste

Heat 2 tablespoons of the cooking oil, and fry the tofu slices. Set aside.
Heat the remaining cooking oil, and saute the garlic till fragrant.
Then, add the prawns and stir quickly.
Turn up the heat, and add the bean sprouts.
Sprinkle a little water (don’t drown the beansprouts), and stir.
Do not cook too long or the beansprouts would lose their crunch.
Add salt, and the spring onion just before removing from the wok.


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