When stir fry veggies with oyster sauce no longer excites your palate, why not step out of your comfort zone and try the spicy and exotic ‘sambal kangkong’? This is a common and popular dish in Malaysia and definitely one of my top pick when it comes to veggie dishes whether at home or in restaurants. That said, it takes an acquired taste to enjoy this dish partly because not many people can appreciate the concentrated “shrimpy” scent and taste of belacan (Malay terms for shrimp paste).

Back in the days when I was living in a college dorm with many local Australians, American and European exchange students, one Malaysian student decided to make sambal starting by roasting a piece of belacan on a dry pan in the pantry located on the ground floor. Due to the mechanics of hot air rising, many of the residents upstairs were appalled by the scent of belacan and almost immediately shut their doors tightly, sealed the gap at the bottom with door snakes/draught stoppers to keep out the pungent breeze. While others prayed they could lose their scent of smell then, I was enjoying every breath of this salivating scent.

I’m probably not doing the best job in convincing you how wonderful this veggie dish is. But like blue cheese, either you like it or hate it. But before you decide that it should go to your dislike folder, I think it is worth a try. It is certainly in my ‘like’ category but what about you?

{Though I affectionately called it as kangkong, it is also known as Water Convolvulus (which I think a tad too long for a veggie name) or simply water spinach. I don’t know about others but the way I identify this veggie is by looking at their stalks which are hollow in the center. I must say it took me a while to find it but if you are living in a metropolitan areas where there are Chinatowns, I think you won’t have any trouble in locating it.}

{In effort not to smoke the whole neighbourhood out of their homes, I use a store bought sambal instead. While choosing a good sambal, the ingredients you are looking for are chillies, dried shrimp, prawn paste (belacan) and onions. The color of the sambal should be intensely red as traditionally it is made with dried red chillies which are boiled to soften the fibre of the dried chillies and then pounded into paste form.}

Sambal Kangkong

Serves 2


1 bunch of kangkong, trimmed and chopped into shorter pieces

2 shallots, peeled and roughly diced

1 garlic clove, peeled and rougly diced

1 tbsp sambal paste (store-bought or home made)


1. Pound the diced shallots and garlic into paste form using mortar and pestle.

2. Heat up pan with a drizzle of vegetable oil and saute the paste form shallots and garlic on low to medium heat till aromatic.

3. Then add in the sambal paste and saute until aromatic.

4. Lastly, add the kangkong and mix well with the mixture. Cook until the kangkong is slightly wilted. I prefer the kangkong stalks to remain a bit crunchy.

Emily’s note: As it is a vegetable dish with sambal paste, I like to mellow down the strong flavor with some hard boil eggs. But if you use sambal paste with seafood like prawns and squids, you can add some lime juice just before you dish out or serve with slices of cucumber as an accompaniment.

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