Lady Finger Balacan at Penang
Anyone in the mood for Salted Cabbage with Pork Intestines? Maybe Assam Fish Head or Squid in Lemon Grass broth, Duck Congee (porridge), or Pork Stomach Soup? Me neither. But, having ventured to Kennesaw, GA (of all places) to check out Best Penang, I almost wish I had an adventurous, carnivorous palate. On the plus side, my aversion to such things made the Lady Finger Balacan, fresh okra with spicy red shrimp paste sauce, all the more appealing. Balacan is a typical Malay-Indonesian sauce made by fermenting ground shrimp, sun drying and later cutting into fist-sized rectangular blocks. Similar to Balacan, but with a stronger spice, is Sambal. For summer, I plan to be obsessed with this recipe for Sambal Bendeh below.
For the record, Penang was worth the drive from Atlanta. The staff is hyper friendly and prompt; five people greeted us before we were seated (immediately). The exterior ambiance is pure schtick, but as soon as the server delivered Roti Canai (Indian-style pancake, more like a deflated donut sans glaze) with curry sauce, my group was all in. The okra and eggplant dishes should make these sometimes-squishy, usually-over-cooked vegetables newly adored by anyone, and the Whole Fried Snapper was a work of edible art. The Curry Duck was served with fresh greens, but the duck looked thick and chewy from afar, and the tofu dish came with unexpected squid (no thanks). Portions were huge. Tea and Sake were hot and plentiful. Of course, we wrapped it all up with our standard favorite Coconut Drink, clear young coconut water (not creamy coconut milk), slightly over sweetened, with tender fresh coconut meat. Penang was an easily recommendable, entertaining and reasonably priced destination for a group outing.
Recipe for Sambal Bendeh from Refine-Define.net
“Its more like a salad but the asian nyonya style. I love it so much because it was a spicy, yet it was tangy and the belacan always made it ever so appetizing to me. I still love this dish and in fact, it is one of my favorite dish especially the vegetable itself. Its not really that hard to make it. If you already know how to make sambal belacan, then the battle is already half won. So here is how you make the dish.”
10 Pieces Okra (Ladies Fingers)
6 red chillies & 1tbs toasted belacan (blend coursely)
200g big onions cut into thin slices
30g dried shrimp (soaked and blended finely)
*optional* Lap Chong (slice thinly)
*Learning curve 101 – How to toast belacan*
With a non stick pan, heat it up and put your belacan there for a few minutes, and then turn it over to toast on the other side. It will dry up the belacan where it will be easier for you to crumble it and add it into your cili paste.
1. Blanch okra till soft and cut into thin slices
2. mix big onions and okra in a bowl
3. mix sambal belacan, vinegar and sugar
4. Toss mixture with the onions and okra
5. Garnish with finely blended dried shrimp