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Spicy Relish for Ikan Bakar (Grilled Fish)

My mom cooked Ikan Bakar last week, otherwise known as Malaysian style grilled fish. You basically take a whole fish, smother it with spices, place it on a banana leaf, and grill it over a charcoal fire. Instead of starting a camp fire on the kitchen counter, Mom placed the fish on a banana leaf and fried it in a wok. She flavored the fish with a generous portion of turmeric powder, threw in some ground ginger & lemon grass, and finally topped it off with a bit of other spices for seasoning.
But the secret to this dish isn't on the main plate. As with many Malaysian delicacies, the secret sits inconspicuously in the tiny dish on the side. No, this isn't ketchup. It's a homemade, spicy, Malaysian relish! This spicy relish can take as much work to prepare as the main dish, but that extra kick is worth the effort.

Let's start with what you'll need to make the relish for your grilled fish:

A bunch of baby green and/or red chili (the spicy ones!), which we call “chili padi” in Malaysia. The name also refers to women with a small physique and a feisty personality. I know a few I won't name...

Bunga Kantan, or Torch Ginger Flower. A beautiful pink flower with a wonderful aroma and flavour - the simple, but essential ingredient used to make Penang Laksa.
And these:
  • 4 - 6 shallots  
  • 1 teaspoon of brown sugar 
  • 1 tablespoon of tamarind paste/ juice
  • 1/3 cup of warm water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of belacan*
  • 2 cloves of chopped garlic
  • 1 squeeze of fresh lime juice (or as much as you like)
The amount used for the ingredients are adjustable according to your taste. If you can't handle the fiery spice of baby green or red chili, you can replace it with the big red ones for a milder version.

If you can find those ingredients, or most of them, here's how you do it:

1. Toast the belacan for about 3 to 4 minutes in a hot pan or a toaster oven . Let it cool.
2. Mix the tamarind paste with 1/3 cup of warm water, strain and discard seeds.
3. Slice the green chili, shallots & bunga kantan into small pieces.
4. Add all the ingredients together and squeeze in some fresh lime juice for the final touch.

Having grilled fish for your next barbecue? Try this Malaysian-style relish to zest it up.
*Belacan is a fermented, ground shrimp paste. You might want to hold your nose if this is the first time you are using it, but don't fret, the smell mellows out after cooking and leaves behind an indescribable layer of richness to the mixture. It is a crucial element in most spicy, homemade Malaysian dips.


Christina Schweighofer said...

Reese -

Your pictures always stun me. Buildings, food, garments, shops - everything is steeped in brightness, contrast and color...

I found an article on Georgetown today and thought you might like it. Here it is:


Reese said...

Hi Christina,

Thanks for your comment & sharing the article. Many of us are excited to find Penang in the world map. Hopefully this will bring more positive growth & improvement to our home & the local community. It’s easy to get press mention, but always a challenge to keep a balance when development is concerned.

Thanks again for sharing this.


stephen said...

looks delicious!I might just try it for my X'mas BBQ.Merry Christmas to the both of you and all at home.

Reese said...

Thanks Stephen, so you're adding a Malaysian touch to your Christmas BBQ. Nice:) Wishing you a wonderful time with your loved-ones on this blessed Christmas!