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Grandma’s Sambal Udang – Prawn Sambal

Grandma’s Sambal Udang – Prawn Sambal

Christina Soong-Kroeger recreates her Grandmother’s secret Sambal Udang recipe.
By Christina Soong-Kroeger

I do love a spicy seafood dish.

This recipe – Malaysian Sambal Udang (Prawn Sambal) – was created by my paternal Grandmother (my popo) and pieced together painstakingly by my cousin Carina. I’ve adapted it further, as the ingredients are a little different in Australia, to recreate the taste I remembered.

I only have my memory to guide me as my grandmother passed away a few months ago. She was 93 when she died and had lived a long and full life, with mostly good health. She left behind four children, eight grandchildren, seven great-grand children, and a wealth of memories and recipes.

While it’s never easy to say goodbye to those we love, I am comforted by the fact that people live on forever in your heart and memories. It doesn’t make the absence of them any easier, but it does mean that the most important part of them – their spirit, their essence, their soul – remains and that they can continue to impact on your life in all sorts of good and helpful ways.

In my grandmother’s case, she was an excellent and thoughtful cook. Every time we visited Malaysia we would be treated with a smorgasbord of our favourite foods – fried chicken, sambal hebi (dried shrimp sambal), fish head curry, Penang Asam laksa, pineapple fried rice, yong tofu(stuffed beancurd), water spinach fried with sambal belchan, and fried eggplants stuffed with minced prawn.

It was completely excessive but cooking was her way of demonstrating her love. It’s something my dad learned from her, and something I in turn picked up from my parents.

When I surprised them with this dish last week the look on their faces said it all.

“You’ve just gone to the top of the class,” my dad declared, as he hugged me.

“It’s just like I remember it,” smiled my mum.

Thanks, folks. That’s high praise indeed, but I’m just passing on the love.

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My Grandmother’s Sambal Udang (Prawn Sambal)

  • Author: Christina Soong-Kroeger
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1x


A spicy seafood dish full of love and memories.


  • 3 medium onions, peeled, and chopped roughly
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, white part only, chopped roughly
  • 25 Birds Eyes chillis
  • 1 tablespoon belcehan (fermented shrimp paste)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 500 grams (about 18 ounces) raw, peeled prawns (shrimp)
  • 1/3 cup water, just boiled
  • 3 tablespoons tamarind concentrate
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons light soy sauce


  1. Process onions, garlic, lemongrass and chilli until finely diced. Use 2 chillis for a mild-medium curry, 4 for a hot curry and 5 for an extra hot curry.
  2. Heat up a wok until smoking and then add oil. Heat for a few seconds until it starts to shimmer then add processed mixture and belcehan.
  3. Fry over a medium heat for a few minutes, stirring all the time, until fragrant and starting to ‘split’.
  4. Add turmeric and fry for another minute, stirring briskly, and then add the prawns and 1/3 cup just boiled water.
  5. Stir to combine, coating the prawns with the mixture.
  6. Add tamarind, sugar, salt and soy and continue stirring, until prawns are pink and cooked through.
  7. Serve with steamed rice and fried Chinese vegetables.
  • Prep Time: 10 mins
  • Cook Time: 10 mins


View Comments (32)
  • TQ…..delicious yummy…wil try cooking immediately…email some home simple recipes, especially any dishes with sardine or spanish mackerel fish dishes…sambal dishes…my favourite.

  • I did try this recepi and it was super my famil love it ,thank u for sharing ur grandma recepi

  • I’d like to express my sincerity thank you for sharing this recipe. It must be very delicious as I see the recipes. It’s my pleasure to suggest and it’s my personal opinion only from 10 years of cooking experience.If may suggest to mince garlic, Indian shallot, Bentong Ginger, minced lemongrass and eye bird chillies in a traditional way. When the oil starts simmer, add mince garlic, Indian Shallot, Bentong Ginger and cook till you may smell the aroma. Then, add lemongrass and eye bird chillies. Stir fry all the ingredients till aromatic, and add prawns and stir fry. After that, mix tamarind juice with a small teaspoon of brown sugar. Then, add altogether and cook about 10 minutes. Test the taste and finally sprinkle a bit of salt. Taste till you like it to be served. If I may suggest you may serve with “Jasmine Fragrant Pandan Rice.” You may cook Jasmine Fragrant Rice with mineral water, minced pandan leaves, minced Bentong Ginger, minced lemongrass, sprinkle salt, and Sarawakian white pepper. Thank you very much for your kindness.

  • Christine, what brand of belcehan do you recommend using.I live in Adelaide as well so if you point me the location that will be really helpfulThanks for sharing.Amanda

  • One early morning, 25 years ago, I arrived at Kuala Lumper via the night train from Singapore with a group of friends. My friend’s father picked us up from the train station, and when we arrived at his home, his grandmother had prepared a sumptious buffet of prawn noodles and other local favourites. She had spent the whole night doing this, sacrificing her sleep. 3 years later, another friend’s godmother, a kind Nyonya grandmother, prepared an amazing spread of Nyonya dishes, layed out beautifully on a long table. It took her three full days to prepare everything from scratch, with the help of her lovely Filipino domestic helper, whom she treated as a daughter. Your posts brought back beautiful memories of these kind grandmothers, whose love for their families was extended to strangers such as me, through food.

  • Hi Christina,

    The dish looks really good. Will be trying this tonight and thanks for the recipe. In the meantime, I think it’s called belacan instead of belcehan. My late grandma made the best belacan but unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to learn it and the art was lost. In any case, I’ll post the verdict tomorrow as I’m making it for chap goh mei dinner tonight. Gong Xi Fa Chai to you and family!

  • I cooked this prawn sambal and it turned out very good. I have tried so many times from other recipes and yours is the best. Thanks for sharing! Instead of fresh lemon grass, I used the paste and I add more sugar. It was fantastic!
    Wai Ling/ San Diego

  • This went so badly wrong for me, I followed the recipe exactly but 3 tablespoons of tamarind concentrate is a huge amount. Is tamarind concentrate different in australia to the uk?

    • Hi, Caroline
      I haven’t tried any UK tamarind concentrates so unfortunately I can’t really say. But this could be possible. Other people seemed to have made it successfully so perhaps it was some kind of issue with the tamarind you used. Anyway, sorry it didn’t work out for you.

  • This design is incredible! You definitely know how to keep a reader entertained.

    Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to
    start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Great job. I really loved
    what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.
    Too cool!

  • That was a very tasteful recipe. My birthday is almost at the door so I will prepare this prawn recipe for my children when they visit me for lunch, thank you Christine for you sharing this with us. Bye for now , Mary

  • Loved it! I am. French Chef and this one is a winner. I didn’t have tamarind and even without it was amazingly flavorful. I wonder if with chicken breast or fish will be as siccessful. It seems as if prawns are the ideal protein. Thank you

  • I love so much to try out this recipe, but my husband has yet to acquire the taste and smell of belacan. Is it ok I omit the belacan, and what changes do I need to make this work? Thanks!

  • Thank you for this – Loved this recipe! Mine Didn’t turn red, but it Was so deliciously peranakan home made. Plse put together a cookbook!

  • Wow I was overwhelming surprised to see just the same recipe my late mom used to dish up her sambal udang, except I don’t remember any soy sauce was added while cooking the dish. We did drizzle some soy sauce as individual preference when we eat. My mom would pound finely with mortar than chopping the shallots and other ingredients on the recipe. I remembered she was generous with the shallots in the recipe. Sometimes she would cook with added fresh pineapple cubes.

    Christina, thank you for your sharing.

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