Occasional stories, food and travel inspiration

Occasional stories, food and travel inspiration

My Grandmother’s Prawn Sambal

It’s good to be back.

Regular readers will know that I’ve been blogging only occasionally lately, rather than my usual 2-3 posts a week. I had been unwittingly hijacked by a number of work projects and family issues and didn’t have the time or energy, much less the inspiration, to blog.

As we all know, inspiration is essential to the success of any creative endeavour. Without it, I ended up standing in front of the pantry and fridge, waiting for the ideas that never came. It was a completely depressing state of affairs: the kitchen, usually one of my happiest spots at home, started to feel lonely and neglected.

One day late last week, I found my passion for food again. I wanted to celebrate its return by cooking something special as I joyfully reclaimed my kitchen.

So I chose this recipe – Malaysian Sambal Udang (Prawn Sambal) – which 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.



  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.


My article on persimmons including my favourite ways to eat this gorgeous fruit, is out now in the latest issue of Sumptuous. I’m also a featured  contributor this month – thanks guys!

I was also happy to learn this week that Honest Cooking, the American online food magazine that I contribute to, has been nominated for ‘Best Group Blog’ in the prestigious 2012 Saveur Food Blog Awards. Honest Cooking is less than a year old so it’s a wonderful achievement for editor Kalle Bergman and the international team of contributors. If you enjoy my writing, please do take a moment to head on over to the site and vote for us.

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