Belacan (shrimp paste) is a cake-like shrimp paste that must be cooked and should not be eaten raw. It is made from tiny shrimps mixed with salt and fermented. The fermented paste is ground, sun dried, shaped into blocks, and again fermented. It is “pungent” in both taste and scent and a little goes a long way. It is almost always toasted and used in small quantities to add depth of flavor to curries and paste.
Bunga kantan (torch ginger)
Curry powder is a mix of spices of varying composition which may include coriander, fennel, cumin, chili pepper, cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, cloves, fenugreek, ginger, and so forth. Commercial curry powder differ from brand to brand.
Dried chilies are used in many Southeast Asian dishes. The dried form has a smoky and more concentrated flavor. A little goes a long way. Dried chilies are used whole in stir fries or ground for curries.
There are two types of ginger sold at the markets in Malaysia. “Young” ginger is the preferred kind of ginger. It is light yellow in color with a very thin layer of translucent skin. The rhizome usually has lots of pink and green shoots. “Young ginger” is tender, less pungent, and may be eaten raw. It is often julienned as a garnish or used in stir fries. When pickled, it turns a blush or light pink color. “Old” ginger has tan dry skin and the rhizome is usually larger. It is more fibrous, spicier, and has a stronger flavor than young ginger. “Old” ginger is used mainly in soups, stews, and curries.
Pandan (screwpine) is a tropical plant with long, narrow, blade like, very aromatic leaves. Its fragrance is a mix of vanilla and tea rose. Pandan leaves are used in many desserts as well as savory dishes. It is usually shredded and knotted before use. It is also sometimes wrapped around food during cooking.
In Malaysia, pandan is often grown in the backyard. Here in the US, pandan can be found in frozen form at the Asian grocery stores.