Stir-Fry Water Spinach with Shrimp Paste (Belacan Kangkung)

There are certain ingredients that I can only get in Chinatown, that also applies to some vegetables. Just a few days ago, I did my normal food shopping at a local supermarket, I spotted something that looks really familiar. I wasn’t sure. So, I picked up the packet and read and label. It says ‘Ong Choi’. Ok, sounds a bit like ‘Eng Chai’ (in Hokkien dialect). I had a thorough look, from different angles I could. I was finally certain to put that packet in my basket. I mumbled “Should be Kangkung or Eng Chai.”

I notice more and more Oriental vegetables are sold at the local supermarkets. I then found out that there is one farm in the UK that grows only Oriental vegetables, such as Pak Choi, Kai Choi, Choi Sum, Kai Lan, Tong Ho, and Ong Choi. It’s a good news for me as it would make it easier to get Oriental vegetables!

Water spinach is also commonly known as swamp cabbage, water convolvulus, water morning-glory, kangkung (in Malay & Indonesian), eng chai (Hokkien), kongxincai ???, and ong choi (Cantonese). It is very popular and widely used in South East Asia cooking and grows naturally in waterways.

Ong choi/kangkung/water spinach is the kind of vegetables that I have long missed! ‘Belacan kangkung’ is usually a common dish that is served either for lunch or dinner at home. There are many ways to cook ong choi/kangkung/water spianch. I think the most popular way is to stir-fry with shrimp paste and chilies. I just love a bit of spice in this dish to go with plain boiled rice.

Belacan is made from fermented ground shrimps. It has pungent flavour and it’s one of the MUST HAVE ingredients in the Malaysian kitchen. You can omit belacan if you feel that the smell if too strong for you or cut down the quantity.

To make belacan kangkung, it doesn’t require a lot of effort at all. As I love prawns, I have added some fresh tiger prawns instead of dried shrimps. 🙂 I can eat just this and rice and usually end up really happy!


Stir-Fry Water Spinach with Shrimp Paste (Belacan Kangkung)

Yield: 2-3 persons


300g water spinach (ong choi), cut into 5cm length
2 tbsp sunflower oil
200g prawns, shelled and deveined
a pinch of salt

Spice paste:
3 red chillies
2 garlic cloves
5 shallots
1 tsp belacan/dried shrimp paste
1 tbsp water


1. Put the spice paste ingredients in a food processor or pestle and mortar, grind until smooth.

2. Put the sunflower oil in a wok over medium-high heat, add the spice paste and cook for 3-4 minutes or until fragrant. Then, add the tiger prawns, cook for 2-3 minutes until pink.

3. Add the water spinach, stir and mix well. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until wilted. Season with salt. Serve warm.