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


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

Prep Time:

Cook Time:

2-3 persons

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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)

Prep Time:

Cook Time:

2-3 persons


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

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.


  • oh!! I love sambal kangkung belacan!! I miss this dish too..Your dish look great!! It’s been a while I been to Chinatown .All NYC Chinatowns do sell kangkung at great price,I think about $1.50 USD lb,not bad,huh?.I’m going to add “bak U bok” on top! hahaha!

  • tigerfish says:

    Sambal Kangkung! THE dish for that bowl of steamed rice!

  • Gertrude says:

    I can eat that whole plate all by myself 🙂 Its has been a while since I cook this minus the belachan ( hubby can’t stand the smell) 🙂

  • Excellent dish. I had no idea you can get kangkoong in US. I always thought it was something you find in the village in South East Asia region ..

    Great photos, by the way

  • beachloverkitchen,
    Wow…USD1.5 per lb is cheap. I don’t remember how much I paid already.. must have been more than that! Maybe next time I should buy from Chinatown.
    “Bak U Bok”!! I want some!! That is really my favourite! Do you make your own?

    Yes!! 🙂

    I think I can also eat the whole plate.. just with rice.. heheheh 🙂 I think this dish is just as nice without belacan!! The smell could be too strong for other people.

  • khunying says:

    I came from south of Thailand, Songkla, so I was very close to Malaysia. This dish remind me of something that my grandma used to make. I have to try to make it one day. Love your site!

  • Jun,

    Thank you! I was surprised to see this at the local supermarket in London too. I am not sure if I saw this at Chinatown. I need to check it out. And yes, I agree with you, I thought it was something very common in villages in SE Asia.

    Ah…really? Songkla is really near to Kedah, that’s where I come from! I have to admit our family cooking is somehow influenced by Thai cooking too. In fact, there’s a Thai village near my parents house. So, when I go back to Malaysia, I like to eat at one of those Thai restaurants that serve really authentic Malaysian-Thai food!! Just delicious!
    I am glad that you love my site!! Stay tuned for more recipes!

  • Olivia says:

    This is an authentic peranakan dish. I love this dish. For us, we have a little more spice and dried prawns added to form the rempeh for the dish. Will share the recipe with you soon.


  • Maya says:

    I always get some kangkung whenever I am in NYC Chinatown (love that place!). I have substituted kangkung with spinach from the local supermarket when the craving for this hits.

  • limpepsi says:

    LeeMei, I am jealous now! Those oriental vegie are luxurious goods for me, they are so expensive in Norway. The price is about GBP 5.23 per kg.

    I love this dish! You remind me of sweet potato leaves. Belacan with sweet potato leaves is also damn good!

  • Olivia,
    That sounds good! Yes, would be great if you could share the recipe 🙂

    I believe the Chinatown in CNY is much better than the small one in London. 🙁
    I think spinach is good too.

    pepsi ,
    Aiks…! I think it isn’t any cheaper in the UK.. I don’t really how much I paid for 300g!! I will check when I go again.
    Yeah…. sweet potato leaves.. I love them too..
    By the way, is it difficult to get Oriental/SE Asian food in Norway?

  • Lydia says:

    I planted some in my vege patch, almost time to harvest. They are flowering now, white flowers. My sweet potato (for leaves) also flowering but purple-pinkish flowers. Those flowers added some colours to my vege patch, otherwise all green!

  • lk says:

    Hey! My favourite dish! But I haven’t cooked it for my son as I am afraid that he can’t accept belachan and red chillies.

  • Lydia,
    That’s nice to have a garden with some veges. I haven’t seen the flowers of kangkung and the sweet potato leaves! They must be pretty 🙂

    Yeah.. I could imagine that belacan could be too strong taste. I did one time without was good too.. as for chilies, it’s probably too young to let you son to try 🙂 Maybe when he is a bit older 🙂

  • Nilmandra says:

    Kangkung! My dad adores sambal kangkung. And yeah as soon as you said ‘ong choi’ I knew it was kangkung; my family is Cantonese 🙂 I tend to prefer mine with fermented bean paste/’fu ru’ ???)<– I have no idea whether I got the Chinese characters right! :p

  • Lydia says:

    Kangkung and sweet potato’s flowers look alike, and similar to morning glory (or they are in the same family?). It was my first time to see sweet potato’s flower, my mom planted for so many years but I never seen its flower till recently.

  • Nil,
    Yeah – the Chinese characters are right 🙂 When I mentioned to my mom ‘Ong Choi’, she knew it instantly as she is Cantonese. As for me, I learnt from young to know it as ‘Eng Chai’ hehehe..
    I have never tried with ?? in my cooking before.. maybe one day you can share any of your recipes with it?

    Ahhh.. ok.. I just ‘googled’ and check the images.. now I know.. I remember seeing the kangkung flowers!

  • Piggy says:

    yummy! Of all the vegetable dishes, sambal kangkung is my favourite!

  • Piggy,
    I think the texture of this veg is just amazing! I love the crunch of the stems 🙂

  • Pepy says:

    If you go to most of any Fish and Seafood grilled in Indonesia, you will find this dish or pelecing kangkung for the complement, such as in Jimbaran, Bali.

  • Pepy,
    I was in Jimbaran, Bali March this year! I just checked the photos of the meal we had at one of the Fish & Seafood grill restaurants at Jimbaran Bay and indeed, kangkung was a complementary dish!! 🙂
    Thanks for letting me know, else I wouldn’t have remembered!

  • Sefa says:

    ohhhh you make me drooling over my keyboard 🙂
    I have to check the Asian shop, if they have kangkung… I’ll make it 🙂

  • Irene says:

    I m a Singapore but living in Australia – Melbourne. Every now and then I m craving for family food but I have big problem choosing vegetables, simply because I cant see the different 🙁 But I loves kangkong alot.. and was so happy to see this in your blog. But can I ask.. is water spinach and spinach the same? And what is the english name of sweet potato leaves?

    Thanks in advance 🙂

  • Sefa,
    Thanks for dropping by! I do crave for this kind of dish from time to time 🙂

    Thanks for dropping by and your comment. Water spinach and spinach are not the same. However, if you can’t find water spinach (kangkung), you can make do with spinach. I like the crunchy stems of kangkung, so, texture wise, this is what spinach don’t have.
    I think that’s what it’s called sweet potato leaves in English. I have yet seen this at the local supermarket. Probably need to check at the Chinese supermarkets.. I am sure they have!

  • Dennis says:

    Great posting – thanks.

    I live in London and have been looking for belacan – so far without any luck. Did you use malaysian belacan or thai gapi in your receipe?

  • My Cooking Hut says:

    Thanks for your comment and dropping by.
    I use the belacan that I bought in Malaysia. Belacan (shrimp paste) – Vietnamese or Thai ones should be fine -try Wing Yip or Wai Yee Hong chinese supermarkets.

  • Mable Yeoh says:

    it’s great get to know your web. Just thinking of using this school holiday to learn something. Now i got it. it’s proud to know that my schoolmate is doing a great job. Thanks for sharing. this is my favourite food too.

  • Hantu says:

    .. Had Balinese vegetables a short time ago in March 2011 at Sari Segara Hotel on the beach in Kedonganan at Jimbaran Bay. Looked just like your photo above and tasted yum. I have the paste recipe ( similar to yours ) and can’t wait to get the correct vegetables and make it myself. I had the dish with fried Babi and a sweet & sour dipping sauce and a small bowl of Acar on the side. Glorious !

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