Taste of Malaysia: Seafood From Melaka

by Dr Shahrim Karim, Universiti Putra Malaysia |

Malaysia is blessed with plentiful of fresh seafood such as various types of fish, shrimps, crabs, and shellfish. The recipes featured here are from the state of Melaka.Its cuisine is a mix of Malay, Chinese, Indians, Nyonya and Portuguese.

Coconut is an essential ingredient in Malay and Nyonya cooking, the latter being a fusion between Malay and Chinese food. Local fresh herbs, such as lemongrass, galangal, ginger, kaffir lime leaves, curry leaves, and turmeric leaves are prominent in the local dishes.

The foods are hot and spicy, however, the level of spiciness would depend on the amount and types of chillies used. Dry chillies, fresh red chillies, and birds eyes chillies are widely used in the recipes featured here. Most of the dried chillies used in our cooking are imported from China or India, however, fresh red chillies and bird eyes chillies are locally grown.

For dried red chillies, there are different levels of spiciness, some are hot, while others are just mild. Dried red chillies are used mainly in Malay dishes. Typically the chillies are washed carefully and soaked for 15 to 20 minutes, then it is ground by using a mortar and pestle or in today’s kitchen, an electric grinder is being used. Sometimes, the chillies are boiled for several minutes to soften the texture of the chillies and then it is ground.

At home, most households would have some chilli paste or grounded chilli powder on hands to be used in the cooking. Many dishes make use of a basic paste made of red chillies, onions and shrimp pastes, such as sambal and asam pedas.

Asam pedas or sweet and sour mackerel with tamarind and torch ginger is a sour and spicy fish dish, cooked with chilli paste, tamarind, lemongrass, torch ginger and spices

Nyonya pineapple and shrimp simmered in coconut with turmeric, lemon grass and galangal, is a popular Nyonya dish in Melaka.

I have learned these dishes from friends, grandma and especially from my mother. These dishes are served daily in our homes. Please enjoy!

Asam Pedas or Sweet and Sour Mackerel with Tamarind and Torch Ginger

Asam Pedas or Sweet and Sour Mackerel with Tamarind and Torch Ginger


  • Ikan Tenggiri – 500 gm, ( several pieces/ cut into steak style)
  • Okras – 5 nos small)
  • Vietnamese mint – 2 springs
  • Torch ginger buds – 1 nos
  • Roasted coconut paste – 1 tbsp ( optional, roasted coconut paste, then finely grounded)
  • Lemongrass – 1 stalk
  • Salt – to taste
  • Cooking oil – 5 tbsp

Spice Paste

  • Garlic – 3 cloves
  • Shallots – 8 pieces
  • Dried chillies – 10 pieces
  • Shrimp paste – ½ tbsp
  • Fresh turmeric – 2 inch ( or turmeric powder, ½ tsp)

Tamarind Juice

  • Tamarind pulp – 350 gm
  • Water – 3 cups


  • Grind all the ingredients for spice paste in a food processor. Then, set aside.
  • Soak the tamarind pulp and squeeze the tamarind pulp constantly to extract the flavour into the water. Drain the pulp and save the tamarind juice.
  • Heat oil and fry the spice paste until fragrant and the oil come to the surface.
  • Add the tamarind juice and follow with torch ginger, lemongrass, and roasted coconut paste and bring it to a boil
  • Add the fish and Vietnamese mint and then season with salt.
  • Simmer on low heat until the fish is cooked. Then, add on the okras 2 minutes before turning off the heat
  • Ready to be served hot with steam rice

Nyonya Pineapple Shrimp Simmered in Coconut and Turmeric


  • 6-7 nos/150 gm – shallots
  • 4 nos – garlic
  • 8 gm – galangal
  • 3 stalks – lemongrass, just smashed the stem with a mortar
  • 200 gm – large shrimp (with shell intact)
  • 250 ml – coconut milk
  • 500 ml – water
  • ½ tbsp – turmeric powder
  • Half of a ripe pineapple, cut into 1.5 inch pieces
  • ¼ cup – cooking oil


  • Blend all ingredients in part A to make a paste. Heat ¼ cup oil in a wok and sauté the paste and turmeric powder till it becomes a bit drier and fragrant.
  • Then add the water and pineapple. Add the smashed lemongrass into the paste. If the gravy is too thick, add a little bit more water. Allow it to simmer for about 15 minutes until the sweetness from the pineapple is released into the gravy.
  • After that, pour coconut milk and allow it to boil and simmer for 3-5 minutes.
  • Then add the shrimps and let it boil again until they are cooked.

Dr Shahrim Karim is a well-known chef in Southeast Asia and a Malaysian heritage food authority & specialist. He has been guest in numerous TV programs such as Masterchef Malaysia and has published various cookbooks as well as more than 70 scientific papers on the importance of food as a cultural heritage. Currently, he is an Associate Professor at the Universiti Putra in Selangor. He can be contacted at shahrimkarim2@gmail.com or Instagram @shahrimkarim


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More recipes:

Beef Rendang

Ayam Percik

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