THERE are some types of food that people would put up with with. That others would never step within a 10 foot distance of. Like balut in the Philippines, stinky tofu in Hong Kong; petai (stinky bean) in Malaysia and several parts of Southeast Asia; stir-fried worms and a various assortment of six- to eight-legged critters in Thailand, to name a few.
One of my favourite dishes of all time is sambal petai.
Sambal petai, easily found in my home country of Malaysia, is most definitely an acquired dish. The beans, though not as offensive-smelling as the stinky tofu (which you can smell at least 100m away #truestory), still packs quite a powerful pong. The dish consists of petai (a kind of bean) and fresh medium-sized prawns cooked in a spicy paste consisting mainly of shallots, garlic, and dried and fresh chillies (I add bird’s eye chilli in it for more heat). It’s best served with hot, steaming rice, ad is certainly one of life’s many joys for me. Throw in a side of onion omelette or stir-fry brinjal and you’ve got yourself a complete meal.
While you can’t truly separate taste and smell when it comes to appreciating food, I personally find that the stink of the petai is mainly on the nose. The taste is a little milder and somewhat ‘green’ and pulpy. Petai can be eaten in many ways — raw with sambal belacan, stir-fried with other vegetables, or cooked in a sambal style. My preference is to eat it cooked in sambal or stir-fried in a mixed-veg dish.
I grew up eating Mum’s version of sambal petai, cooked with shrimps, onions and cili boh (ready made spicy paste which negates the need for tedious peeling, blending/grinding the ingredients). While I’ve enjoyed Mum’s sambai petai immensely, I’ve also grown to appreciate the flavours that come with making the dish from scratch. It’s not very difficult and, if you have time to spare, I would recommend it.
If you’d like to try the dish out, here’s the recipe. Beware, though: all that chilli will make your hands burn for an hour or so. Note: Petai attracts flies, so you might want to keep the beans covered at all times, or in the fridge until it’s ready for use.
200g petai (halved and cleaned)
10 – 15 medium prawns
50g tamarind pulp (mixed with 1/2 cup water)
1/4 cup oil
1 tbsp sugar (or to taste)
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
Spice paste (blend the following)
10 fresh red chillies
8 – 10 dried red chillies
3 birds eye chillies
3 cloves garlic
8 – 10g belacan (toast before cooking)
1. Heat oil in pan and stir-fry spice paste till fragrant.
2. Add in strained tamarind juice and shrimps. Bring to a quick boil. Note: tamarind juice can be adjusted to taste. Some like a little more sourness to the dish.
3. Add seasoning to taste.
4. Add petai. Keep on the lowered heat till the shrimps and petai are cooked.
5. Serve with rice 🙂