What is Terasi?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

In Southeast Asia, a type of shrimp paste known as terasi is used in many flavorful dishes. The strongly-scented sauce is created from ground raw shrimp. The shrimp is fermented and dried in the sun, before being cut into single use-sized blocks.

Garlic is often mixed in while making terasi.
Garlic is often mixed in while making terasi.

The form of freshly made terasi is typically that of a small square cake. When sold commercially, or during preparation, however, it may exist in the form of crumbles or ground powder. Its color can range from rich mahogany to a lighter shade of brown. The flavor of the paste is usually very salty and pungent, much like many other fish flavors.

Many stir-fry dishes can be made using flavorful shrimp paste.
Many stir-fry dishes can be made using flavorful shrimp paste.

A spicy Malay-Indonesian sauce, terasi is used in several signature dishes. The piquant fruit salad known as fruit rujak includes the dried shrimp paste. Stir fry recipes also frequently call for the ingredient. Shrimp crackers and terasi is a popular snack or appetizer in some areas. A chili-based South Asian condiment known as sambal includes terasi.

To make sambal terasi, one may sauté sliced red chilies, chopped tomatoes, peeled shallots, garlic cloves, and tarasi in a small amount of oil. After a few minutes, the mixture should be removed from heat and poured into a mortar or bowl. A small amount of sugar, lime juice, and salt is added before grinding all of the ingredients together. The blend may be refrigerated for up to one week.

Fried rice can be made with this fishy paste. One may blend the sauce with other traditional ingredients, such as garlic, shallots, or other flavoring agents. It can then be sautéd with any meats or vegetables desired inside a wok.

An important distinction between this ingredient and other types of sauces is that terasi requires cooking during or prior to use. Alone, the powder or patty is considered raw. Most cooks prefer to either roast or fry the paste prior to use, or while preparing the main dish itself.

Terasi is generally inexpensive to purchase ready made. It can be found in specialty Asian shops as well as online. It is typically packaged in a glass or plastic jar, and is available in 7.5 to 16 ounce (213 to 454 gram) sizes.

When searching for this paste, it is important to remember that it may be known as something else, depending on where it was made. In Singapore, the sauce is known as belachan or belacan. In Vietnam, it is called Mắm Tôm, Mắm Tép, or Mắm Ruốc, depending on what type of shrimp is used. In Laos, it is known as kapi.

Shrimp paste is a fairly common ingredient in many dishes from Southeast Asia and southern China.
Shrimp paste is a fairly common ingredient in many dishes from Southeast Asia and southern China.
Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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