Rojak – Malaysian Spicy Fruit Salad and Sambal Belacan

In every language there are always some unique words that convey highly expressive notions about food and cultural nuances all at once. In the Malay language, rojak fulfills this down to a T. Blessed with an abundance of tropical fruits and vegetables, Malaysians often take a variety of ingredients and mix them together into a tasty salad called Rojak. In the mind of the locals, rojak has taken upon the meaning of diverse elements and even polar opposites being blended together. As such to describe anything as rojak is to imply a jumbled mix.

The cut-fruit stall is a popular lunch time fixture where Rojak can sometimes be found. The vendor will chop up his fruits and mix it with the sweet and spicy sauce. Prior to the advent of plastic bags, it was once common for Rojak to be served up in a newsprint cone lined with banana leaves. A few bamboo skewers were included for spearing the pieces of fruit. This is the most basic form of Rojak. Specialized Rojak vendors have more elaborate ingredients that include fried tofu and crispy shrimp fritters to provide a contrast of textures and flavors.

The sweet and spicy sauce is what makes the fruit salad a Rojak. One can almost describe the taste as umami. The ingredients include sambal belacan (pounded shrimp paste and chili condiment), hei koh (sweet black shrimp paste), sweet sauce, caramel soy sauce, and sugar. Hei koh is a very important ingredient, without which it will not have that thick caramel consistency. On this side of the world, it would be similar to a spicy chocolate sauce or mole. In fact, I made a Spicy Chocolate Rojak sometime back using extra dark chocolate as a substitute for hei koh.

Today is the last Sunday of the month and it is time for World on a Plate. This month’s theme “Fruity Dessert” was agreed upon way back in May and the first thing that came to my mind was rojak. I was really excited as I knew I would be able to get hei koh this time since I had a scheduled visit to Malaysia in June. Although I have not seen hei koh being sold here in my neighborhood in recent times, it is available in the larger Asian grocery stores downtown and especially the ones on both coasts. I have purchased it once or twice in the past.

The other very important ingredient in Rojak is sambal belacan, a beloved pounded chili condiment of the Nyonyas and Malays. Many such household find food bland where sambal belacan is not present. It is often served during a meal with some raw vegetables known as ulam or simply used as a dip for a myriad of dishes.

There are basically only three ingredients in sambal belacan – red chilies, toasted belacan (shrimp paste), and lime juice. Belacan is a cake-like shrimp paste that must be cooked and cannot be eaten raw. Always buy the best grade you can afford as a little goes a long way. Hei koh on the other hand, is a more sauce-like shrimp paste that can be eaten right out of the jar.

Sambal belacan can be prepared ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator until required. Any left overs should be used up within a week.

Sambal Belacan
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 4 to 6 servings
  • 1 small piece belacan (1”x1”x½”)
  • 6 red jalapeno chilies
  • 3 – 4 tbsp lime juice from 1 lime
  1. Toast belacan in a non-stick pan until crumbly. This will take about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove and allow to cool .
  2. Break chili into smaller pieces shaking off seeds as much as possible. Place toasted belacan and chilies in a small food processor and processed till fine.
  3. Alternatively, belacan and chilies may be pounded in a stone mortar and pestle to the desired level of fineness. Transfer to a jar.
  4. Stir in lime juice. Store in the refrigerator and consume within a week.

The chopped roasted peanuts and sesame seeds provide additional texture and crunch. This salad truly is a mix of flavors and textures unlike any other. It is spicy, sweet, salty, tangy, soft, and crunchy. I hope you will give this recipe a try.

Rojak – Malaysian Spicy Fruit Salad
Prep time
Total time
Serves: 4 servings
  • 6 small deep fried tofu
  • ½ pineapple, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 slightly green mango, peeled and cubed
  • 1 small jicama, peeled and cubed
  • 1 cucumber, cut into bite size pieces
  • ¼ cup roasted peanut, chopped
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Rojak Sauce
  • 1 tbsp sambal belacan
  • 1 tbsp hoisin or sweet sauce
  • 1 tbsp dark caramel soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp hei koh (sweet black shrimp paste)
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  1. Fry tofu on a non-stick pan on all sides to crisp it up. Remove and slice thinly when cool enough to handle. Set aside.
  2. Combine all rojak sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Mix thoroughly with a spoon.
  3. Place sliced tofu, pineapples, mangoes, jicama, and cucumber in a large bowl. Pour sauce over fruits and vegetables. Mix everything up well. Dish into 4 individual portions. Sprinkle some chopped peanuts and sesame seeds over each portion.
  4. Serve immediately.

Enjoy…..and have a wonderful day! 😎

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  1. says

    This reminds me of the other rojak which I really love, I am not sure if you know what I mean but the one I am saying is the sweet, salty and spicy variant, I am not sure whats on it but its not fruits. Do you have a recipe of that one?

    • Biren says

      This rojak also has the sweet, salty, and spicy flavors. Perhaps you are referring to Indian rojak or pasembor.

  2. says

    Biren.. your sambal was literally making my mouth water!! I love it. I also love the little dish you put your sambal in very cute!! This fruit salad is my kind of dish. :)

    • Biren says

      Sambal belacan can be addictive. My mom always have a jar in the fridge. Those cute little dishes come in a set of four. It is nice that they have lids. :)

  3. dorothy lin says

    Thanks for the easy version of the rojak.My mouth waters when I see the pictures.Pineapples,mangoes,and jicama cost cheaper in summer.Plus with home grown cucumbers and chilli peppers – the rojak will taste heavenly.I will try making it next week and let you know th result.

  4. says

    This has got to be one of the most interesting desserts I’ve ever seen! Tofu, fruit, hot sauce – in a dessert? Why not? I do love the sweet and spicy so I’m sure this is the perfect dessert for me. The sambal belacan looks very interesting and like something that could be used in a variety of dishes. I’ve never heard of belacan, so it’s now on my list of things to find! Great dessert, wonderful pictures! Thanks for sharing this unique Malaysian dessert!

    • Biren says

      This truly is a jumble or mixed up fruit salad with a combination of flavors and textures. I hope you get to try it one of these days.

      You should be able to find belacan at the Asian grocery stores. Do buy the best grade you can find as a little goes a long way.

    • Biren says

      This is something that is quite different from what you will find here. I hope you get to taste it one of these days. :)

  5. says

    I love the shot of your rojak cone in the metal stand and I actually feel like preparing some rojak for hubby this evening. He absolutely loves it, and I miss it too! Have everything but the hay koh, off to the market I go 😉

    • Biren says

      Thanks Denise! I am really loving that new macro lens as the pictures come out nice and crisp.

      You should have no trouble finding hei koh in your part of the world. Happy snacking! :)

  6. says

    This is a new dish to me – and it looks great. Love the flavors. Really like your stone mortar and pestle, too. I have a marble one, but I also need a stone one (I’m crazed I know). Good post – thanks.

  7. says

    Wow! I’m so glad you posted this, Biren! I was so craving for rojak. A friend gave me a bottle of the sauce (all-in-one) and what I did for all time sake (schooldays), was to smear the sauce on the a cucumber (cut lengthwise with the pit scooped out). The bottle of rojak sauce was gone in less than 3 days and I guess there’s no excuse in making my own 😀

    Thanks for sharing and I love the colour and texture of your sambal belacan. Reminds me of my mum’s kitchen :-)

    • Biren says

      When I was in Penang in June, I was so tempted to bring a jar of pre-made rojak sauce home. After some deliberation, I decided to buy the hei koh or prawn paste instead and make my own rojak sauce. I am glad I did as the sauce turned out beautifully, if I can say so myself. :)

      I grew up with sambal belacan. Mom constantly has a jar of it in the fridge which I got to enjoy during my recent visit. :)

  8. Poh raggatt says

    Once again you have not only transported me back to Malaysia, but given me ticket to go there anytime I choose! S
    Thanks for sharing all you authentic Malaysian recipes. Love it!

    Just noticed that the “save recipe” box for Rojak goes to Sambal belachan.

    • Biren says

      My website is always open. Please visit any time. :) Really? It must be taking the first recipe on the page. I will look into it soon. Thanks for letting me know.

  9. Paul says

    Made the rojak last night. Tasted fine to me but I never had it before..will test it tonight at a dinner party with friends from Malaysia.

    • Linda says

      I hope your Malaysian friends like it. :) were you able to get the shrimp paste (belacan) and sweet black shrimp paste (hei koh)?

    • Linda says

      The closest thing I can think of in texture to bangkwang are Asian pears. :) You can certainly leave it out altogether since there are quite a few fruits in there.


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