Cincalok, for us, is a pungent condiment with her beef noodles. But it is pungent in a good way, just like anchovies. Since Nam Pla, anchovy fish sauce has become an important ingredient in our kitchen, we thought we would get the cincalok in Malacca for a try too. It is pungent with the taste and smell of the sea, just like anchovy sauce and it adds a pack of flavor to sauces and stews. This is not going to be an exception. We all know how difficult it is to add 'umami' to dishes and this cincalok is like an instant umami elevator.
Cincalok (also written as cincaluk, chincalok or cencaluk) is a traditional Southeast Asian food made of fermented tiny shrimps. Like many fermented foods, it’s usually eaten as a condiment or used as an ingredient in cooking.
Glass bottles of cincalok are usually produced by cottage industries in Johor, Malacca and Penang, Malaysia. It is made by fermenting raw tiny shrimps in salt and cooked rice inside sealed containers for three to four days. What you get in the end is a pungent, salty and sourish thick concoction containing lots of whole shrimps!
So, do I like cincalok? Yes! The smell when you first opened one bottle is characteristic of any fermented food, and that means pleasantly stinky! But if you’ve never acquired a taste for strong fermented foods, then you’ll definitely find its smell repulsive.
HOW TO EAT CINCALOK
Due to the use of large amount of salt, cincalok is usually served with slices of chilli and shallot, topped with a squeeze of kalamansi lime juice to balance its saltiness. Give me a bowl of steaming hot rice and cincalok, and I’ll have a filling meal.
If you still find the smell of cincalok overpowering, there’s a way to reduce its pungency. And that is by cooking it with other foods. You can add one to two tablespoons of cincalok in fried rice, omelet, sauces, fish based recipes, seafood and almost any savory dishes. But remember to add less salt to your food as cincalok is quite salty by itself.
BENEFITS OF CINCALOK
Tiny shrimps may be miniscule in size, but they are definitely no pushover when it comes to nutrient density.
They are rich in proteins, and are dietary sources of calcium, potassium, iodine, selenium, choline, vitamin B12, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids (specifically EPA and DHA). All these nutrients in a delicious small package that is low in fat and mercury.
Though they are high in cholesterol, recent studies suggest that dietary cholesterol has little influence on blood cholesterol levels.
Shrimps also contains astaxanthin — a pigment also found in salmon and microalgae — that gives cincalok a nice pinkish hue.
Astaxanthin is a carotenoid which has been found to exhibit antioxidant activities stronger than vitamin E. But unlike other carotenoids which are converted to vitamin A in the body and could lead to vitamin A toxicity if taken in excess, astaxanthin doesn’t get converted into vitamin A.