A smelly (salty, fishy) paste made by grinding up salted, fermented shrimp. Dried shrimp paste is an essential ingredient in Southeast Asian cooking for flavoring and also to add protein to a dish. Though it has a strong pungent smell and intensely “fishy” taste before it’s cooked, dried shrimp paste becomes a delicate seasoning that recedes quietly into the background of dishes.
It is never eaten uncooked, nor is it used in quantity—usually no more than a teaspoon or two at most goes into dishes (with the exception of some sambals, which tend to call for a lot of it). Use in seafood dishes, and also with beef, pork, poultry and vegetable recipes. It is often an ingredient in dipping sauce for fish or vegetables.
Shrimp paste can be found in most meals in Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Fish sauce cannot be substituted for shrimp paste as shrimp paste has entirely different flavor characteristics.