Sambal Petai (Chilli Smelly Beans)

According to wiki, there’s a whole string of names for it Parkia Speciosa (scientific), bitter bean, smelly bean (English), Sataw (Thai), Petai (Malay & Indonesian)

These delectable beans are one of God’s strange creation, you either love it or hate it; in terms of aroma and taste. Like asparagus, petai has high content of amino acid, hence after consuming these yummy beans, it is detectable from your breath and pee for at least 2 days. Your poor friends and family will also have to deal your heavy flatulence effect.

When I was younger, I had to help my mum to extract the petai from the casing. After which I had to split the beans to check if there’s any worms, ooh I hate worms…I remembered I use to screamed, jumped and run away whenever I cut through a worm. Eeew I still squirm till this day when I prepare it.

Fortunately, today the labor is cut by half and many local supermarkets and markets sell them in packets ready peel. I still split the beans to check for worms though.

Choosing Petai

Whilst you’re out shopping for petai be sure to choose the beans based on its appearance. It should look bright green, big and plump (looks a little like broad bean after removing the skin), check for worms in the bag. I recommend Geylang Serai Market, it is cheaper, there’s more in each packet, and you can easily purchase the other ingredients and spices there. Not to forget you can have your breakfast or lunch at the food center on the 2nd level. The Nasi Padang is a bomb!

Avoid the shrivelled, tainted brown petai, chances are the petai has been left on the shelves for a while now and there are worms burrowed in it. Recently I picked up a bag and a swarm of worms came surfacing. Needless to say, I screamed, threw the bag at vendor and scared the rest of the customer and I ran away.

Preparing and Cooking it

You can literally use petai in whatever dish you fancy. The Southern Thais tend to use it in their curries, fried rice and Nam Prik (a salad dish where you dip the raw vegetables into thai chilli chutney). The commonly know Malay, Indonesian or Nyonya dishes cooked with petai  are normally Sambal Petai cooked with prawns, ikan billis (dried anchovies), squid or mince pork (there’s a really good version of petai mince pork at Sin Hoi Sai at Tiong Bahru).

The recipe that I’m going share with you is one that I stole from me dearest mummy. It not traditionally nyonya, its been tweaked with a little Thai influence.  I especially like her version of Udang Sambal Petai cos she minces the prawns. This way you will always get a good mouthful of prawns and petai with every spoonful.

Udang Sambal Petai


10-15 cloves Shallots

3-5 cloves Garlic

4 Candlenuts

30-45 Dry Chilli

15 Fresh Chilli

1 tablespoon Belachan (about size of 3-4cm cube)

4 stalks Lemongrass

1 thumb size Galangal (Blue Ginger)

2 tablespoons Tamarind (Soak in 1 cup hot water, strain and remove pulp. Use a little for the paste)

2 tablespoon of dried shrimps (dry fry the shrimps and blend finely) *optional

Roast the shallots and belachan on an open fire to release the fragrant. Be sure not to char the shallots and belachan otherwise it will be too bitter.

Blend all the ingredients together, add a little water/tamarind water to help make it pasty.

The Cooking Stage

1kg of small-medium prawns (shelled, minced)

*recommend to minced with a knife, this way it there are some chunky bits of the prawns. You may mince it in a blend but it may become to pasty.

200g-250g of Petai (halves)

1 cup Coconut Milk (*optional but I love it for the fragrant)

Remainder of the Tamarind Water

Shredded lime leaves


Lime Juice

Fish Sauce

1 teaspoon heap Brown Sugar

Fry the paste till it fragrant or when the oil seeps through the paste.Heat up the oil in a large pot or pan.

Add the tamarind water, coconut milk, brown sugar, petai and lime leaves, simmer for about 7 minutes or till the petai is slightly cooked.

Add the minced prawns and stir the sauce so that the prawns do not clump together. Cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Season to taste with the Lime Juice and Fish Sauce.

Best eaten after it has been set aside for several hours or the next day; cook heaps of rice to accompany the petai.

Note: some people enjoy the raw taste of the petai, so they will fry the petai 1st in oil for about a min or two and set aside. Using the same oil to fry the paste and only to add the petai at the end.

Ikan Billis Sambal Petai (Anchovies) – you have to do this in stages. Fry the ikan billis till crispy, then the paste and the petai, finally add the fried ikan billis.

Sotong Sambal Petai (Squid) – clean and skin the squid, cut into rings. Fry the paste, followed by the petai and add the squid at the last minute. Be sure not to overcook the squid.

Minced Pork Sambal Petai – cook the same way as the mince prawn version.

One Reply to “Sambal Petai (Chilli Smelly Beans)”

  1. To get rid of smelly breath after eating petai try this:-

    1. Eat the green end of the cucumber. The juice will dissolve away the petai elements in your mouth and teeth.

    2. Chew on spices like cloves, star anise or cinnamon. I prefer cloves coz it doesnt give me headache like the other two.

    3. Wear the facial mask – H1N1 is still around right? Your smelly breath will get caught in the your friends are spared.

    These of course are additional to brushing teeth and tongue more vigorously with a minty toothpaste. Someone should be working on a toothpaste to get rid specifically the petai breath…until then, colgate is the best, and Listerine for gargling.

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