This shrimp fried rice with shrimp paste recipe makes Cambodia’s bai char kapi, a classic fried rice distinguished by sweet plump prawns and the pungency of shrimp paste. If you love the salty, funky flavours of shrimp paste and fish sauce, you’ll love this. You don’t? Then leave out the shrimp paste and you’ve got a fantastic shrimp fried rice.
This Cambodian shrimp fried rice with shrimp paste recipe makes bai char kapi. Bai char – which you’ll also see written as bai cha, bai chaa, bai chha, bai tcha, and bay cha – is fried rice (‘bai’ is rice and ‘cha’ is to fry or stir-fry) and kapi is shrimp paste. I’ll deal with the difference between shrimps and prawns below.
Just like our recipe for Cambodian fried rice, this shrimp fried rice with shrimp paste recipe is super easy to make if you have leftover steamed rice in the fridge – day-old steamed rice is good, but a couple of days old is even better. In fact, fried rice in China and Southeast Asia exists mainly to use up leftover rice.
While there are many countries around the world with wonderful fried-rice style dishes where the rice is boiled, par-boiled or braised, here in Southeast Asia it’s mainly a dish that exists so leftover rice doesn’t go to waste. And that, dear readers, was the subject of a story I spent last week writing, which I’ll tell you more about here soon when it’s published and I’ll share the link.
You won’t see this shrimp fried rice with shrimp paste on menus all over Cambodia, as most Cambodians prefer fish sauce and their beloved fermented fish paste called prahok to shrimp paste in my experience. However, you’ll come across this fried rice dish wherever you find shrimp paste made and sold, whether it’s made from river prawns or prawns from the sea.
If you’d love to learn more about Cambodian cuisine, which is one of the most misunderstood and under-appreciated of Southeast Asian cuisines, then please consider supporting our epic Cambodian culinary history and cookbook project. We’re always looking for patrons and you can support this important, original, first-of-its-kind book on Patreon for as little as US$2 or US$5 a month. If you can’t, please do browse our recipes, particularly our Cambodian recipes.
Shrimp Fried Rice With Shrimp Paste Recipe – How to Make Cambodia’s Bai Cha Kapi
There’s an infinite array of Cambodian fried rice dishes, with each home cook, street food vendor, banquet cook, and restaurant chef adding their own little twists and tweaks to the classic Chinese-Cambodian fried rice, and this shrimp fried rice with shrimp paste recipe is just one of many variations on the classic Cambodian fried rice.
One of the reasons that fried rice is so popular here in Cambodia is that so many Cambodians still cook rice in a pot over an open fire, especially out in the countryside – not everyone can afford electric rice cookers, nor does every village have electricity – so there’re nearly always leftover rice after a big meal.
Home cooks will reach for whatever veggies are ready or herbs they have at hand. Our neighbours, for instance, will pick some leaves from a tree, wander into the yard next door to grab some lemongrass, and, if they have family coming over for a meal, grab one of the chickens or ducks from the yard.
After a big family feast, leftover rice will be used for fried rice the next day and the crunchy bits from the bottom of the pot will be laid out on a tray on the rooftop, steps or motorbike seat to dry in the sun to use as rice crackers, which are served with this Cambodian natang (or in neighbouring Thailand, the Thai take khao tang na tang).
As long as you’re using shrimp paste, this Cambodian shrimp fried rice with shrimp paste recipe could be made with any crustacean, frankly, so don’t get hung up on whether you’re using shrimps or prawns. In its simplest form, I’ve seen this dish sold simply as fried rice with shrimp paste. No other protein, just some diced carrot, Chinese greens and omelette.
If you’ve got some leftover crab meat or someone gave you a box of lobsters you’re struggling to find something to do with (I know, maybe not the best example), or you have some squid or calamari in the fridge, by all means use it. Take inspiration from paella a la marinera (maybe not a great example either, as traditional paella is not made with seafood, and paella is made in a big flat plan, not a wok), but you know what I mean. Feel free to substitute and get creative.
Tips for Making Cambodia’s Shrimp Fried Rice With Shrimp Paste Recipe
We have very few tips for making this Cambodian shrimp fried rice with shrimp paste recipe as it’s just so easy. As with any fried rice dishes, always prep all your ingredients first as you’ll want to work quickly. Take care not to over-do anything. You want your shrimps or prawns to remain firm and just-cooked, not soft and over-done.
You always want your vegetables to be nice and crunchy so they still taste fresh. The beauty of fried rice, like so many dishes, is that contrast of textures that we all love. Nobody wants a fried rice that’s all soft and mushy.
We use a local shrimp paste, but you’ll probably have greater luck finding a Thai shrimp paste than a Cambodian shrimp paste. You could also add a little fish sauce to this if you really love funky, fishy flavours like me. I have to confess to preferring fish sauce to shrimp paste, I can eat fish sauce on absolutely anything, so I recommend you have fish sauce on hand amongst the condiments in your caddy at the centre of the table.
Readers often ask us what fish sauce brand we prefer. We always try to use local Cambodian fish sauce brands for Cambodian dishes but we do recipe-test dishes with Thai fish sauce brands as they seem to be the most ubiquitous around the world, and we find the Thai fish sauce brand Megachef to be the most consistent and our readers have told us that they agree.
Readers also ask us about the wok we use. How we wish we had a fantastic carbon steel wok, but we use an everyday wok we picked up at our local markets in Siem Reap. However, if you’re purchasing your first wok we recommend this seasoned carbon steel wok to get a little bit of that smoky flavour through your shrimp fried rice, which is always desirable in any fried rice.
Cambodian Shrimp Fried Rice With Shrimp Paste Recipe
- Carbon Steel Wok
- 50 g dried shrimp
- 80 g carrot diced finely
- 8 pieces Chinese Kale
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 200 g fresh shrimp peeled and chopped
- 3 eggs beaten
- 1 tbsp shrimp paste
- 4 cups day-old steamed rice
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- Soak the dried shrimp in water in a small dish. Finely dice the carrots and separate the pieces of Chinese kale, then blanch both for a few minutes and set aside.
- Heat a little vegetable oil in a wok on medium high and add the garlic and stir fry until fragrant.
- Add the shrimps (peeled, heads and tails removed, and chopped into halves or thirds depending on their size) and stir-fry them with the garlic for a minute or so. Do not cook the shrimps right through as you don't want to over-do them and they'll continue to cook through the next couple of stages.
- Push the shrimps to one side and add the eggs, stir fry as if making scrambled eggs until just-cooked and set the eggs to the side with the shrimps.
- Add the shrimp paste to the ingredients in the wok, drain the dried shrimp and add those, along with the carrots, kale, cooked rice, salt, pepper, sugar, and soy sauce. Stir-fry, combining everything well, for just a few minutes until cooked.
- Taste and adjust the salt, pepper, sugar and soy sauce to suit your taste as necessary, and serve.
Do let us know if you make our Cambodian shrimp fried rice with shrimp paste recipe as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.