Embracing the plant-based lifestyle in Malaysia

Easy Mango Kerabu (Malaysian Mango Salad)

Easy Mango Kerabu (Malaysian Mango Salad)

A lot of Malay food seems vegan enough, until one finds out about the generous use of salted fish, fermented shrimp, dried anchovies, fish sauce, oyster sauce and bits of meat or offal that can be hiding in it! In vegetable dishes, animal-based ingredients are commonly added for flavour’s sake. So even when one asks for “sayur sahaja” (“just vegetables”) at a Malay food establishment, it may not be ‘sayur sahaja’ you get!

The safest thing a herbivore can do is to actually specify enough items you can AND can’t eat, for people to get a good enough idea of your dietary needs. For example, I’d tell the vendor “sayur sahaja” followed by, “I don’t eat seafood like dried shrimp, anchovies, chicken, egg…” followed by, “but I DO eat tofu and tempeh!”

Or… you can just make your own food at home la.

Kerabu is a Malay-style salad that tends to use both raw and cooked ingredients, served as a side dish, and is a specialty in the north eastern part of the country close to the Thai border. I’ve visited my friend’s hometown of Kota Bharu in Kelantan state back in 2009 before I was vegetarian, and experiencing the range of kerabu there was definitely something special. If you’re familiar with Thai salads, you’d easily become familiar with Kerabu! There are many different types of kerabu, but almost all of them contain freshly grated coconut, often toasted to bring out a smoky element.

It’s also quite a certainty that kerabu will punch you in the face with flavour.  Whether the first jab is spice, sourness or pungency, it’s not going to be easy to dodge!

Mango Kerabu is one of the more common salads, and one of the easiest to assemble.

There is more than one way to grate an unripe mango. I tried two methods: conventional grater and a coconut hand grater.

I personally preferred the hand grater as it creates more uneven strips and adds to the aesthetic of the salad. However, the conventional grater gets things done faster. If no grater is available, cutting the mango julienne-style is not the most ideal option but if you have the patience, cutting as thinly as possible still works. I combined the results of all three to make it this time, and I loved the combination of texture. Use whatever tool you have, or have access to borrowing!

The coconut in this recipe is not toasted, as toasting it dry over a wok can easily take up to half an hour if you have an electric stovetop like mine. If you have the time to add this step, brilliant. If not, NBD. Leftover shredded coconut freezes super well, and you can blend them into your smoothies, toss them in salads, sprinkle it on fruit for breakfast, or incorporate them into desserts.
The traditional Mango Kerabu utilizes fish sauce, which I have substituted in this recipe with tamarind paste. My go-to for this is this brand, which already packs the paste de-seeded and pureed. If you have access to the paste that still has the seeds in it, you can remove enough seeds to form 1 teaspoon of paste, then blend with the other sauce ingredients to create the sauce. If you don’t have access to tamarind at all, you can make your own vegan fish sauce! Or, perhaps try substituting with more soysauce (1 tsp) and lime (1/2 tsp). The Gula Melaka can be replaced with any dark-coloured sugar you may have.
Wish to increase the flavour complexity? If you happen to find ginger flower at your local Asian market, you can also get that, slice the pink petals up very thinly, and toss that into the salad. Cliantro works great too. So does lemongrass. And Thai basil. And Kesum. Actually, any ulam pun boleh.
Mango Kerabu goes perfectly with rice and rendang curry. I tried it with mushroom rendang, made by my friends Aisya and Akmla. If you’re game, you can go the whole nine yards in the kitchen by pairing it up with my Tempeh Rendang recipe.
Wherever you are in the world, I hope this little slice of Southeast Asia allows you to travel to a place where simple pleasures reside.
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Easy Mango Kerabu (Malaysian Mango Salad)

September 25, 2020
: 3-4
: 15 min
: 15 min
: Easy

Spicy, tangy and memorable, Mango Kerabu is a savoury Malaysian salad that is easy to assemble and best eaten as a side dish with rice.


  • SALAD:
  • 2 medium-sized unripe mangoes (450g)
  • 1/2 cup freshly shaved old coconut flesh (kelapa parut)
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 Bird's Eye Chili (cili padi) or 2 if more spiciness is preferred
  • 2 tbsp crushed roasted peanuts
  • SAUCE:
  • 1 tsp tamarind paste (without seeds)
  • 1 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 level tsp shaven Gula Melaka (Malaysian Palm Sugar) or dark sugar alternative
  • Step 1 Peel and thinly slice mangoes with grater or other tool of choice.
  • Step 2 Thinly dice shallot and chili.
  • Step 3 Stir or blend all sauce ingredients together.
  • Step 4 Place salad ingredients in a large mixing bowl. If you wish, you can keep aside peanuts, chili, and some onion slices for garnishing.
  • Step 5 Pour sauce into mixing bowl and toss salad until evenly combined.
  • Step 6 Garnish if desired.
  • Step 7 Serve immediately.

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