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Spice Pastes of Southeast Asia

Updated on November 25, 2014

Galangal Roots - Used in Spice Pastes

Preparing Galangal
Preparing Galangal | Source

Spice Pastes, what they are, and what goes into them

Spice paste are used quite a bit in Southeast Asian Cuisine. They add an incredible amount of personality and taste to dishes. Throughout Southeast Asia you will find many vendors selling mounds of "wet spices" in the market stalls. They have been known to ask questions of the buyer, to determine their exact needs. Here are some of the things they will ask: Will you be cooking a fish or vegetable curry is to be prepared, and whether you like a hot and spicy curry, or something milder. Then, based on your answers, they will proceed to spoon out quantities of of chilli, ginger, lemon grass, galangal, and garlic on to a fresh banana leaf. They fold this up into a cone shaped container, and then you take it home and use it for your cooking. I think this would be such a neat experience to get to see this process take place, then go and cook something delicious.

Of course now, you can use plastic bags and jars with ready made pastes to make it even simpler, but I kind of like the idea of fresher herbs, in a banana leaf. It is kind of inspiring, and would make for a fun experiment to try to make your own. Today I will not be sharing any particular recipes, but talking about spice pastes of this region of the world. It is a neat part of Southeastern Asian cuisine.

Below, I am going to share some of the major spices used in many spice pastes throughout Southeast Asian Cuisine.

Lemon Grass

Lemongrass has become much more familiar in the West, so many more can benefit from it than ever.  One way to use it in Southeastern Asian cuisine, is to bruise the top section of the lemon grass, then added to the curry during cooking.  It will bring out the flavor wonderfully.  Make sure to remove it before serving. 

For most dishes, you can often cut the stem across, into two or three pieces and wash them.  One piece is usually sufficient enough for the flavor desired, but experiment and have fun with it. 

For many curries, salad dressings, and soups, you will want to strip off the outer leaves, and use the tender inside parts.  You can chop it then into an onion, and blend it into a curry paste.  For soups and salad dressings, no need to blend, just add small little slices into it.

Lemon grass, prepared for use.
Lemon grass, prepared for use. | Source


In Southeast Asian cuisine, chili peppers are consumed in a vast quantity. Its hard to even imagine this region without them! The odd thing is, they are not native there, and brought in by Europeans from Central and South America not much more than 500 years ago. No matter, they love to use them all the same and they help to make the cuisine what it is today. If this seems a bit on the spicy side to you, keep in mind they start children at a fairly young age and they acquire a taste for and some resistance to the "heat" that many people might balk at.

Flavor is most always the major consideration though, over the heat of the chiles. In general, the smaller the chile, the hotter it is, so be careful even when touching them. The earlier a chile is picked, the green ones, the hotter they tend to be as well. Let them get nice and red, and they ripen up beautifully. That they are vitamin and mineral rich, is just one more great reason to incorporate them into your own cuisine.

Galangal and lemon grass used in this video

Large Ginger Root

Ginger root
Ginger root | Source


Ginger, also known as jahe is a big part of the pastes of this region as well. This is the ginger that many around the world are now familiar with. It has been cultivated for centuries around the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. Most often, you will peel ginger, then chop it or grate it with a grater. Or you can rough chop it, then add it to a blender.




You will find this pinkish rhizome, in both Malaysia and Indonesia, and elsewhere. The rhizome is known as laos, or lengkuas. In Thai shops, you can easily find these, and they have a bitter taste to them, and are not as hot as ginger is. It is firm to the touch, and the tough parts are tough enough to hurt the blades of a blender or processor, so be aware of this. The best way to work with them, it so peel the galangal, and cut it into small pieces and then put into the blender. The other way to use it, is to put a large piece of it into your cooking. Important note! Make sure to take this out before cooking, because if someone bites it, it may break a tooth! There is a picture of this at the top of the hub. Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you get a chance to try spice pastes from this part of the world in the future.

Root of the galangal plant, used in Asian cooking and for medicinal uses.

Galangal Root, often used in spice pastes.
Galangal Root, often used in spice pastes. | Source

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    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 6 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Thank you, Saif. I am glad you stopped by.

    • saif113sb profile image

      saif113sb 6 years ago

      Very nice and great information hub. thanks

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Thank you

    • PhoenixV profile image

      PhoenixV 7 years ago from USA

      well done hub!

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hi Nifty, thank you so much! I will do my best to try :)

    • nifty@50 profile image

      nifty@50 7 years ago

      Good information! keep the great hubs coming!