Acar awak

Acar awak

Spicy pickled vegetables

Have You Eaten
Billy Law

Nearly every country around the world has their version of pickled vegetables. Germans have sauerkraut, Koreans have kim chi, Italians have giardiniera and Malaysians have acar awak. This is a classic Peranakan pickled vegetable relish; it has a spicy, sweet and sour taste that goes really well with meat dishes. I remember as a child in Malaysia when my mum used to make these spicy pickled vegetables by the bucket load. She then portioned them into smaller plastic containers and gave them to the neighbours.

Acar awak keeps very well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a few months, and the flavour intensifies over time.


Quantity Ingredient
1 litre water
250ml white vinegar
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
100g carrot, cut into 5 cm long strips
100g snake beans, cut into 5 cm lengths
100g cauliflower, separated into small florets
100g eggplant, cut into 5 cm long strips
300g cabbage, cut into 2 cm wide, 5 cm long strips
100g pineapple, cut into small pieces

Spice paste

Quantity Ingredient
125ml vegetable oil
300ml Rempah spice paste
2 tablespoons tamarind purée, mixed with 2 tablespoons water, (see note)
110g sugar
1 tablespoon salt
100g peanuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted

Pickled vegetables

Quantity Ingredient
250g green or lebanese cucumber
1 tablespoon salt
5 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons white vinegar


  1. To make the pickled cucumber, cut the cucumber lengthwise into quarters (without peeling). Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds, then cut into 5 cm long strips. Put the cucumber, salt, sugar and vinegar into a bowl, mix well, and set aside for an hour to pickle. Then squeeze out as much liquid from the cucumber as you can, and lay the strips on a tray lined with paper towel.
  2. Put the water, vinegar, salt and sugar in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Blanch the carrot, snake beans and cauliflower for 1 minute, then add the eggplant (if using) and cabbage and blanch for another minute. Drain the vegetables in a colander.
  3. To make the spice paste, heat the vegetable oil in a wok over medium–high heat and fry the rempah paste for 5 minutes until fragrant and dark brown in colour. Season with the tamarind purée, sugar and salt, and cook for another 5 minutes until the spice paste thickens. Mix well, then turn off the heat and leave to cool completely.
  4. Add the blanched vegetables, pickled cucumber and pineapple to the wok, and stir well to coat in the spicy paste. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with chopped peanuts and toasted sesame seeds.


  • Tamarind purée is a concentrated paste sold in a jar and found in Asian food stores and major supermarkets. If you can only find fresh tamarind pulp, then you can make the tamarind water by mixing 1 heaped tablespoon of tamarind pulp (this is found in blocks or cakes that still contain the seeds) with 3 tablespoons of warm water. Press through a sieve to extract the pulp.
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