SINGAPORE — In a show of the warm friendship between Singapore’s leaders and Malaysian royalty, Malaysia’s queen, Tunku Azizah, has revealed that she regularly supplied sambal belacan (shrimp chilli paste) to the family of the late Lee Kuan Yew, who loved her home-made spicy condiment. Lee even acknowledged her as his “official supplier of sambal belacan”.
In fact, Lee wrote that her sambal was “the best chilli belacan” that his family had tasted, according to what appears to be letters from the former prime minister to the queen that she shared on social media.
In a signed letter dated 23 July 2009, Lee wrote:
Dear Tengku Puan Tunku Azizah
The six packets of belacan you gave me were delicious. I shared them with my two sons. They have all been consumed. It is the best chilli belacan we have tasted. Can my family have a few more?
Sorry to trouble you over this. It makes so many dishes taste better.
Lee Kuan Yew
Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah, a royal known for her love of cooking, first posted a photo of the above letter on her Instagram (@airtangan_tunkuazizah) back in May 2018; she reposted the same letter on Twitter (@cheminahsayang) on Thursday (24 Oct), and posted more letters from Lee on Friday.
That 2009 letter from Lee seems to have started a tradition of “sambal diplomacy” where Azizah regularly delivered large quantities of chilli sauce across the Causeway – 20 canisters at a time, it seems, based on the string of thank-you letters that Lee sent to Azizah over the years. At that time, Azizah was the wife of the sultan of Pahang and not yet queen of Malaysia.
At one point, Lee had to tell Azizah not to send so much sambal, as his family could not finish it. “Please do not send me so many [sic] sambal belacan,” Lee wrote. “My family likes it, but we cannot consume such large amounts.”
Azizah would also send other foodstuffs with the sambal such as ikan bilis, cornflakes and buns. Lee wrote in one letter, “Thank you for being the official supplier of sambal belacan.”
Lee Kuan Yew and his family, who are Peranakan, are quintessentially Peranakan in their love for sambal belacan, which features heavily in their Malay-influenced cuisine.
thats what friends are for .... pic.twitter.com/XrdTIw9wq5— تنکو عزيزه محمود إسکندر (@cheminahsayang) October 25, 2019
In a Twitter post, Tunku Azizah wrote in Malay, “I have wanted to share this with the people of Malaysia for a long time. I used to be the official sambal belacan supplier to the PM of Singapore, Dato Lee Kuan Yew... and now supply to his son, PM Lee, too!”
In her older Instagram post, Azizah had said of Lee’s letter, “This is such an important letter to me... All because of sambal belacan… I was deeply touched.”
In another tweet, in English, Azizah said, “Through the years, LKY and I had a sambal belacan friendship. I was told by a Minister from Singapore that my sambal would be served at lunch after their weekly cabinet meeting.... the way to a man’s heart is through the stomach.”
through the years ...... LKY n I had a sambal belacan friendship , i was told by a Minister from Spore that my sambal would be served at lunch after their weekly cabinet meeting .... the way to a man s heart is thru the stomach 🤓 pic.twitter.com/E7rCHFS3UY— تنکو عزيزه محمود إسکندر (@cheminahsayang) October 25, 2019
Lee, an elder statesman who was globally respected by world leaders, died in 2015 at 91 after being hospitalised for pneumonia.
The current Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew’s son, Lee Hsien Loong, is apparently also a big fan of Tunku Azizah’s cooking. Azizah shared what appears to be another letter by the younger Lee, dated September 2018, in which he expresses delight at receiving her cookbooks as gifts and promised that he and his wife, Ho Ching, would try out her recipes at home. He also sent Azizah a cookbook containing Peranakan recipes by his grandmother, Lee Chin Koon.
Azizah later tweeted that she was also the “sambal belacan supplier” to Brunei and other countries and posted a photo of several canisters of her famed chilli paste. Her husband the Tuanku Agong (King of Malaysia) brought her sambal overseas as a gift when he attended events.
Azizah is queen to Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin, who was crowned as Malaysia’s monarch in January this year. The sultans of Malaysia rotate the position of king among themselves every five years. The sultans are Islamic religious leaders in a system of constitutional monarchy, and do not exercise government executive powers .
Azizah is also the sister of the current Johor sultan, Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar.
Here’s a closer look at the sambal belacan made by the queen. Doesn’t it look really sedap and spicy?
This is perhaps one good way to cement friendly diplomatic relations: through the sharing of delicious food among the leaders of neighbouring countries!