PM Lee Hsien Loong thanks Malaysian queen Tunku Azizah for her gifts of 'special sambal'

Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong's family has had a "sambal belacan friendship" with Malaysia's queen, Tunku Azizah, for many years. (Photos: AFP-Getty/Azizah's Twitter/Reuters)

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, has thanked Malaysia’s queen, Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah, for her gifts of “special sambal belacan” over the years.

Last week, Tunku Azizah tweeted that she regularly supplied sambal belacan (shrimp chilli paste) to the family of the late Singapore leader, Lee Kuan Yew, who loved her home-made spicy condiment. Lee Kuan Yew even acknowledged her as his “official supplier of sambal belacan”.

In fact, Lee Kuan Yew wrote that her sambal was “delicious” and “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.

Azizah said in her tweets in a mix of Malay and English, “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!... 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.”

On Monday (28 Oct), prime minister Lee Hsien Loong tweeted back at Azizah. “Thank you for your warmth and kindness, sending my father (and me) your special sambal belacan all these years! I hope you enjoy making it as much as we enjoy eating it!” he wrote.

A 2009 letter from Lee Kuan Yew to Azizah, asking for more of her “delicious” sambal, 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.

You might wonder what the big deal over sambal belacan is, but it is a popular chilli condiment that features strongly in Malay and Peranakan cooking in both countries, and is also used as a side dish to spice up food.

The Lees, who are Peranakan, are quintessentially Peranakan in their love for sambal belacan, which features heavily in their Malay-influenced cuisine.

Lee Kuan Yew, an elder statesman who was globally respected by world leaders, died in 2015 at 91 after being hospitalised for pneumonia.

Azizah is a popular member of royalty known for her love of cooking. She is queen to Malaysian King, Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin, who was crowned as the country’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.