Delicious Prawn Umai Simple Recipe

Umai is a traditional exotic food of the Melanau ethnic in Sarawak. Although, nowadays, it is loved and liked by many people from other races in Sarawak too. Typically, fish like Bawal and Tenggiri are use to make the Umai but prawn can be use as well. The fish or prawn used to make Umai is raw, just like sushi. So no cooking needed. But if you’re using prawn it need to be dip in boiling water to kill all the bacteria and germs. Here, we will share a simple recipe to make prawn Umai. It’s simple, you can make it at home with all the typical ingredients you can find in your kitchen or you can buy them in your local supermarket easily.

Note: the serving size we make here is recommended for 4 to 6 persons. If you need a smaller portion, you might want to decrease the amount of the ingredients. Double it if you need more but it is not recommended to keep it for too long even in the fridge.


  • 500 grams fresh water prawn. Skin peeled. If you’re using big prawns you might want to cut it into smaller pieces.
  • 4 big onions (yellow onion)
  • 15 shallots
  • 10 cloves of garlic
  • 25 Calamansi (limau Kasturi). Juiced without seeds. Will produce around 300 to 400 ml juice depending on the size of the calamansi lime. Use more if needed.
  • 10 red chili (the spicy cili padi or small chili). Reduce to 5 if you cannot take it too spicy.
  • 5 big chili (the one that normally used in salad and not so spicy)
  • Salt to taste
The very spicy red chili

The very spicy red chili


How to make:

1. First of all, make sure the prawn is fresh. Peel the skin and wash it clean.

2. Chop all the onions, shallot, garlic, red chili and big chili into small pieces.

3. Take both red chili and big chili together with about half of the chopped onions, shallot and garlic. Put them into a pestle and pound it until all of those ingredients crushed.

4. Cut the calamansi (limau kasturi) into half and squeeze the juice into a strainer and keep it in a cup or a bowl. Throw away the seeds.

5. Cut some of the squeezed calamansi into small pieces or zest some of the unused ones. In addition, you can also use lemon zest for this purpose.

6. Set all ingredients aside.

7. Put about 2 liters of water into a pot. Bring it to boil.

8. While still boiling, put the prawn into the water for a few seconds. We normally put it in about 5 to 10 seconds. Longer will fully cooked the prawn which is not good.

9. Make sure the prawn is not fully cooked because it might not be able absorb all the flavors.

10. Take the prawn out of the boiling water and strain it from all the liquid.

11. Dip the prawn in cold water for a few seconds and let it rest for 15 minutes. Or until it is fully cooled down.

12. Once the prawn is cool, mix the ingredients in step 3 into a bowl with the prawn. Stir it and make sure all of them mix evenly. If you prefer it to be more spicy, you can add more red chili according to your taste.

13. Mix the cut calamansi or the zest in step 5 into that same bowl above. Stir it well.

14. Pour half of the squeezed calamansi juice into that bowl and stir it well. Mix them evenly.

15. Put all the other ingredients in step 2 into the mix and stir it all until all ingredients and the prawn are mixed evenly well. Then pour the remaining calamansi juice into it. Stir it again. If you prefer it to be more sour and tangy, you can add more calamansi juice to it according to your taste.

16. Add salt to your taste. Not too salty, you want to retain the sour, tangy and spicy taste of it. Don’t squeezed or crushed the prawn while you stir it. You can also add a little bit of sugar to add an extra flavor.

17. Once all done, put the the mixture in a container with a lid. Close it and put it in the fridge for at least 2 hours. It will taste better if you leave it overnight or 12 hours.

18. Finally, once ready, serve it cold in a plate. You can eat it just like that or with rice or mix it into your leafy salad.

19. It can be kept up to 3 days in the fridge. More than that and the prawn might not taste fresh anymore.

20. Don’t ever freeze it. It will kill the flavors.

So there you have it, a simple recipe of prawn Umai. It’s very easy to make and you can even have it with spaghetti. Yup, we tried it with spaghetti and the taste is out of this world! Almost like a perfect fusion. Just pour the Umai over your cooked spaghetti and you’re good to go.

The result, delicious homemade prawn Umai

The result, delicious homemade prawn Umai

Try it at home and you’ll be amazed with the taste. Happy eating!

Extra tips: you can use “asam paya” a.k.a “asam kelubi” in Peninsular Malaysia and a.k.a Eleiodoxa conferta in its scientific name; to make this Umai to substitute the calamansi (limau kasturi). It taste better too but that “asam paya” is far more sour than the lime so don’t add too much. It is also not easily available too so we use calamansi most of the time. In fact, according to some, originally and traditionally, Umai is made using that “asam paya” especially the fish Umai. We are not sure how true it is.

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