If you’re tired of Tabasco and are looking for some fire to spice up your meals, look no further. Indonesia’s sambal sauce – packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – is guaranteed to give you a healthy glow. Find out how sambal became the nation’s hottest sauce, and try some of Indoneo’s favourite recipes that will give you a taste to remember.
Whether you’re sitting in a five-star restaurant or relaxing at a street-side food-stall, you’re never far from sambal in Indonesia.
Sambal for your average Indonesian is like tomato ketchup to an American: it goes with everything. Rice or a stir-fry, beef or fish, on an omelette or in a soup – this all-purpose fiery, tangy relish comes in several hundred flavours. Add some shrimp paste and you get Chili shrimp paste; throw in some peanuts and you’ve got sambal kacang. Like it sweet? Mix in some mango or pineapple. Smelly? Sambal durian. Make a baseline sambal chili paste sauce, and – if you can stand the heat – it’s time to get creative in the kitchen.
Where Does Sambal Come From?
It’s hard to imagine an Indonesian person without thinking of hot sambal sauce and sweaty mealtimes. But it wasn’t always so.
Everyone knows that the islands of Maluku were known as the ‘Spice Islands’. And while cloves and nutmeg were already key ingredients in local dishes, it wasn’t until Portuguese traders landed in 16th century Indonesia that chilis finally came face-to-face with their most devoted fans. Add some black pepper, turmeric, shallots, lemongrass and tamarind from India – or the ginger, garlic and soy sauce brought by Chinese sailors – and you begin to get a real taste of where sambal sauce comes from. Actually, it’s from a bit of everywhere.
But sambal isn’t just an Indonesian thing. Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Holland have all developed their own twists on tradition – but the word sambel (‘sambal’) is from Java. In Indonesia, you’ll often hear the basic sambal recipe referred to as sambal oelek or sambal ulek – ‘sambal’ describing the raw chili-paste mix, and ‘oelek’ referring to the stone pestle, or Javanese ulek, that the paste is ground up in.
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