Sambal is a condiment that has a chilli-based sauce. Sambals are popular in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the southern Philippines, and Sri Lanka, as well as in the Netherlands and in Suriname, through Javanese influence.

Fresh chillies are the main ingredient for a sambal.

Fresh chillies are the main ingredient for a sambal.

Typically made from a variety of chilli peppers, it is sometimes a substitute for fresh chillies and can be extremely spicy for the uninitiated. Some ready-made sambals are available at exotic food markets or gourmet departments in supermarkets in many countries.

Secondary ingredients of sambals often include shrimp paste and/or fish sauce, garlic, ginger, or shallots/spring onions, sugar, lime juice, and rice vinegar or other vinegars.

Varieties of Chilli

The most common kinds of peppers used in sambal are:

  • Adyuma, also known as habanero: a very spicy, yellow, and block-shaped pepper.
  • Cayenne pepper: a shiny, red, and block-shaped pepper.
  • Madame Jeanette: a yellow-light green, elongated, irregularly-shaped pepper.
  • Bird’s eye chilli, also known as cabe rawit in Javanese: a very spicy, green-red, elongated pepper approximately 10 mm wide and 50 mm long.
  • Chilli peppers known as lombok in Javanese: a mild, green-red, elongated pepper. Green chilli peppers are milder than red ones.
  • Cabe taliwang: a pepper spicier than the Bird’s eye chilli, similar in spiciness to the naga jolokia, its name is supposedly the origin from which Lombok Island, or “the Island of the Chili”, derives its name.

Indonesian Sambal

In the Indonesian archipelago, there are as many as 300 varieties of sambal. The intensity ranges from mild to very hot. Some of the popular varieties include:

Sambal Andaliman

Sambal Andaliman

Sambal Andaliman – Sambal andaliman is similar to sambal lado mudo but with the addition of andaliman pepper. It is commonly enjoyed by the Batak ethnic group especially the North Tapanuli sub-ethnic groups.
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Sambal asam – This is a hot and sour sauce for those who enjoy these flavours. The sauce goes well with Ikan Panggang (Grilled Fish with Banana Leaves). This sauce can easily be modified to your own taste by adding such other ingredients as sauteed shallots, garlic, more sugar, or less tamarind.

Sambal Bajak (badjak) – Banten sambal. Chilli (or another kind of red pepper) fried with oil, garlic, terasi, candlenuts and other condiments. This is darker and richer in flavour than sambal asam.

Sambal balado – Minangkabau style sambal. Chilli pepper or green chilli is blended together with garlic, shallot, red or green tomato, salt and lemon or lime juice, then sauteed with oil.

Sambal colo-colo – From Ambon, it consists of Indonesian sweet soy sauce, chilli, tomatoes bits, shallots and lime it has a chiefly sweet taste. It is suitable for barbecue dishes. Some variations will add butter or vegetable oil to the sambal.

Sambal Dabu-dabu – It comes close to the Mexican salsa sauce, it is of Manado’s origin. It consists of coarsely chopped tomatoes, calamansi or known as lemon cui or jeruk kesturi, shallots, chopped bird’s eye chili, basil, vegetable oil, salt.

Sambal durian or Sambal tempoyak – It is made from fermented durian called tempoyak. The fermentation process takes 3 to 5 days. The chilli and the tempoyak may be readily mixed or served separately, to cater the individual preference in ratio of chilli to tempoyak to determine the scale of hotness. This sambal available in two varieties: raw and cooked. In the cooked variety, pounded chillies, shallots and lemongrass are stir-fried with anchovies, tempoyak and turmeric leaf (for aroma). Petai (Parkia speciosa) and tapioca shoots are also frequently added. The sweet-sour-hot sambal can be found in Sumatra and Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), especially in Palembang and Bengkulu.

Sambal gandaria – Freshly ground sambal terasi with shredded gandaria, a kind of tropical fruit native to Southeast Asia.

Sambal jengkol – Freshly ground sambal terasi mixed with sliced fried jengkol, a kind of tropical bean with slightly stinky aroma native to Southeast Asia. Sambal jengkol can be found in Sundanese and Cirebon cuisine.

Sambal kalasan – Sometimes also called sambal jawa. Similar to sambal tumis, it is stir fried. It uses a heapful of palm sugar which gives its dark brown colour, tomato, spices and chilli. The overall flavour is sweet, with mild hints of spices and chilli.

Sambal kacang – A mixture of chilli with garlic, shallot, sugar, salt, crushed fried peanuts, and water. Usually used as condiments for nasi uduk, ketan, or otak-otak. The simple version only employ cabe rawit chilli, crushed fried peanuts and water.

Sambal kemiri – This is similar to sambal terasi with an addition of candlenuts.

Sambal lado mudo/ijo – Lado mudo is Minangkabau for green sambal, it is lso called sambal ijo, a Padang, (West Sumatra) specialty – the sambal is green (not the usual red)– made using green tomatoes, green chilli, shallot, and spices. The sambal is stir fried.

Sambal matah – Raw shallot & lemongrass sambal of Bali origin. It contains a lot of finely chopped shallots, chopped bird’s eye chilli, terasi shrimp paste, with a dash of lemon.

Sambal ulek (oelek) – Raw chilli paste (bright red, thin and sharp tasting). Can be used as the base for making other sambals or as an ingredient for other cuisines. Some types of this variant call for the addition of salt or lime into the red mixture. Oelek is a Dutch spelling which in modern Indonesian spelling has become simply ulek; both have the same pronunciation. Ulek is Indonesian special stoneware derived from common village basalt stone kitchenware still ubiquitous in kitchens, particularly in Java. The Ulekan is a mortar shaped like a hybrid of a dinner and soup-plate with an old, cured bamboo root or stone pestle (ulek-ulek) employed in an ulek manner: a crushing and twisting motion (like using a screwdriver) for crushing lime leaves, chillies, peppers, shallots, peanuts, and other kinds of ingredients.

Sambal petai – A mixture of red chilli, garlic, shallot, and petai green stinky bean as the main ingredients.

Sambal petis – Uses chilli, petis, peanuts, young banana, herbs and spices. An east Javanese sambal.

Sambal pencit/mangga muda – A sambal from Central Java. Freshly ground sambal terasi with shredded young mango. This is a good accompaniment to seafood. Pencit means young mango in Indonesian.

Sambal plecing – Originating from Lombok island, the sambal consists of Lombok’s chilli variety and Lombok’s lengkare shrimp paste,tomatoes, salt, and lime juice.

Sambal rica rica – A hot sambal from Manado region, it uses ginger, chilli, lemon and spices. Suitable for barbecue meats.

Sambal setan – A very hot sambal with Madame Jeanette peppers (red brownish, very sharp). The name literally means “devil’s sauce”. It is popular in Surabaya

Sambal taliwang – This variant is native to Taliwang, a village near Mataram, Lombok Island, and is made from naga jolokia pepper grown specially in Lombok, garlic and Lombok shrimp paste. A kilogram of naga jolokia pepper is extracted, ground and pressed. This is mixed with ground garlic and shrimp paste, then cooked with vegetable oil.

Sambal tauco – A Sulawesi sambal, contains the Chinese tauco, lime juice, chilli, brown sugar, and salt.

Sambal Terasi – A common Indonesian style of sambal. Similar to the Malaysian belacan, but with a stronger flavour since terasi, is more tangy and fermented. Red and green peppers, terasi, sugar, salt, lemon or lime juice (tangy, strong). One version omits the lime juice and has the sambal fried with pounded tomatoes. Popularly eaten raw. Alternate spelling in the Netherlands: trassi or trassie.

Sambal teri lado – a Padang, (West Sumatra) speciality, sambal is made using chilli pepper, tomato, shallot, spices, and mixed with salted ikan teri (anchovy). The sambal is stir fried and similar to Malay “sambal ikan”.

Sambal tomat – Similar to sambal tumis but with the addition of crushed tomato and sugar. The tomato is stir fried along with the other ingredients until a paste like consistency. The overall taste is hot and sweet, it is a good mix with lalapan.

Sambal tumis – Chilli fried with belacan shrimp paste, onions, garlic, tamarind juice. Tumis means “stir fry”. Often the cooking oil is re-mixed with the sambal. It may be mixed with other ingredients to produce dishes such as sambal kangkong, sambal cumi (squid) and sambal telur (egg).

Malaysian Sambal

Sambal Belacan

Sambal Belacan

Sambal Belacan – Belacan or pronounced as belachan (which was the old spelling), actually means dried prawn paste. The degree of saltiness varies with different brands of belacan, so it is prudent to mix the belacan in, little by little, tasting as you go along. Any leftover roasted belacan may be kept in a container in the fridge for up to two months.
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Sambal Cincalok – A Malaccan condiment made of fermented small shrimps or krill, used as a dipping sauce for fried or grilled fish, as an ingredient in vegetable dishes and as a marinade for meats.

Sambal jeruk – Green or red pepper with kaffir lime. In Malaysia, it is called cili (chilli) jeruk (pickle). Sometimes vinegar and sugar are substituted for the lime. Used as a condiment with fried rice and noodle based dishes.

Sambal daging/serunding daging – A Malay style sambal prepared from meat and spices and cooked for more than 4 hours until the meat loses its shape, similar to meat floss.

Sambal tempoyak – This sambal exists in two varieties: raw and cooked. Raw sambal tempoyak is prepared from fresh chilis pounded together with dried anchovies and served with fermented durian (tempoyak). The sambal and the tempoyak may be readily mixed or served separately, so that the person eating can determine the ratio of sambal to tempoyak that they want (tempoyak has a sweet-sour taste that offsets the hotness of the chilli). In the cooked variety, pounded chillis, shallots and lemongrass are stir-fried with anchovies, tempoyak and turmeric leaf (for aroma). Petai (Parkia speciosa) and tapioca shoots are also frequently added.

Sri Lankan Sambal

Sini Sambal – This is a sambal of the Sri Lankan cuisine that includes onion, crumbled Maldive fish and spices as its main ingredients. Its name “Sini Sambal”, also spelt as “Sini Sambol”, and “Seeni Sambal”, is derived from the local word for “sugar”.

Pol Sambal – This is a sambal made of scraped coconut (pol means coconut in the local language), onion, green chilli, red chilli powder, and lime juice as its main ingredients. Sometimes, crumbled Maldive fish is also added, and tomatoes can be used instead of lime juice for flavour.

Sri Lankan Lunu Miris

Lunu Miris

Lunu Miris – The name “lunu miris” can be literally translated as “salt chilli”, and as the name indicates, dried red chilli is the main ingredient for this sambol. In addition to that onions, crumbled Maldive fish, salt, and lime juice are grounded together to get the spicy and exotic flavour. This traditional dish is taken with many kinds of food from rice to home-made bread.
View Recipe


Sambal can also be used as an ingredient to a dish, which uses a large amount of chilli peppers. Dishes bearing the word sambal include:

Sambal sotong – (with cuttlefish)

Sambal udang kering – (with dried prawns), also known in Penang as “Sambal Hae Bee”

Sambal lengkong – (with ikan parang/wolf herring).

Sambal goreng teri kacang – (with anchovy and peanuts)

Sambal goreng kering tempe – (with tempeh)

Sambal goreng ati – (with cow’s liver, potato, and sometimes petai)

Sambal goreng udang – (with fresh shrimp)

Sambal radio – a traditional dish from Sarawak, it is an omelette mixed with fried belacan and anchovies.

Sambal ikan – a Malay-style dish prepared from fish and spices and cooked until the fish loses its shape. Available in varieties, some are in the shape of dry fish floss known as serunding ikan, and some are moist such as sambal ikan bilis (anchovies) or sambal ikan tongkol (skipjack tuna).


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