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A staple of Indonesian cuisine, sambal is a chili sauce — some might say it’s more a relish or paste — originating on the island of Java. From there, it spread throughout Indonesian cooking and to its neighboring island nations like Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore.

This paste is made primarily of chilis (as one could probably figure out) along with shrimp paste, aromatics, and lime, although different versions can vary. Sambal can vary widely in terms of spiciness, flavor and ingredients depending on regional preferences and there are many of these different versions — hundreds, in fact.  Some popular types of sambal include sambal oelek (traditional chili paste), sambal terasi (chili paste with shrimp pate) and sambal kecap (chopped chilis with sweet soy sauce known as kecap manis).  

Despite being such a ubiquitous part of Indonesian cooking, the chilis that are the core of sambal actually aren’t native to Southeast Asia, but rather are all from the New World and were brought over to Java hundreds of years ago by Iberian sailors and merchants. That being said, similar hot relish-like condiments were made with native plants centuries before this.  

Five hundred years later, it feels impossible to fathom Indonesian cuisine without sambal. The flavor is spicy but also fresh and aromatic, with a brightness that you don’t typically find in other similar sauces.  

Sambal is used both as a condiment, dipping sauce, marinade and a base ingredient. In the latter case, it’s particularly common stir-fried alongside other ingredients to form the foundation for a dish, whether that be something stewed, fried, grilled, or otherwise.  

As you would probably guess, Uwajimaya carries many different sambal varieties in our condiment’s aisle.