The southeast Asian condiment du jour – and how to make it

Right now, it’s chilli sauce on everything. Eggs, burritos, #avocadoontoast. Our friend even threw a bit on her roast beef last Sunday. It seems like everyone has become addicted to food with a chilli hit – and we won’t quit it.


But for all those heat-lovers whose Sriracha obsession is waning or you're a bit 'meh' about Cholula sauce, the cuisine of South East Asia has your new favourite condiment: sambal.

So, what is it?

Sambal is a bright red, paste-like sauce that’s primarily made from chillies and usually has other ingredients like shrimp paste, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, spring onions, sugar, lime and rice vinegar.


In Indonesia, where it’s said to originate from, there are more than 300 variations on the recipe, which as well as the staple ingredients can also include grated coconut, tamarind, tomato, turmeric or lemongrass.


There are closely guarded family recipes and hotly contested variations between different countries in South East Asia, but everybody agrees that a dish isn’t finished until there’s a blob of the sauce upon it. 


How to make sambal

A traditional sambal will be made with a pestle and mortar, which gives it that slightly coarser texture and also bashes the hell out of all the ingredients, allowing their pungent flavours and natural oils to be released. So although the NutriBullet might be your friend, it's best to go old school when making it.

Sounds good. Where can I get it?

At the heart of the new sambal revolution in the UK is the street food stall Sambal Shiok, by Malaysian cook Mandy Yin. 


Mandy cooks up fusion dishes like chicken satay burgers or beef rending sliders, which combine the best of her homeland cuisine and British food culture. But sambal is always on the menu.


She told Big Eater: “Sambal is a traditional chilli sauce used as a condiment to everything! Shiok, pronounced 'shee-ock', is Malaysian slang for “Wow this is delicious!”... I thought that Malaysian food deserved more exposure in the UK and wanted a new challenge.” And everyone’s been going crazy for her cuisine – so much so, she’s even started selling a range of her killer sambal.

Meanwhile, sambal’s been slowly sneaking into more recipes recently. We’ve spied sambal chicken skewers, sambal fish in banana leaves and even the brunch crew have got their hands on it too, with this sambal Bloody Mary


So now’s the time to join the sambal squad. Check out this recipe from and let us know just how spicy you can handle it.

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