What Is Sambal? Sambal is a spicy, chili based sauce or relish that is popular in many countries across Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia and Malaysia.
The sauce consists of ground or pureed chilies and may include small amounts of other ingredients such as citrus juice, shallots, fruit, salt, sugar, or other spices. Making this spicy chili paste is a way to preserve chilies and is often used when fresh chilies are not available.
The word “sambal” is also used to indicate a dish in which sambal sauce is a main ingredient. For example, the Malaysian dish “Sambal goreng udang” is fresh shrimp seasoned with sambal sauce.
Traditional sambals are freshly made using traditional tools, such as a stone pestle and mortar. Sambal can be served raw or cooked. The chili pepper, garlic, shallot and tomato are often freshly ground using a mortar, while the terasi or belacan (shrimp paste) is fried or burned first to kill its pungent smell as well as to release its aroma. Sambal might be prepared in bulk, as it can be easily stored in a well-sealed glass jar in the refrigerator for a week to be served with meals as a condiment. However, some households and restaurants insist on making freshly-prepared sambal just a few moments prior to consuming to ensure its freshness and flavor; this is known as sambal dadak.