Chili, a HOT Commodity

The title of this post is not pun intended. In-deed, chili is now has become a HOT commodity in my country both literally and figuratively.  Since the end of 2010, the price of chili has gone through the roof.  Reaching an impressive IDR 100,000 (US $ 11.1) per kilogram, or five times its normal price and more than the price of chicken meat, it has truly become a hot commodity on dining table and in kitchens of most people in my country.

In less than one week, I already noticed more than 3 articles about this ‘hot commodity’ on headlines of Jakarta Post, one of the local newspapers. Both newspapers and social networking sites have been flooded with ironic messages and posts about chilies. Let me quote some interesting statements:

‘Asnidar is willing to sacrifice her family’s meat consumption in order to keep chili on the table. Chili is our staple food, not rice or meat, she said.’

‘Housewife Desi Octaviani said her family had replaced the hot flavor of chili with pepper’

‘The chili shortage hit lovers of fried snacks particularly hard. On a good day, fried snack vendors are generous in handing out fresh chilies as a complement. Now for 10 pieces of fried-snacks, the vendors only give 3 pieces of chili, tiny ones, told by office worker Rachmadin.’

‘Adisya said that the food at her favorite restaurants had dulled although it still contained chili. The taste is less spicy because they put more tomotoes in it.’

‘Rising chili prices have given us a chance to explore other Indonesian flavors, wrote Bondan Winarno, culinary expert.’

‘In Banyumas, Central Java, food traders tried their best to provide the usual menu at the same price. “We feel sorry for our customers because we cannot provide sambal (chili paste) for them,” Sumini said’.

People in Indonesia hardly go without eating fiery dishes during mealtimes.  The hottest condiment known as ‘sambal’ or chili paste is a must-have accompaniment for every meal.

Life without sambal would be so plain for me and I think also for millions of other Indonesians. Imagine life for Koreans without kimchi, Americans without hamburger or Mexicans without tortillas. That is how it has felt for a large number of people in my country over the past few weeks.

Now let’s take a closer look at Indonesia’s treasure chest of Sambals:

Sambal is served as a condiment and as an ingredient for a variety of dishes. It is sometimes a substitute for fresh chilies. It can be extremely spicy for the uninitiated. It is common to find bowls of different sambals on the dining table in Indonesian homes.

Some popular Indonesian sambals include sambal terasi (shrimp paste sambal), sambal bajak, sambal mangga (green mango sambal), sambal ijo (green sambal), sambal balado, sambal kecap (sweet soy sauce sambal), sambal setan, sambal Taliwang, sambal matah and many more.

Sambal Terasi

A common Indonesian style of sambal. Terasi (shrimp paste) is similar to the Malaysian Belacan, but with a stronger flavor since terasi is a more condensed shrimp paste than belacan.

Sambal Bajak

Chili (or another kind of red pepper) fried with oil, garlic, terasi, candlenuts and other condiments

Sambal mangga

Freshly ground Sambal Terasi with shredded young mango; this is a good accompaniment to seafood.

Sambal ijo

A specialty of the Padang area from Indonesia, the sambal is green, made of green tomatoes, green chilli, and spices. The sambal is stir fried.

Sambal Balado

This is the Padang style of Sambal. Red chili pepper is blended together with garlic, shallot, tomato, salt and lemon or lime juice, then sauteed with oil.

Sambal Kecap Manis

Indonesian sweet soy sauce, chili, shallots and lime it has a chiefly sweet taste, as said by the Indonesian word ‘manis’ which means ‘sweet’.

Sambal Setan

A very hot sambal with Madame Jeanette peppers (red brownish, very sharp). The name literally means “Devil’s Sauce”.

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 mixed with garlic and Lombok shrimp paste.  It is served as condiments to ayam bakar Taliwang (Taliwang grilled chikcen)

Sambal matah

Raw Shallot & Lemongrass Sambal of Bali origin. It contains a lot of finely chopped shallots, chopped bird’s eye chilli, shrimp paste (terasi), with a dash of lemon.

There are still many other types of sambals ….. but for today, let me close this post by quoting Bondan Winarno, a culinary expert who asked people to look at the brighter side:  ‘Rising chili prices have given us a chance to explore other Indonesian flavors. There are other hot flavors such as pepper, andaliman (szechuan peppercorn) and ginger’.

So perhaps it isn’t the end of the world after all for all lovers of chili in Indonesia.

5 responses to “Chili, a HOT Commodity

  1. great article posted. indeed the price of chili is going up and eating places are already “thining” their paste by adding more water to it. a bit of a disappointment but still we need to have it on our food.

  2. Thanks for your nice comment. Agree, we simply can’t live without chili

  3. Nice article. Hey, I just wanted to add couple more types of sambals, before a particular neighboring country of ours claims them as theirs: 😉
    – sambal bawang (garlic sambal): a very simple sambal made of green chili, garlic, and salt (and sugar to taste). This is a morning type sambal, popular in certain parts of Java (I’m from East Java), and it’s good with fried egg or for tempe penyet.
    – sambal kemiri (candlenut sambal): is particularly good with fried fish or grilled aubergine.

    And uh, by the way the type of chili that grows in Taliwang is not naga bhut jolokia, but it’s different species. It may have similar Scoville score as bhut jolokia, but they are unrelated.

  4. Thanks so much for the insightful input on sambal and chilies. Will keep the sambal bawang (garlic sambal) and sambal kemiri (candlenut sambal) in mind. Next time when I post about sambal I will add those sambals.

    Also thanks for the correction on chili that grows in Taliwang. You have an amazing knowledge on chilies.

  5. And the winner is …. Sambal Balado! That sounds the nicest one to me.

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