Exploring the Fiery Flavours of Sambal & Getting to Know Cili Lado
Sambal has deep roots in the culinary traditions of Indonesia, Malaysia, and other Southeast Asian countries. Its history dates back centuries, and its name is derived from the Malay word "sambel," meaning a condiment made with chilli peppers. Traditionally, sambal was prepared using a mortar and pestle, resulting in a paste that combined fiery chilli with ingredients like shrimp paste, shallots, garlic, and lime juice.
Popular sambal types are:
- Sambal Oelek: Made from ground red chilli and vinegar, this variety offers a pure and intense chilli flavor.
- Sambal Belacan: Incorporating shrimp paste (belacan), this sambal boasts a more complex umami taste alongside its spiciness.
- Sambal Terasi: Common in Indonesian cuisine, this sambal features fermented shrimp paste (terasi) combined with chilli, shallots, and lime.
- Sambal Matah: Hailing from Bali, this raw sambal combines shallots, lemongrass, chilli, and lime juice, delivering a refreshing and aromatic kick.
- Sambal Kicap: Mixing sweet soy sauce with chilli, garlic, and lime juice, this sambal introduces a balance of sweet and spicy.
How do you eat sambal?
Sambal isn't limited to just one role in the kitchen; it's a versatile ingredient that can be used in various ways:
- Condiment: The most common use of sambal is as a condiment to spice up any dish, from noodles and rice to grilled meats and vegetables.
- Marinade: Sambal can serve as an excellent marinade, infusing your protein or veggies with a bold flavor before cooking.
- Stir-fries: Add a spoonful of sambal to your stir-fries to elevate the overall taste profile and provide a delightful kick.
- Dipping Sauce: Mix sambal with soy sauce, lime juice, or yogurt to create a dipping sauce that's perfect for spring rolls, dumplings, and more.
- Sandwich Spread: Transform your sandwiches by spreading a layer of sambal for an exciting and zesty twist.
While it seems easy enough to combine everything and blend or pound to a paste, the trick to a tasty sambal is having the right balance of ingredients and using the correct heat to cook. Sambal uses a fair amount of oil when the chili paste is being sauteed and this is where things go wrong for so many.
Having lived in Malaysia for 7 years, I have had my share of “wannabe” sambals or not quite sambals. I’ve even had sambals added with sugar. Then you have the sambals that are just flavoured oil and sambals that have no salt or flavour other than chilli which defeats the entire purpose of sambal. So yes, I am always on the lookout for good sambal. Not to mention staff who also love spicy food.
I came across Cili Lado a few weeks ago through Harris’ profile who is a brand ambassador for Cili Lado. A disruptor of sorts, he tackles political and social issues. Malaysia is having its share of political laughs no different than what is happening here. Follow him for a chuckle at a politician’s expense.
Cili Lado is owned by Afiq Noordin. He has a law background and worked in public service for a few years before tackling t-shirt printing and then sambal making. One of the things that I found impressive was the amount of detail that has gone into preparing Cili Lado.
Afiq has worked hard to expand into factory space with equipment, licensing and certifications. Sambal making for commercial purposes require large churners and space for bottling. This isn’t your average product with ingredients thrown into a bowl just for the sake of making money.
As Cili Lado grows, he is also looking into merchandise such as t-shirts and care cards which he prints himself.
There are two types of sambal. One made with red chilli and one green. We tried the one in the jar for the red, and sachets for the green.
Is one better than the other? Depends on who you ask. For those who like spicy food, the red wins. You can eat it with rice crackers, instant noodles, side dish for your main course or even add it to an omelette.
The green offers a tinge of spice that is better suited for cooking with. Making nasi goreng (fried rice Uncle Roger style)? Fried noodles? Add a spoonful in for that little bit of extra flavour. It took me about 4 packets before I could taste the spice, you may want less or more.
Watch this quick video we made that features a cheese toastie. Nothing fancy to look at but that melting cheese combined with spice from two different sambals is definitely an experience.
Red or green, Cili Lado has taste without a ton of oil. The oil used is just enough to keep it moist, paste like. And this is my favourite part. The oil barely separates after storage and doesn't alter the taste of the sambal.
You will always get a fresh batch because he makes them in smaller quantities and only starts a new batch when the previous one is sold out. For restock days and times, follow Cili Lado's Facebook page.
Overall, great product with a lot of potential. I wish Afiq Noordin continued success for Cili Lado.
For overseas (outside Malaysia) orders: we recommend contacting the Cili Lado page and ordering sachets.
- Cili Lado uses palm oil. While I know some are against products with palm oil, an important thing to keep in mind is that palm oil has been a staple in Malaysian farming for decades. Stopping to use it abruptly will affect thousands of farmers, workers and transporters in the supply chain not to mention the pricing of goods which is something none of us can afford to be affected by at the moment. To understand the controversy surrounding palm oil, The Independent has some thoughts, so does Michael Shahnahan
- Packaging. If you prefer environmental friendly packaging, please opt for the sachets. Courier riders in Malaysia earn 10p to 50p per parcel delivered with little or no medical benefits as they fall under the category of gig workers. There isn't a lot of incentive to keep them from throwing parcels around.
For years, various groups have tried to advocate for better care plans for courier / delivery riders. This has fallen on deaf ears. At the moment, the only available solution to prevent damages to parcels is for the seller to use more bubble wrap especially for things like glass jars and food items. On the plus side, a lot of people do recycle these by sharing their bubble wrap in Buy Nothing groups where those who need can collect at no charge.
One of the ways Cili Lado is overcoming this issue is by appointing resellers / drop points in different states where customers can pick up directly so there is less damage to the product during transportation and less bubble wrap is used.