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I watched my father piling sambal with chilli patches in bowls of pho and steamed rice during my childhood. As a young and inexperienced eater, I’ve always preferred the hot sauce of a watery supermarket to the pungent aroma and earthy heat of these Southeast Asian staples. That is, until a box of two glasses Conimex Sambal bathrobe Appeared on my doorstep earlier this year.
My father is Dutch Indonesian and was born in Jakarta. He brings the flavors of his home to every meal we share. When I recently expressed my desire to cook Indonesian food at home, he was so excited that he immediately sent me two of his favorite cookbooks –The food of Indonesia and The complete Indonesian cookbook– along with its trustworthy chili paste. Since the Conimex care package arrived, I’ve put a deep red viscous spoon on almost everything. And let me say that in my months of experimentation, I have never come across a hearty dish that sambal didn’t improve on.
Sambal, which originally came from Indonesia and is now widely used in Malaysian and Singapore cuisine, is made from a combination of shallots, garlic, red chillies and terasi (shrimp paste). It’s the sparkling backbone in many traditional dishes like nasi goreng (fried rice), mie goreng (fried noodles), and Ikan Bakar (fish grilled in banana leaves). Conimex is made in the Netherlands and its place in my pantry is a subtle nod to my family heritage. There are several Dutch brands that specialize in Indonesian ingredients such as Sambal and Ketjap Medja (Indonesian soy sauce), which were imported into the Netherlands during the 300 years of colonization of the archipelago. The taste is slightly sweet and covered with odor, but the spice of sambal is not fiery or pungent; It’s a deeper, smokier heat that develops the longer it sits on your tongue. And unlike most other hot sauces, the texture is usually chunky and full of chili pepper seeds.
The versatility of Sambal Badjak (the flavorful version) or Sambal Manis (which is referred to as mild but still has a touch of warmth in it) has made it a staple alongside my soy sauce, chilli crisp, and gochujang. It adds a peppy punch to a bowl of roasted broccoli and carrots, serves as a marinade for steak and chicken (alongside brown sugar and fish sauce), makes the perfect crudités dip, and adds heat to ramen.
Looking back, I can’t believe it took me a lifetime to get on board with my father’s favorite chili paste. But now that I have devoted myself to his strength, there is no going back to the vinegar sauces of my youth. Next on my Indonesian cooking list? Ayam Penyet, an East Javanese fried chicken recipe that uses sambal as a dressing or dipping sauce. It’s a slightly complicated (for me!) Combination of chicken legs, cornmeal, buttermilk, and condiments, but as long as I have my Conimex on hand, I know I’ll make my dad proud.