Monday, September 24, 2012

Sambal With Just the Right Kick

For lovers of spicy food, choosing the right chili sambal to go with a meal can be a never-ending challenge. The sambal needs to have the right flavor and texture to go with the meal and, even more than that, it has to have just the right amount of kick. Waroeng Spesial Sambal takes that challenge to a whole new level with more than 30 varieties of sambal available, from mildly hot to outright blazing.

There are more than 55 branches of this homegrown chain across the archipelago but none, surprisingly, are in Jakarta. The closest outlets are in Tangerang, just west of the city, and in Depok, home to the University of Indonesia. As a spice-lover, I could not resist trying out this house of chili when I recently visited a friend in Depok.

The best time to enjoy spicy food is in the middle of the day, when the sun is beating down and the air is hot. It was approaching 2 p.m. when my friend and I arrived at Waroeng Spesial Sambal, or Waroeng SS as it is also known, and it was turning out to be scorching afternoon. I knew then that it was the perfect time for us to conquer a hot and spicy sambal or three.

After hearing so much about the place, I was not overly impressed by the exterior of the restaurant. It was just a plain white building like any other eatery normally found on the side of the road. But there out front was a big, red sign with the words “31 sambal, 29 lauk, 11 sayuran, 21 minuman” — “31 kinds of sambal, 29 dishes, 11 vegetables, 21 drinks.” We knew we’d come to the right place.

Inside, we took a seat at the wooden tables and chairs. Opposite us was the lesehan area, where crowds of diners sat cross-legged at low benches. The interior was just as humble as the exterior, with white walls, hints of red paint and bamboo shutters in place of windows. Finally, a waiter arrived carrying a long menu. I thought to myself, “Sambal heaven, here I come!”

There was certainly a lot to choose from. It is very rare for a restaurant to have such an extensive array of sambal options — even those that specialize in spicy food are likely to have a maximum of 10 varieties. Bringing the total to 31 is really quite a feat.

Each of the unique kinds of sambal were given interesting names, like “sambal smackdown,” and “sambal unconfidence.”

The waiter told me that the sambal udang pedas , or spicy shrimp sambal, was the most popular type, so I ordered that and two others that I couldn’t understand the names of: “sambal gobal-gabul” and “sambal goalpal.”

Then we chose our dishes to go with the sambal, instead of the other way around. I ordered belut goreng (fried eel) and jamur goreng (fried mushrooms), while my friend ordered sapi goreng (fried beef) and pecel (vegetables with peanut sauce). We both ordered tall glasses of es jeruk (iced orange juice) to help keep the spicy flavors at bay.

The sambal udang pedas was the first to arrive, presented in an earthen mortar, lined with a banana leaf. The rice was also served on banana leaves, placed inside woven wicker baskets. This is a traditional style of presentation in Indonesia.

The sambal itself was made of red chilies that had been ground in a mortar and pestle with sliced tomatoes and shrimp, then deep fried. It was savory, and a little bit spicy, but not enough to satisfy the tastebuds of a seasoned chili-lover like me.

Waroeng Spesial Sambal
Jl. Margonda Raya No. 518H Cilodong,
Depok Tel. 021 7750059


Read more: Jakarta Globe

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