Brian Moeljadi is the founder of BOWLD, an L.A.-based Indonesian pop-up and catering company specializing in rice bowls. Along with co-owner CJ Lee and Bestia line cook Johnny Cirelle, the team utilizes local produce and other top-notch ingredients to put modern spins on traditional Southeast Asian cooking. (Photos and video courtesy Monique Batac)

What Sriracha is for Thai food, sambal is for Indonesian: an indispensable, funky hot-relish best paired with an ice cold Bintang beer. The all-purpose condiment is the perfect trifecta of flavors: heat from chiles, tang from lime juice, and an umami bomb from roasted shrimp paste.

We Indonesians show no discretion when it comes to using this stuff. We’ll mix it into our eggs, add it to soups, and even dip raw mangos into it for a crazy Asian take on crudité. Sambal is a generic term for hot sauce, which means it also features prominently in other cuisines like Malaysian, Singaporean, Dutch, and Sri Lankan.

Not only are there differences among these multi-national versions, but there are also hundreds of varieties just within Indonesia. Some resemble a paste more than a relish, while others have sweet, fruity notes derived from mangos and kecap manis. Add fermented shrimp paste and you’ll end up with sambal terasi; fried peanuts and you have sambal kacang. You get the idea: As long as you have a baseline sauce, you can mix and match whichever way you like.

At our Indonesian rice bowl service BOWLD, we use a homemade recipe developed by my mother—a native of Sumatra’s capital Medan—using local chiles available to us here in California. This “Mother Sambal” serves as the baseline for other sambal recipes we develop.

So if you’re tired of dousing your steak with watery Tobasco, or you want your fried chicken to taste like the love child of Jamaican jerk and Pok Pok, let us help you step up your hot-sauce game.

Bowld Mother Sambal

This is the baseline sambal we use to make the other versions in our repertoire. While it can stand alone on its own, you can use it as the starting point to create different flavors.

Bowld Sambal Close Up (470 width)

Flavor profile: Garlicky and pungent
Good with: Rice and noodle dishes, fried foods, ANYTHING.

Ingredients (makes 1 cup):

1 cup of coarsely chopped Thai chiles / Red Jalapenos (you can substitute deseeded and diced red bell peppers to adjust the heat level)
1/2 cup of coarsely chopped garlic
3 tablespooncanola oil
1 tablespooncoarse salt
2 tablespoonwhite vinegar
1 glass jar

Warning: Wear kitchen gloves! You’ll deeply regret accidentally rubbing your eyes after cooking with spicy peppers.

While traditionally mashed with a mortar and pestle, chiles also can be put in a blender or food processor to achieve similar results. Just keep in mind that with the blender, we can’t usually get the relish-y texture that some prefer.


  1. Add canola oil to pan and turn the heat to medium.
  2. Once the oil is up to temperature, add chili mix and garlic to the pan and sauté until the chiles wilt and become softer in texture.
  3. Transfer chiles to the mortar and pestle or blender with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil in the pan for later.
  4. Add salt to the mortar and pestle or blender and mash or blend until desired consistency (we prefer a smooth but slightly chunky consistency).
  5. Add mixture back into pan with chili oil and add vinegar. Stir on medium heat for 1-2 minutes until the sambal has thickened a bit.
  6. Pour into a glass jar store for up to two months, or use it for other sambal recipes.

Pro Tip: Pour water and coffee grounds into your blender to rid it of any residual smell or spice.

Build more sambals

From the Bowld Mother Sambal base, you can add different ingredients to customize your own. Anytime you’re cooking, constantly taste and modify the recipes to your preferences.  Adjust the level of heat by playing with the chile-to-bell-pepper ratio, or remove seeds from your chiles. Here are three BOWLD variations:

Bowld Shrimp Paste Sambal (Sambal Terasi)


Flavor profile: Funky umami
Good with: Raw veggies, grilled meats, rice, soup


1 cup Bowld Mother Sambal
5 sautéed shallots
2 tablespoon of canola oil
½ tablespoon of terasi (shrimp paste)
1 medium size tomato, de-seeded & cubed
2 tablespoon of palm sugar, shaved
¼ teaspoon salt
Juice of ½ lime or 2 key limes


  1. Sweat the shallots in a pan with canola oil until translucent.
  2. Remove shallots from oil and fry the terasi in the oil for 2 minutes on low heat, breaking it up with your spatula.
  3. Add shallots, tomato, palm sugar, salt, and lime juice into the pan and sauté under medium heat for 1-2 mins.
  4. Transfer to blender for desired texture.

BOWLD Mango Sambal

Mango Sambal close up

Flavor profile: Sweet and tangy, with a spicy finish
Good with: Fried or grilled seafood


1 tablespoon of Bowld Mother Sambal
2 green mangos, peeled & thinly shredded
5 shallots, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons of kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce)
Juice of ½ lime or 2 key limes


  1. Combine ingredients into a bowl and stir

Bowld Sambal Belado

Belado Sambal Close Up

Flavor profile: Sweet and fragrant, with a relish-y texture
Good with: Eggs, spooned over fried wings, eggplant, or tossed with cooked vegetables


1 tablespoon of Bowld Mother Sambal
1 red bell peppers, de-seeded and diced
2 medium size tomatoes, de-seeded & cubed
1 red onion, minced
2 tablespoons of palm sugar, shaved
¼ teaspoon of coarse salt
5 kaffir lime leaves (frozen is okay), thinly sliced
2 tablespoons of white vinegar
Juice of 2 key limes
1 tablespoon of canola oil


  1. On medium-low heat, sweat onion in a pan with canola oil until translucent.
  2. Add the rest of ingredients to the pan and stir.
  3. Continue to stir 6-8 mins or until the bell peppers and tomatoes soften.