11/12/13 12:28pm

How to Order Authentically Spicy Indonesian Food


Javanese bubur ayam with a dollop of fiery sambal.

Welcome to the second installment of C+M’s ongoing series of audio guides on how to order authentically spicy food when dining in ethnic restaurants. As I mentioned in last week’s Korean primer, getting grub prepared to adequate spice levels isn’t much an issue for me. That’s not the case for my good friend and Desify columnist Anne Noyes Saini who often finds herself having to convince the waitstaff that she actually wants her food spicy. So as a service to C+M readers she’s compiled a series of audio guides demonstrating phrases in several relevant languages, which can be used to navigate ordering situations fraught with tricky cultural and language barriers. Today’s lesson: Indonesian.

Mel Harjono grew up in Indonesia. She’s quick to point out that Indonesian food is “massively different from island to island.”  In her hometown of Makassar on the island of Sulawesi, the food isn’t spicy, but one adjusts the flavor by adding various sambals. Today she teaches us to say, “It’s okay, I am used to eating spicy food.”  When I asked her to call out some of her country’s spiciest dishes she singled out sambal balado,  “basically beef, chicken, or  beef jerky smothered in chili,” from Padang, West Sumatra.

“I like spicy food, I eat spicy food, but there are times when I was kicking myself,” Harjono says with a chuckle. “It’s like this is spicy and I’m in pain.” I know exactly how she feels. That won’t keep me from seeking out that sambal balado though.

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