Foodstuff: Sambal Ikan Bilis
I have featured a fair number of ‘Sambals’ in the pages of this blog, most notably Sambal Oelek, the simple chili paste I use constantly, and Sambal Terasi, which builds upon the Oelek base and incorporates dried, fermented shrimp paste. Today’s feature is very similar to the latter except that the chili paste base is enhanced with dried anchovies. It is popular as a condiment in Indonesia and Malaysia, where it regularly accompanies Nasi Lemak, one of the national dishes, but, like Sambal Oelek, and other derivations, it can also be used as an ingredient in more complex recipes…
The commercial variety of the sambal that I am showcasing today is a product of the Sing Long Foodstuff Trading Company of Singapore. Unlike many other preparations, in which whole anchovies are often visible, this paste is almost homogenously smooth and nothing resembling a fish, or fish part, is apparent. Ikan Bilis (or ‘anchovy’) is actually listed as the primary ingredient, but it should be noted that the final entry in the ingredient list is Belecan (which rather explains the ultimate taste of the condiment).
On opening the jar, the aroma very much reminds one of a tomato based sauce but, surprisingly, there are no tomatoes present in the blend that would account for that effect. The taste is moderately sweet (and sugar is listed as an ingredient), while the chili heat is only moderate; somewhat like a commercial Sriracha sauce in strength. The ingredients list does specify ‘Spices’ near the end but it is not really possible to identify anything in particular beyond the chili itself.
As for the ‘Anchoviness’ of the condiment, that aspect of the taste is pretty hard to discern and, indeed, it is the Belecan that seems to dominate the Umami flavor component. That is a little disappointing for me but, that being said, the overall effect is quite nice and the mild, generic nature of the fishy taste, along with the smooth texture, actually make this quite a versatile variety, with appeal to a wider consumer base than more traditional types.
As I mentioned, Sambal Ikan Bilis is a popular accompaniment to the rice dish known as Nasi Lemak, which is rice cooked in coconut milk (and generally flavored with Pandan Leaf). It also goes well with plain rice too, however, and in the little lunch you see pictured above, I served rice in much the same way as the Malaysian specialty, except that my accompaniments (in addition to the sambal), include sliced Chinese Sausage, rolled omelet slices, and garlic peanuts. The Sambal Ikan Bilis provided just the right fillip and pulled the whole together very nicely