Sambal (chili sauce), is one of Indonesia’s traditional food seasonings. Almost every region in Indonesia has its own special chili sauce with different taste and ingredients. One thing is for sure: You will burn your tongue and sweat when you eat chili sauce.
In some parts of Indonesia, chili sauce is essential. In other words, you have not properly visited a place without trying its chili sauce.
Garut, West Java, is a region famous for it chili sauce, called sambal Cibiuk. “Cibiuk” is the area where the sauce comes from.
It is not difficult to find restaurants or kiosks serving this kind of chili sauce since it sells quite well.
Many restaurants outside Garut (including in Jakarta at Automal Sudirman Central Business District), claim Cibiuk chili sauce as their mascot.
What is sambal Cibiuk all about?
Along with some motorcycling friends, I rode to Cianjur, West Java, and visited Rumah Makan Cibiuk restaurant on Jl. Dr. Muwardi 177, before the toll gate to Bandung.
Sambal Cibiuk, served in a medium-sized stone plate, was predominantly green. This is because one of the ingredients is small green tomatoes and green peppers.
“The tomatoes have to be wrinkled,” said Inah, one of the waitresses. “If not, the taste is different,” she added.
Other ingredients are kemangi (basil), kencur (aromatic ginger), salt, garlic and brown sugar. Inah added kemangi and kencur determine the flavor of sambal Cibiuk.
“It can be very hot or mild; it’s up to the customers,” she said.
All of the ingredients were put together and had to be crushed manually in a mortar, but not for too long and in a certain way so the form of some ingredients is still visible.
You can still see the shape of green tomatoes and the small green peppers in the chili sauce.
The sambal Cibiuk I tried in Cianjur was not too hot. Uniquely, the chili will tempt you to finish it all, even if you eat it on its own.
The slightly bitter taste of green tomatoes goes well with the hot taste of green pepper. Both tastes were balanced with kemangi, kencur, salt and brown sugar. Perhaps the secret recipe is what makes it so popular.
“The chili is most suitable to eat with fried gurame fish,” Inah said.
Curious about this chili, I browsed the Internet and stumbled upon some very surprising facts on the long and unique history behind the chili sauce.
The sauce was once on the menu of local royal families.
Folklore says the inventor of sambal Cibiuk was Eyang (grandmother) Fatimah. She was the only daughter of Syech Jafar Sidik (known as Embah Wali Jafar Sidik), a cleric who disseminated Islam in Garut.
He was also a close friend of the famous Walisongo, the nine clerics who spread Islam through Java.
Still, according to the folklore, sambal cibiuk was created to personify the concept of Islam.
The mix of green tomato, small green pepper, salt, sugar and other ingredients created a delicious chili sauce that symbolized how beneficial cooperation can be, no matter how different the flavor of the ingredients (like the hot taste in pepper and the sweet brown sugar).
In other words, people can learn about or understand the concept of cooperation in Islam through the chili sauce. Many teachers of Islam conveyed Islamic concepts through the use of local culture and art.
Whether the folklore is true or not, what sets sambal Cibiuk apart from other chili sauce is that it will not make your stomach burn. Only your tongue gets hot and you are tempted to go for more.
People in Garut would say, “When you eat sambal cibiuk, you will want more and more.”
Rumah Makan Cibiuk
Jl. Muwardi 177
tel. (0263) 269635
Arif T. Syam