Sauces for dipping, chilli slathered and drizzled on everything we’re eating – we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ain’t nobody got time for bland food! And though we’re blessed with a rich food culture, and ever richer-tasting dishes like laksa, mee soto, hokkien noodles and other assorted heavenly local dishes, any food enthusiast in Singapore would understand the importance of chillies, chilli sauce, or sambal in our diet. Even better, we have myriad choices when it comes to our own hot sauces. Here are some of the essential hot sauces we need in our lives… (with a bonus recipe!)
Before we begin…
If you’re going to be slogging it out in the kitchen making sambal all day, make sure you have these ingredients (and gear) on hand. Staples include an assortment of chillies – green, red, and chilli padi for the heat – garlic, onions, vinegar, garlic, lemon, lime, salt, and sugar. Having a hand blender to make the chillies into a paste is handy, or you can go old-school with a mortar and pestle. Also note: the chilli seeds are the hottest part, so remove the seeds if you’re weak on the spice – and never, never rub your eyes after handling the chilli (or wear gloves). We’ve learned this the hard way.
Pickled green chillies
Entry level heat
A popular condiment available at most eateries here, pickled green chillies accompany many local dishes in Singapore. It’s even simpler to make: just soak some sliced green chillies in vinegar, and you’re good to go. For those afraid of heat, this is a good start. If you can handle jalapenos, you can handle the pickled green chilli.
Best eaten with: Fried bee hoon, hor fun, char kway teow and other noodle dishes
Chilli padi in soy sauce
Industry standard hotness
Sliced chilli padi drowned in soy sauce might look deceiving but don’t be fooled. A spoonful of this elixir can sure spice up up an otherwise unremarkable dish. Great as a dipping sauce and also as an additive for a more savoury flavour, this underrated sauce is the everyday hero and a timeless classic.
Best eaten with: Congee, soupy dishes, noodles, almost everything actually
With shrimp factor
If you take a whiff of this iconic sambal, you’ll immediately pick up some strong aromas. That’s because belacan is a shrimp paste condiment made from ground shrimp or krill that has been salted, dried and fermented – a perfect base for sambal, of course. Belacan should never be eaten uncooked, so make sure you toast it, throw in some chili, minced garlic, lime, shallots, and salt and sugar to taste.
Best eaten with: Absolutely everything!
Sambal Ijo (Green Chilli Paste)
For the mild ones
By now, you should already know that if you can’t handle the heat but still want in on the hot sauce action – stick to green chillies. Throw in green chilli, shallots, garlic, coriander and bonus ingredient, green tomatoes, in a blender for a refreshing dip or paste for meats.
Best eaten with: Fried/grilled fish or chicken, or as a dip
Chicken Rice Chilli aka Chilli Cuka (with bonus recipe!)
Every local’s favourite here, the chicken rice chilli sauce is a light but spicy sauce great with the dish itself and basically anything fried. Known for its bright vermillion shade, ginger is a key ingredient in this spicy and tangy dipping sauce. Best thing? It’s pretty simple to make.
80g red chillies
20g chilli padi
6 cloves garlic
2 fresh limes, squeezed
2 tbsp white vinegar
20ml chicken stock
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp sesame oil
1. Blend all the ingredients (except for sesame oil) until it gets to a thick and smooth consistency
2. Mix in the sesame oil and chill it in the fridge
3. Start dipping!
Special mention: Bottled Garlic Chilli
Love that packet chilli from a certain fast food chain? No judgment. Look for bottled garlic chilli in the supermarket. Notable brands include Sin Sin and our personal favourite, Indonesian brand ABC.
And the lifetime achievement award goes to: Lao Gan Ma
Whether you’re in New York or Melbourne, you can depend on cult favourite Lao Gan Ma chilli oil for that sweet, sweet burn. Lao Gan Ma, literally meaning “Old Dry Mom” but idiomatically “Godmother”, has been a pantry staple for me for years. There’s some of that Sichuan peppercorn in there for that numbing sensation and heaps of flavour in just one teaspoon – a little goes a long way! Okay, it does contain MSG, which is why it can be a tad addictive. But we’ll always love this old dame.
Best eaten with: Mix it in a bowl of fishballs and noodles and you’ve yourself a meal. I mix it in everything, including my salad and leftover mashed potatoes.