If you think that Indonesian spicy foods only consist of the same types of chili in varying amounts, you’ve got it completely wrong! There is a wide variety of chili peppers found throughout Indonesia. Different regions of Indonesia use unique local chili varieties to create their daily and traditional dishes. Let’s learn more about it in this article!
8 Indonesian Local Famous Chili Peppers
Indonesians have a deep fondness for krupuk (crackers) and sambal (spicy condiments). Sambal, in particular, is a staple in Indonesian breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus, with countless variations. The main ingredient of sambal is chili, known as cabai/cabe in Indonesian (pronounced as “tjabai” or “tjabe”in Javanese).
Here are several types of chili ranging from milder to spiciest kinds of Indonesian cabai.
1. Cabe Hijau Besar (Capsicum Annuum Var)
This type of chili is actually an unripe big red chili (capsicum annuum L.), known as “cabai hijau besar” in Indonesian. It has a plump and larger size, with a pointed lower part or tip. Among the other Indonesian chili varieties, cabai hijau besar has the mildest level of spiciness.
With its crunchy texture, cabai hijau besar is often used as a garnish or a complement to Indonesian stir-fried or sautéed vegetable and protein dishes. However, this chili is also commonly used as an ingredient in sambal, making it a suitable introduction for newcomers to sambal and other Indonesian spicy foods.
2. Cabai Merah Besar (Capsicum annuum L.)
This is the ripe version of capsicum annuum var. The only difference is the color. Cabai merah besar, or big red chili, contains a significant amount of liquid and numerous seeds inside. Its vibrant red color can appear intimidating, but the spiciness is still mild, slightly higher than the immature or big green version.
Balinese food condiments, fried sambal (balado), and raw sambal cobek utilize this cabai merah besar along with a touch of spicier Indonesian chili pepper to achieve a balanced level of spiciness.
3. Cabai Hijau Keriting (Green Curly Chili)
Like its larger counterpart, cabai hijau keriting is the younger version of cabai merah keriting (red curly chili). However, this chili has a higher level of spiciness compared to the big version.
Additionally, it has a long and narrow shape with curls along its length. It serves as the main ingredient in an Indonesian chili recipe, the notorious sambal lado mudo (sambal ijo), from Padang, West Sumatra. Moreover, green curly chili is also used as a garnish or to add a touch of spiciness to stir-fried and soupy Indonesian dishes.
4. Cabai Merah Keriting (Red Curly Chili)
When the curly-formed chili is perfectly ripe, it exhibits a shiny, bright red color, while still maintaining its narrow, elongated shape with curls along the length of the chili. The red curly chili has a thick, crisp flesh with seeds tightly embedded within. It is the most commonly used chili in various types of Indonesian sambal.
You will find it in raw sambal varieties such as sambal bawang, sambal ulek, sambal cobek, sambal terasi, and sambal goang. It is also used in cooked sambal dishes like balado, sambal goreng (a dry Indonesian cuisine that combines sambal with coconut milk, cooked together), as well as rendang and other Indonesian spicy dishes.
5. Cabai Rawit (Bird’s Eye Chili)
Small yet fiery is the perfect description for the bird’s eye chili in terms of spiciness. It is tiny in size and comes in various colors, ranging from green and red to orange. Sometimes they have a plump shape, but usually, they are pointed at the lower and edge parts. Despite their small size, they can truly ignite your appetite.
Indonesians often consume them raw as condiments for fried side dishes or snacks. Fresh sambal varieties such as sambal matah or dabu-dabu use this chili, either finely or roughly chopped. And the green bird’s eye chili is used in sambal ijo from Padang to add an extra kick of spiciness.
6. Cabai Gendot
Similar to Capsicum chinense or habanero, cabe gendot has an eye-catching appearance with a short and round shape. It may also resemble the regular bird’s eye chili. However, cabe gendot has a crunchy texture and higher spiciness compared to cabe rawit. It will deliver a spice punch with every single bite.
Individuals with a high spice tolerance may find sambal made from cabe gendot to have a refreshing kick. Cabe gendot serves as an excellent accompaniment in Indonesian chili sauce for ayam geprek (smashed crispy fried chicken) and ulen (Sundanese sticky rice). Moreover, Indonesians also prepare it as a main dish, such as tumis cabe gendot (stir-fried cabe gendot) or fried cabe gendot filled with meat.
7. Cabai Katokkon
Grown in Tana Toraja, South Celebes, Katokkon has a cute and tiny shape, somewhat resembling mini paprika, with curls and wrinkles on its short and round body. This chili plays a crucial role in Toraja’s traditional sambal, adding an extra level of spiciness.
8. Hiyung Bird’s Eye Chili
If you have an excellent spice tolerance, maybe you should try the Hiyung bird’s eye chili for a new and exciting spicy flavor. At first glance, this Indonesian local chili variety resembles the regular bird’s eye chili. However, the Hiyung chili actually has a small cone shape.
The shoots are light green, and the chili starts off in a light green color, which then changes to purplish green as it ripens. When fully matured, it turns a bright red color. This is the spiciest Indonesian chili and is now available as bottled chili sauce and chili flakes (abon cabe).
Do the Varieties of Indonesian Chili Affect the Flavor of Sambal?
Yes, various types of chili will provide different levels of spiciness and unique sensations such as refreshing, hot, biting, or stinging. Some chilies are more suitable as ingredients for seafood sambal, while others are perfect for accompanying vegetables and fried dishes.
To explore and learn more about Indonesian cuisine, you can begin by trying the different varieties of Indonesian sambal. Many popular types of Indonesian sambal are now conveniently available as instant chili sauce. You can visit this Nyahtewel link to purchase your preferred sambal and stock up on them now!
- What peppers are used in Indonesian food?
It depends on the Indonesian cuisine variety and where it originally comes from. But, the most common chili peppers used in Indonesian food, especially in Indonesian chili sauce, are curly red and green chili peppers (types of cayenne pepper variety), and the bird’s eye chili pepper.
- What is The Spiciest Chili in Indonesia?
Indonesia has the spiciest variety of bird’s eye chili pepper, planted in Hiyung Village. This village is located in the Tapin district in South Borneo. Since this Indonesian chili plant only reaches its spiciness peak if planted in this village, hence they call it Hiyung bird’s eye chili.
The spiciness level of this variety is seventeen times hotter compared to other varieties of the bird’s eye chili.
- What is the Name of Indonesian Chili Sauce?
Throughout the articles or somewhere else, you can capture what Indonesians call their pride cuisine, the Indonesian chili condiment, as sambal. These chili sauce ingredients usually consist of chili peppers, salt, and terasi (similar to shrimp paste). However, there are various choices of Indonesian sambal offering different tastes and involving a diverse range of ingredients.
- Where Does Chili Grown in Indonesia?
For the pride and love of sambal, Indonesians plant chilis across the country. Still, there are some regions that have a major contribution to the production and distribution of Indonesian chili. Sumatra and Java islands are the two largest producing islands for national chili consumption annually. In Java island, West Java holds a prominent number of chilly production annually, larger than Central Java.