February 5, 2009


When people ask me which cuisine I like best, my answer is Manadonese (Italian is second). Even my 20+ years of living in the United States couldn't erase that. Both of my parents came from Manado, a city on the northern tip of Sulawesi, which is known for its beautiful girls (ehm) and spicy, hot food. Although my siblings and I were all born and raised in Jakarta (on the island of Java), we grew up eating all types of dishes redolent of many herbs, spices and chilies -- the hallmark of Manadonese cooking.

Even if there was no spicy dish on the table on a particular meal, at the very least one type of condiment was always present: sambal (chili sauce) or, as they call it in Manado, dabu-dabu. And there are as many versions of sambal or dabu-dabu as there are cooks.

The sambal on the right is commonly known 'bumbu rica',
another Manadonese specialty.

Here's how I do the most simple, yet the most refreshing, of them all: dabu-dabu lilang. A meal of hot steamed rice, grilled or deep-fried fish (flavorful ones such as tuna, bonito and tilapia) and this piquant dabu-dabu is one of the best in my book!

Dabu-dabu Lilang

2 tomatoes (such as Roma), diced
3-4 large shallots, peeled and sliced thinly
(or you can substitute 1 small onion for the shallots, peeled and diced)
as few or as many Thai bird chilies as you can handle, sliced thinly
juice of 1 lime

In a bowl, mix the tomatoes, shallots/onion, chilies and lime juice. Salt to taste. Mix in just enough sugar (start with a very small amount: just a pinch, then add more if needed) to take a bit off the edge of the sourness of the lime (it's not supposed to be sweet!). You can use this right away, or as I prefer it, let it sit for at least 15 minutes to let the juices from shallots/onions and tomatoes seep out and meld with that of the lime.

This yields a small bowl of dabu-dabu. This recipe is very flexible, you can multiply the amount as needed. If there's any leftover, it will keep for a few days, covered and refrigerated.

Those who are familiar with Mexican food will say it's very similar to pico de gallo. It is, except for the cilantro!

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