Why We Put Sambal On Everything And How We Can Change That


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   by Edward    4 Comments  →

Many years ago, I had this conversation that changed my way of enjoying things. Real story :)

I was shooting for a big well-known chinese food restaurant (I shoot commercial work too) – I shot meals, roast ducks, dimsum pods, and everything in between. The chinese malaysian head chef was helping me getting the dishes prepared and we became good pals, since he was always beside me on the three day shooting time.

One time, at a lunch break, he said to me, “I actually hate cooking for Indonesians.”

“Why?” I said, rather surprised and a bit offended.

“Because, y’know, you guys put sambal on everything.”

“Immidiately after a dish is served, even before you tasted it, you will ask for sambal and you will put a spoonful on my creation.”

“Often you will also put some pepper, and even some soya sauce.”

“I feel like all my hard work is for nothing. All the things I’ve learned about cooking and all the thoughts I’ve given into creating that dish goes unrewarded.”

“Yes the pay is good here, but I want people to taste and cherish the food as I, the creator, have visioned and prepared. So you would taste it first as it is, and know that’s how that dish was supposed to be like, according to me, the chef.”

“But most of the time, most people wouldn’t know what’s that like. Everything is only hot now because of that much sambal they put in.”

“If it’s not hot enough for them, of course they could add some sambal later. But at least try it first. Appriciate what I created first.

- – - – -

We do, don’t we? :)

We never give the chef, or shall we say: the artist, a chance.

We do whatever we want with this dish, since we thought, “Hey! I paid for this!”

But, as you’ve heard just now, the chef probably is peeking through the service door, and more often than not, will turns his head and walks away in dissapointment.

And for us, though there is no crime committed here, we lost the chance to enjoy a vision.

A creation with a lot of thoughts behind it.

In the popular Mario’s Trattoria in Florence, there’s a sign on the wall saying: “Tourists, Fiorentine steaks are supposed to be rare. Don’t ask us to cook it well done, because that is just stupid.”



I cook. And I know when I cook, I put a lot of thinking on making the meal to taste as it is now, and I want for my guests to at least take a sip first.

Since that day, on every new dish that I ordered, I never put anything on it. I try to take a bite and try to understand what the artist behind this meal is trying to tell me.

Even if in my opinion it’s not salty, hot, or sour enough, I still try to understand what he is saying. I said to myself, “Maybe this is how he intended for the meal to be like. Try to savor it.”

And everytime I cherish that bite, there seems like a connection between me here in the dining room, to that artist that is busy in the back kitchen.

“I get you, Sir,” I say.

Can we try that instead?

There’s an unintentional follow up to this post, titled And Why We Don’t Have Album Revisions


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  • hanindyo

    From Rework, Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson page 153 on Saying no by default:
    ….
    Don’t believe that “customer is always right” stuff either.Let’s say you’re a chef. If enough of your customers say your food is too salty or too hot, you change it. But if a few persnickety patrons tell you to add bananas to your lasagna, you’re going to turn them down, and that’s OK. Making a few vocal customers happy isn’t worth it if it ruins the product for everyone else.

    • http://www.edwardsuhadi.com/blog Edward Suhadi

      Hai Hanindyo: Rework is one of my bible on understanding business and doing ‘work’ – thank for pointing that out :)

  • Andied

    My dad loves to cook, and always gives us a really hard time if we prepare any condiments (soy sauce, tomato sauce, chili, etc) before tasting his meal, even when we were little. Agree though, most people eat sambal with something, not eat something with sambal.

  • http://twitter.com/lindasetya Linda Setiawati

    Well, I think I’m not one of ‘those Indonesians’. I rarely add any sambal, soya sauce, pepper etc on my food, even though it’s a bowl of meatballs. I prefer the original taste, because that’s the reason why I order the food – to taste.