Sambal Matah, how to make Balinese Lemongrass Sauce

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Sometimes the hero of a meal is not the main dish, but the accompaniments, those little additions that heighten the taste buds and add that tantalising extra zing to what you are eating.

For me, when I visit Bali, the standout accompaniment is Sambal Matah. The raw sauce is a blend of lemongrass, shallots, chillies, coconut oil with the sharpness of lime juice and tang of shrimp paste adds a lemon bite to chicken, fish or vegetable dishes. Mouthfuls are sweet, sour, hot, cooling and lemony all in one.

The recipe is very easy to make, with a lot of fine chopping, and can be made in 5-10 minutes, depending on your chopping skills. Two of the ingredients, the shrimp paste, and monosodium glutamate are available at specialist Asian food stores or ordered from Amazon.


Sambals are chilli sauces or pastes from Indonesia usually made from a mix of chilli peppers blended with other ingredients like garlic, ginger, shallots, spring onions, lime juice, or shrimp paste.

Shrimp Paste

The shrimp paste (terasi) is available on Amazon. It is ground shrimp or krill mixed with salt and fermented for several weeks and gives an extra dimension to the sambal. If you prefer your sambal to be vegetarian, leave it out.

Sambal Matah Ingredients

Chopping everything finely for the sambal matah, lemongrass sambal

5-6 stems of lemongrass
2 medium-sized red chillies deseeded, finely chopped
4 small red birdseye chillies deseeded, finely chopped (cut down the number or omit depending on how hot you like it!)
7 small shallots finely chopped
1 tsp of shrimp paste (omit for a vegan/vegetarian sambal)
1 tsp monosodium glutamate
1 tsp salt
juice of 1 small lime
½ tbsp. coconut oil

Sambal Matah Method

  • Remove the outer leaves of the lemongrass and discard. Then with the flat blade of a knife, flatten the end of the stem.
  • Cut in half lengthways then finely chop.
  • Deseed and finely chop both the chillies and the shallots so that they are all the same size.
  • Roll the shrimp paste into a ball and hold it over an open flame for about a minute, so starts toasting.
Toasting the shrimp paste
  • Let it cool, then crumble the paste into the lemongrass, chilli and shallot mix.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and mix with by hand or with a fork.
  • Leave to rest for about 30 mins to let the flavours mix then serve.

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One thought on “Sambal Matah, how to make Balinese Lemongrass Sauce

  1. […] in the way she toasts shrimp paste before using it – a little trick I plan to try soon. See Larch’s step by step instructions here, plus tips about the role of sambals in Indonesian meals and where to obtain some of the special […]

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