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Grilled Fish With Dabu Dabu Sambal

So You Think It’s Hot? A Hotlist of Favorite Manado Recipes!

By: Reyhard Matheos

Grilled Fish With Dabu Dabu Sambal

Grilled Fish With Dabu Dabu Sambal

Manadonese are a proud people and one thing they are proud of is their very very hot food.  Whenever they cook fish, pork, bat, dogs (yes it’s true), it is not complete if the quantity of chili is less than the other ingredients.

Even though I was raised in a very Manadonese family, I didn’t know about their chili-obsessed culture until recently. North Sulawesi is a heaven for spices. When I traveled to Manado some time ago, my grandma cooked me smoked cakalang (fish) with coconut milk sauce. She already warned that she was using dried Gorontalo chili (which later I found out is the hottest chili in North Sulawesi).

The food was very tasty and the sauce delicious, I could stop eating. However, there was one problem: the dishes we three times hotter than any hot food I have ever tasted my entire life. At that point, all the talk about how hot Padang and Medan food is laughable. Believe me, it’s not even close!


Try this dabu dabu's hot!

Every time there is a feast or party or any special moment, the signature dish is always grilled fish accompanied with a sambal called dabu-dabu and rica bakar (rica is a Manadonese word for chili). If you attend a food party like this, especially in the kobong (a traditional vegetable garden), traditional Manadonese never use a plate, instead they cut a large banana leaf, where they will put the rice, dabu-dabu, fresh basil, young papaya leaves, tempe, tofu, grilled fish and chicken to share for all. Marijo makang! (Bon appétit).

Here some recipes for two outstanding sambals:

Dabu-dabu Lilang Recipe:


Red onions, lemon, chili, tomatoes, salt, vegetable oil, basil leaves

How to make it:

It’s very simple. Slice the chili’s, tomatoes, and red onions very thinly. Put them in a bowl, squeeze the lemon water over the sliced ingredients, add some salt, a spoon of vegetable oil and mix in the basil leaves.

Rica Bakar Recipe


Chili, red onions, ginger (not too much), salt, sugar, lemon, vegetable oil

How to make it:

Crush the red onions, ginger, and chili altogether, heat the vegetable oil, and afterward add the crushed ingredients and fry for a few seconds and squeeze the lemon over the mixture before turning off the gas.

There’s still a long list of my favorite spicy Manadonese food, but I’m just going to mention three for now. First is Gohu Ikan: a small fish fillet (any small salt water fish is fine), sliced very thinly and cooked only with lemons and a little bit of salt, and afterward mixed with dabu-dabu lilang.

Another favorite dish is called Erwe, which I rank as the number one food across the archipelago. However I am 90 % sure that westerners consider this food as grotesque as one of my American friends said it: “western people will consider this as cannibalistic”, as he chewed a small chunk of a very spicy Erwe for the first time. Yeah, I know:

How can you eat men’s best friend?”

Sate Ragey

Sate Ragey, juicy and tender

The secret of Erwe is that it is cooked with an enormous amount of ingredients, I mean a lot: vinegar, ginger, lemon grass, laos, onion leaves, lots of vinegar leaf, lots of chili, lots of lemon leaves, lots of basil, lots of red onions, etc. Of course, there are always alternatives. You can use duck or chicken meat and if you are not that into hot spicy food, it will still taste nice with just a little or without chili.

And the third dish on this hotlist is Ragey, a pork satai smeared with some hot barbecue sauce. The taste is a little bit crunchy on the surface and when you take the first bite, the juicy meat and its spices form a  heavenly sensation in your mouth, but of course, it will be hot!

Manado has more to offer than hot food. Check out our introduction to Northern Sulawesi for some excellent tips on diving, trekking and more. For those who are hot and spicy food maniacs, Manadonese food is your next challenge. Nevertheless, make sure that your food does not bark.

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