This article originally appeared on Munchies, but it was localized for VICE Indonesia's audience.
When you walk into a fast food chain restaurant, it's assumed that you come with several expectations. You're there to satisfy a disgusting craving for chicken wings or burgers, stat. Everything else is trivial: a child's cry after being denied a Happy Meal toy, soggy fries, the truth about the nutritional value of a meal you're about to have and of course, the hot sauce (or sambal in Indonesian) that comes with your order.
Time is money, so who on Earth has the luxury to take a moment to think about their sambal experience when there are two juicy chicken breasts sitting in front of them? On a normal day I too would pay no attention to condiments, but I've made it my mission to take a step back and rank the sambal at 11 fast food chains in Jakarta.
Obviously, spiciness is subjective. But Indonesia is a country of spices—we take our spices seriously. You would think that fast food chains, even if they're originated elsewhere in the world, would step up for its Indonesian customers. But this experiment is a nasty reminder that it ain't so. I hope that one day they will learn that having the best sambal in town would change their whole game. A fast food addict can only wish.
I didn't have a lot of resources so I only grabbed sambal packets from fast food chains nearest the VICE's Indonesia office so it's possible that I'm missing better ones out there. I designed my experiment as simply as possible, using only one banana and one chopstick. I ate each sauce plainly, dribbling it onto the chopstick. After each taste, I ate a little bit of banana to cleanse my palate—I know it's gross—but that was the best I could do at the moment.
Ingredients : chili, sugar, water, salt, modified tapioca starch, garlic, onion, vinegar, MSG, sodium benzoate, sodium metabisulfite.
We're on a really good start here, Yoshinoya makes quite a special sambal. The spiciness kicks in powerfully and its sweetness that seeps underneath your tongue is just enough to balance that kick. The sambal is not too acidic—it's actually quite flavorful. In terms of fake chemical compounds, the Yoshinoya sambal doen't seem to go overboard in comparison to its competitors. This sambal deserves 2nd place.
Ingredients: water, chili, sugar, salt, modified starch, garlic, acetic acid, MSG, sodium benzoate, sodium metabisulfite.
There's no other way to put it, Wendy's sambal is a shitshow. Low viscosity with yucky fake after taste, plain and insipid flavor, next-to-nothing spiciness. I wonder why it was created in the first place. I'm not sorry at all to say that this sambal is the worst I tried in this experiment. Yuck.
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Ingredients: chili (35 percent), water, sugar, vegetable thickener, salt, acetic acetate, garlic (1 percent), MSG, sodium benzoate, sodium metabisulfite.
Bento Steak is a local fast food chain selling affordable steak on the top floor of Blok M Plaza. For an unknown local fast food chain, this hot sauce is really kicking ass. It's delightfully not too sweet. It tasted more authentically spicy, perhaps because of the slightly higher chili content at 35 percent. Bearing a hint of savory flavor, this sambal ranks third for its uniqueness, and for actually being hot.
Ingredients: chili, sugar, modified tapioca starch, garlic, MSG, sodium benzoate, sodium metabisulfite.
Even though Mazzerano’s pizza is admittedly one of the best quality in the city, its hot sauce sucks big time. The sauce is watery and more acidic than it is spicy, with neither sweetness nor flavorful tang that makes it memorable. I wonder why they don’t invest a little bit more in researching on good hot sauce recipe to complement their kick-ass pizzas. Their hot sauce ranks at number 10.
Ingredients: water, chili (25 percent), sugar, modified tapioca starch, salt, garlic powder, vinegar, sodium benzoate, sodium metabisulfite.
When you order a pizza at Pizza Hut you're signing up for a tricky balance between quality pizza and absolute junk, which is still somehow better than their underwhelming sambal. Everything is so painfully so-so. There's a little bit of spiciness, a little bit of sweetness, a little bit of vinegar tang, a little bit of savory flavor, but none stands out. I have to give Pizza Hut credit for having the first sambal I tasted without any MSG. Overall, this sambal ranks 6th place.
Ingredients: water, sugar, chili (20 percent), salt, vegetable thickener, garlic, MSG, acetic acetate, sodium benzoate.
McDonald’s sambal is basically the same as Pizza Hut's, only thicker AKA better. This sambal deserves 5th place. This taste test at this point was becoming a snooze fest for me. For the love of God, mix it up, fast food restaurants! I'm rooting for you all.
Ingredients: water, chili (23 percent), sugar, salt, vegetable emulsifier, garlic, acidic acetate, sodium benzoate, sodium metabisulfite.
Domino’s sambal falls under the uncertain swampland spectrum between bad and good hot sauces. It's more sweet and acidic than spicy. No tang, flavor or kick. It's forgettable and weirdly watery. With that said I award this sambal 7th place.
Ingredients: chili, sugar, modified tapioca starch, water, salt, garlic, vinegar, MSG, sodium benzoate, sodium metabisulfite.
KFC delivers not too poorly on the hot sauce front. I expected it to fare better than McDonald's and it didn't disappoint. Each glob of sauce is equally sweet and spicy with just enough hint of acidity to balance it all out. Its crispy, savory flavour is what brings it home, and the reason I'm placing it 4th on the list.
Ingredients: water, chili, sugar, salt, modified tapioca starch, garlic, acetic acetate, sodium benzoate, MSG.
Peppers Lunch's sambal is disappointing but since it's a more of a rice-based chain, I’m not surprised that they don’t put that much attention to their hot sauce. It's sweet with a science-y, yucky flavor and it should be grateful I'm ranking it 9th.
Ingredients: water, chili (30 percent), sugar, salt, garlic (3 percent), modified starch, acidic acetate, sodium benzoate, sodium metabisulfite, vegetable emulsifier.
K-Kitchen is a local Korean-inspired fast food stall on the top floor of Senayan City. Its sambal is pretty insipid. Not at all sweet, not spicy, not acidic. It literally tastes like… NOTHING. But tasteless is better than disgusting, so this sambal comes in 8th.
Ingredients: water, sugar, chili (24 percent), salt, garlic, modified tapioca starch, MSG, acetic acetate, sodium benzoate, sodium metabisulfite.
Here comes our winner! When Indonesians want spicy they mean business, so A&W delivers in this regard. Not only that, it also has a range of colorful tastes so diverse to spoil your taste buds: sweet, savory, acidic, tangy and everything else combined to produce a kick so that each glob of sauce is good enough to eat by itself. A&W was my favorite fast food chain growing up, so maybe I'm biased. But I assure you its sambal is a girl could ever ask for.
At the end of the day, I'm not surprised that all fast food sambal in Jakarta are more or less the same. Some have more artificial chemicals than others. But they all focus more on being sweet and spicy instead of tangy and vinegar-y acidic like jalapeno hot sauces in the US, where I lived. I wish I could say that the less artificial hot sauces are better, but my taste-buds have apparently adjusted perfectly to these compounds. Surprisingly, I found joy in savoring artificial globs of flavor and thickness—though this experiment gave me headache after a while, so if anyone wants to continue this journey of finding the best fast food sambal in town, proceed with caution.