Photo: Faiz Aslam/Shutterstock

Indonesian Fried Chicken Is the American Version's Spicier, Crispier Cousin

Indonesia Food + Drink
by Matador Creators Jan 11, 2023

Not everyone will be able to handle the spice of this dish. Ayam penyet is Indonesian fried chicken coated in sambal (chili paste).

@foodwtf “Ayam penyet” is a popular #streetfood dish in #Indonesia that consists of fried chicken and green chili paste on top 🤤 Could you handle the spice?🔥 🎥 IG: @ourcollecti0n #streetfood #foodtiktok #greenchilipaste #streetfoodofindonesia #streetfoodtok ♬ Confidence – Lux-Inspira

Ayam penyet is a common home cooked meal in Indonesia, but it’s also sold as a street food. There are many aspects of ayam penyet that separate it from the fried chicken that most people in the Western world know – like much Indonesian food, it’s incredibly spicy. But there’s more to it than that.

First of all, the chicken is cooked twice: first it’s boiled in a mixture of herbs that includes ginger, galangal, lemongrass, and then it’s deep fried. Before it’s cooked the chicken is also smashed until the pieces are flattened – similar to a “smash burger” here in the United States. In fact, penyet is the Indonesian word for pressing an object. Sometimes the chicken is smashed with a mallet after it’s been cooked; the point of this process is to loosen the meat from the bones, making it easier to eat with your fingers.

The signature feature of Indonesian fried chicken, however, is sambal. Once the chicken has been fried, it’s topped with a layer of thick sambal – a chili paste seasoned with lime juice, garlic, shrimp paste, and palm sugar, among other ingredients. If you’re not used to spice, the sambal will probably be hard to handle, but it’s a key element to the dish. Luckily, it’s not always served on top of the chicken, but as a condiment on the side, so you can choose how much you want to try on your chicken.

If you’re lucky enough to pass by a street food stall making ayam penyet, you might see the cook preparing the sambal by cooking the chilies in oil, then mashing the chilis together with the other ingredients in a huge pestle. When you buy it from a street food vendor, ayam penyet is usually served with a mound of rice, fried tofu or tempeh, and sliced cucumber.

Ayam penyet might have originated in Surabaya, in East Java relatively recently, at a restaurant chain that originally served a tempeh dish with sambal. When the owner added fried chicken to the dish, it turned out to be a hit and the restaurant opened a chain that specializes in ayam penyet, and the dish cemented itself in Indonesian cuisine. Today you can see small vendors and carts all over the country preparing the dish.

Ayam penyet has spread to Singapore, where one blogger writes ayam penyet restaurants are where Indonesian people like to gather to reminisce about home.

Discover Matador

Save Bookmark

We use cookies for analytics tracking and advertising from our partners.

For more information read our privacy policy.