The History Of Amba, A Spicy Mango Sauce
Image Credit: iStock, Spicy Mango Sauce

A spicy mango sauce that’s served with sabich (a pita sandwich stuffed with fried aubergine, hard boiled eggs, tahini and chopped salad) in Israel, amba actually originated in India (amba means mango in Marathi). The Sassoon family, who were of Baghdadi Jewish descent in Mumbai, have been credited with the creation of the sauce. Jewish traders then took it to Iraq. Iraqi Jews arrived in Israel in the 40s and 50s, and started serving amba with sabich. Since then, it has permeated Israeli and Palestinian cuisine and become popular at restaurants serving Mediterranean cuisine around the world.

Unlike houmous and falafel, amba isn’t considered ‘national’ Israeli food. It’s marketed as authentically Iraqi or Indian, and not an Israeli condiment. However, it is an important marker of Iraqi-Jewish identity. Due to its Iraqi roots, amba has been adopted in food stalls in Arab-dominated areas in Israel.

The main ingredient needed for amba is mango. Some recipes also include chilli, mustard seeds, turmeric and fenugreek. Traditionally, amba is made by slicing and salting green, unripe mangoes. The sliced and salted mangoes are placed in a jar and left to ferment for five days in the sun. Later, the mango is removed from the jar and left to dry in sunlight for 3-4 hours. Once dried, it is simmered with spices and vinegar, and then stored.

Amba has made its way to the United States and Europe from India, Iraq and Israel/Palestine. It can even be found in London, owing to the popularity of Middle Eastern cuisine in the city. Local Middle Eastern restaurants serve it alongside falafel. Israeli-born chefs like Ottolenghi combine it with a Greek yogurt sauce and serve it with lamb kebabs. In the US, amba can be found at popular restaurants in New York and Philadelphia. It’s likely that the potent condiment will go on to dominate more Middle Eastern kitchens across the world.