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Good sambal can be found right on the doorstep – in the garden of Tropenhaus Wolhusen
Tropenhaus Wolhusen is located half an hour west of Lucerne, within sight of the peaks of the Pilatus mountain range. A breathtaking and diverse tropical world exists inside three striking wave-like glasshouses. In the onsite Mahoi restaurant, head chef Andreas Halter cooks up his own unmistakable creations. The best-known of these is the sambal mahoi, which is also available in Coop stores under the Fine Food brand. Together with Ivo Adam, we went in search of the exotic secret behind this paste amid sweltering temperatures.
On entering the Tropenhaus, visitors are immediately transported into a whole new world. The warm, tropical air and exotic aromas are mixed with the smell of damp earth. The contrast between idyllic Central Switzerland and the tropical fauna beneath these curved glass roofs could not be more striking.
Mangoes, papayas and guavas all grow in this exotic atmosphere, as well as lesser known tropical fruits such as mamey and starfruit. Coffee, cocoa, cotton – and much more besides – are also cultivated here. There is also a truly exceptional restaurant, the Mahoi. Head chef Andreas Halter uses lots of home-grown produce from this biotope and combines them with local Swiss specialities.
Andreas Halter has every right to be proud of his restaurant's special "front garden". Whenever he has a spare moment or two, he likes to explore the Tropenhaus. Its abundant plant life captures the imagination every time. You will even find tropical tilapia swimming in the pond at the bottom of a waterfall. And the exotic plants that grow here – such as the cherimoya or the longan with its sweet fruit – are the kind you would usually only see in distant climes.
The animals and plants that live in this environment need a warm climate, which requires more than just the stored heat from the sun. The Tropenhaus needs additional heating – this energy is sustainably sourced from the Transitgas AG compressor station approx. 300 m away and is a byproduct that would otherwise go to waste. This station pumps natural gas along a pipeline from the North Sea to Italy. The waste heat produced during pumping is therefore put to good use.
This energy not only helps to heat the wavy-roofed main building where visitors can experience the tropical environment, but also the adjacent production greenhouse. This is where many other tropical plants are grown specifically for the restaurant kitchen and used in the preparation of home-made specialities. Rice is also cultivated rather spectacularly on three curved terraces.
One of the most popular products to come out of the Tropenhaus is the hot sambal sauce. In Indonesia, it is traditionally used to spice up rice and vegetable dishes, but sambal also gives fish and meat a spicy Far Eastern kick. There are more than 300 known versions of this chilli sauce recipe in Indonesia alone.
Andreas Halter came up with his own recipe for sambal in the restaurant kitchen. He named the paste "sambal mahoi" after his own restaurant. The key ingredients are always sourced from Tropenhaus Wolhusen, are not imported from overseas and are grown under controlled conditions, making the production process far more sustainable.
To make this delicious sauce, the ingredients are first harvested fresh by Andreas Halter himself in the production greenhouse. It goes without saying that chillies are a key component of any good sambal. He plucks bright red chilli peppers from a sturdy bush. In another area of the greenhouse, there is lemongrass growing. Andreas Halter cuts off some long stems as these are also indispensable for making the spicy paste.
The stems must then be chopped finely as they are very tough. The fresher they are, the more essential oils they contain. Another key ingredient is less well known in this country. This ingredient is galangal, a root from the ginger family which originates from the Chinese island province of Hainan. Similar to ginger, galangal must be peeled and chopped.
The ingredients are crushed into a smooth red paste using a mortar and pestle. The lemongrass adds a wonderfully fresh touch to this spicy condiment. This combination of delicious ingredients makes it a unique speciality.
A Swiss speciality even, which has since become very popular among foodies here in Switzerland.
Other stories and recipes by Ivo
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