From thick, velvety hummus and spicy shakshuka to swirly babkas and pitas stuffed with falafel, Israeli cuisine isn’t short on bold flavors. Even so, amba, a bright, tangy pickled mango sauce popular on Israeli street foods, stands out from the pack.
“Amba has a very distinct flavor,” says Tomer Blechman, who features the sauce in dishes at his Brooklyn restaurant, Miss Ada. “It’s a little tangy and earthy. It takes completely different flavors and makes them one.”
Typically made from green mangoes, vinegar, and varying spices, amba is a condiment used on sabich, a sandwich filled with fried eggplant, hard-boiled eggs, and a thin tahini sauce. It’s also a popular condiment for falafel, shawarma, and other street foods.
“For me, amba means street food,” he says. “It’s a distinguished flavor that I carry with me. You put it in an even layer in the pita so it’s in every bite.”
There are many different varieties of amba. Iraqi Jews introduced the smooth variety that Blechman uses to Israel in the 1950s and ’60s. Chunkier versions with slightly different spices are used in many Indian dishes.
“Amba’s best friends are eggplant and tahini,” Blechman says, describing how the tangy sauce contrasts beautifully with the creaminess of eggplant and tahini. He recommends trying amba first with those flavors before experimenting with other recipes.
While many Israelis make amba at home, Blechman ultimately decided that the store-bought kind allowed him more flexibility. For some dishes he prefers smooth Premium amba, but for trying new techniques he’ll use Shemesh. You can buy amba at Middle Eastern markets, or order it online.
Have you had amba? Share your favorite way to use it below!