Pol Sambola

Pol Sambola

This coconut-rich spicy sambol (chutney) sums up tropical
Sri Lanka. Its tingling heat, tempered by candy-sugar coconut,
is sunshine and lazy beach days for your taste buds.

Although the origins of pol sambola aren’t known, it’s not surprising that Sri Lankan cooks combined two easily sourced ingredients – coconut and chilli – to make what is today one of the nation’s most popular condiments. Coconuts have been a staple crop for the island since at least the Rohana Kingdom (210–161 BC), but chillies were only introduced by colonial-era trading ships in the 17th century, so the dish must have evolved after then.


You’ll need
½ red onion, peeled and
finely diced
3 dried red chillies
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tbs Maldive fish (optional)
Juice of 1 lime
3 cups grated flesh of fresh
Salt to taste

Cooking Method
1 Using a mortar and pestle (or a food processor) grind up the red onion, dried red chillies, chilli powder, Maldive fish and half of the lime juice until it becomes a paste.
2 Add the coconut and the rest of the lime juice and combine by hand until the mixture is an even orange-red colour. Add salt to taste.

Tasting notes
A sticky-looking orange side dish appears without fanfare on your table. Under the rhythmic thwack-thwack of the restaurant’s wobbling ceiling fans, the Sri Lankans at the table next to yours are spooning generous dollops of this stuff on to their rice. Do as they do to discover why the pol sambola bowl is often the first one emptied. The initial taste is the fruity sweetness of coconut, but a punch of chilli soon makes its presence known. There’s sourness as well, thanks to a generous dousing of lime and, if the cook has used Maldive fish, a salty note adds a final bite. Sweet, salty, sour and spicy, pol sambola is the piquant antidote to a humid Sri Lankan day.

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