Sri Lankan Pol Sambol

8 May 2009
By

Sri Lankan Pol SambolPol sambol is an absolutely delightful dish, a food of the gods, if you will. It ranks as one of my top ten foods of all time, and depending on the day, might just be the winner.

Sadly, we ate most of the Pol Sambol before I managed to remember to take a picture. Can I blame it on the Pol Sambol being so so so so good? No?

A few years ago, when Fahim’s brother was getting married, a bunch of us were seated around the dining room table eating breakfast. I’d just sat down and was serving myself. String hoppers and bittera hodi (boiled eggs in a sort of coconut milk sauce) and pol sambol.

I grabbed the pol sambol and served myself a couple of very generous heaping tablespoons of the stuff. Fahim’s mom makes extra since she knows how much I love it. πŸ™‚

Fahim’s uncle, sitting across the table from me, looked at me, his jaw dropped open, and he said, quite urgently, “You can’t eat that.”

In all fairness to uncle, he didn’t know me or my tastebuds. πŸ™‚

I scooped up a bit of string hopper and pol sambol and tossed it in my mouth, delighting in the taste, and said, “Why not?”

His jaw dropped further and his eyes bugged out. He may even have sputtered. πŸ™‚

Lest you think I’m mocking him, I’m not. This is the usual reaction I get from pretty much all Sri Lankans when they see me eat food that they think is spicy. I’m not a normal human, I tell ya. I can handle spicier than most Indians and Sri Lankans. πŸ™‚

Pol Sambol

Ingredients

  • 50 grams freshly shredded coconut
  • 2 teaspoons red chilli pepper powder
  • 1 teaspoon Maldive fish flakes
  • 25 grams onion, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1 1/2 teaspoons lime juice

Directions

  1. Grind all ingredients together.

A typical serving tends to be around a teaspoon to a tablespoon or two of the pol sambol.

Freshly shredded coconut really makes a huge difference. It won’t taste anywhere near as good if it’s made with desiccated. But if you go the desiccated coconut route, make sure you get unsweetened and you rehydrate it first with hot water, coconut milk, cows milk, or something equivalent.

Maldive fish flakes are dried flakes of tuna made in the Maldives, usually available at Asian markets. If you can’t get it, try dried shrimp, an equal amount – I’ve heard it’s a reasonable substitute, but I haven’t tried it myself.

If you don’t have red chilli pepper powder, usually available in Asian markets or the Asian sections of grocery stores, you can either grind red chilli pepper flakes into powder, or substitute cayenne.

If you don’t handle spicy foods well, reduce the amount of red chilli pepper powder. The coconut tames the spiciness down, but I’m so immune to spiciness that I have no idea what is an appropriate level for a typical person.

My mother in law uses her grinding stone to grind the pol sambol. I don’t – it’s too hard on my joints, so I use my whir-whir, the small cup. If you have a blender or food processor or something equivalent, you can use that instead.

Some restaurants here cook their pol sambol. Yes, it means the pol sambol doesn’t go bad as quickly – freshly shredded coconut can go rancid very quickly, so serve immediately – but fried pol sambol tastes inferior. Noticeably inferior.

Pol sambol is typically served with coconut roti, string hoppers, hoppers, or egg hoppers, but can also be eaten with rice and curries. Personally, I love the stuff so much I’ll eat it with just about anything!

Let me know what you think if you make this/give it a try. I’d love to hear your reactions!

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2 Responses

  1. #1
    ken summers 

    sri lankan food is the best ,if your lucky enougth to eat with a family then you get to eat what they eat and that is arri hondia

  2. #2
    imesh 

    I personally think that pol sambol tastes the best when it is made in a stone mortar and pestle (wangediya), using shallots instead of onions and those big blocks of Maldive fish instead of flakes.

    The taste of pol sambol also changes with the order that the ingredients are added to the mortar.

    The order I use is first add the salt and the chili powder and grind it all together till it becomes a fine powder (like icing sugar), then add the Maldive fish and mash that up, once that has been broken down into chew-able pieces, in goes the shallots and after a few more smashes, finally the coconut goes in.
    After everything has been mixed together evenly take everything out of the mortar and squeeze the lime over it and your done!

    It back breaking work but so worth it!

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About LMAshton

Howdy and welcome to my site! I'm Laurie and I'll be your, er, hostess today. :)

I'm a Canadian expat currently living in Singapore. I'm married to a Sri Lankan and lived in Sri Lanka for nearly a decade. We also lived in New Zealand for half a year.

I cook Sri Lankan curries, sambols, and mallungs. I bake bread using wild yeast (sourdough that isn't sour). I bake on the stove. I experiment with Indian / Malaysian / Indonesian / Thai / whatever cuisines interest me. And I experiment wildly.

Life is an adventure. Join me! :)

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