If Sri Lankans were asked to name a condiment they cannot part with, without a doubt it would be “Sambola”. Anglicised to English as ‘Sambol’, this preparation has permeated through Sri Lankan cuisine, popping up as a side dish that enhances every meal – breakfast, lunch and dinner, and even as an accompaniment for snacks and street food.
A sambol is typically a relish where chopped and ground ingredients are mixed or blended together. While the recipe remains largely unchanged, from kitchen to kitchen, the ratios of the ingredients would change according to personal preference. Pol Sambola maybe the celebrity amongst the family of sambola that are a part of Sri Lankan cuisine, yet there many different types of sambola in the island. Sri Lankans love to flaunt their spices, and the delicious sambola provides ample opportunity to do so. Be warned, unless specified otherwise, sambola can at times be spicy enough to set your mouth on fire!
The ‘Coconut Sambol’ is the most popular and has even received international fame. Loved by everyone regardless of their age, ethnicity or social background, it is a must have when travelling across Sri Lanka. It is a mixture of scraped coconut, red chillies, chilli powder, chopped onions, grated Maldive fish, salt and lime. Even these ingredients are not set in stone. Some substitute tamarind for lime, which adds a blend of sweet and sour to the sambol. Others insist on adding a pinch of black pepper, upgrading the already addictive flavour.
Amu Miris Sambola
The ‘Fresh Green Chilli Sambol’ is the Pol Sambols fairer counter part. Prepared with green chilli instead of dried red chilli, Amu Miris Sambola has an entirely different taste. Black pepper is a must in this recipe, while a slice of garlic is also added for flavour. The combination of steamed Sudu Kekulu (white raw rice with a special milky flavour when steamed), tempered dried fish and the Amu Miris Sambola is a delectable meal that tantalises any Sri Lankan palate.
Onion Sambol is one of the easiest condiments to prepare, with no compromise on the taste department. Thinly sliced onion is softly mixed with sliced green chillies, a dash of red chilli flakes, salt and lime. More ambitious recipes add a thinly sliced tomato and a bit of Maldive fish to transform the dish into something infinitely better. Try this condiment with Pol Rotti, Appa or rice.
Sweet Caramalised Onion Relish is the odd one out in terms of preparation as it is tempered. However, Seeni Sambola is another favourite and a must-have for the Sri Lankan meal table. Spices such as cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon, curry leaves, pandan leaves and garlic are stir fried in a pan on low heat with chopped onions. The trick is to sauté the mix until the onions turn a deep amber and then tamarind juice is added. Caramalised onion has a naturally sweet (seeni) taste, however a little sugar is also added to further enhance this flavour. Finally, chilli powder is mixed in along with salt. Seeni Sambola is another must-try! It makes for a mouth-watering filler for toast or sandwiches, and a great side dish for hoppers, bread or yellow rice.
Katta Sambol and Lunumiris
The spiciest members of the sambols family, there is little difference between the two ‘Chilli Sambols’. Both mixtures are ground, typically on a grinding stone or vangediya. Katta Sambol is a ground mix of red chilli, Maldive fish, salt and lime. Lunumiris is a ground mix of the same with the addition of chopped onion. Fiery red in colour, these condiments will add a spicy blast to your meals. Lunumiris holds a special place as it always accompanies the auspicious plate of Kiribath (milk rice).
The Sri Lankan Chilli Pepper Sambol is the hottest of all the sambola. If you thought ‘Katta Sambola’ was hot, it would be wise to skip this one. This is made from a variety of small chilli known to the world as Bird’s Eye Chilli and colloquially called Demon Chilli in Sri Lanka. Prepared in a method similar to Pol Sambol – except with Demon Chilli of course, Kochchi Sambola has a reputation for making the diner cry, although it does add a panache to the meal.
Curry Leaf Sambol has a distinctive flavour that balances between sour and bitter. Here, curry leaves are chopped and ground along with scraped coconut, cloves, garlic, mustard powder, black pepper, salt and lime. Although not widely known, this tasty sambol is believed to be nutritious and especially good for those with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and cholesterol.
Gotu Kola Sambol
Asiatic Pennywort is a popular leafy green in Sri Lanka, readily available throughout the island. It is no wonder then that Sri Lankans have made a sambol from this green. More of a salad than a sambola, the mixture includes Gotu Kola and coconut with lime, salt and Maldive fish added for flavour. Loved by many, Gotu Kola Sambol ticks all the boxes; it is delicious, healthy and easy to prepare.
The Mint Leaves Sambol, sometimes referred to as a chutney, is an influence from Sri Lanka’s neighbours. The green condiment is a constant with Indian cuisine, and in Sri Lanka it also makes an appearance alongside Thosai and Sri Lankan biriyani. The sambola is a paste of ground mint leaves, scraped coconut, red onions, garlic, green chilli, pepper, lime and salt.
Wood Apple Sambol is definitely the strangest sambola on this list. Native to Sri Lanka and India, wood apple is a fruit that has spread in popularity across Asia. Because it is one of the only few fruits to be prepared as a sambola, it is probably the reason why the dish is also referred to as an achcharuwa or pickle. Scarped tender wood apple is ground slightly with salt, lime and sugar. Divil Sambola is a fine island delicacy.