Sri Lankan Pol Sambol Recipe and Adventure

By Mark Wiens 32 Comments
Eating Sri Lankan pol sambol in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Eating Sri Lankan pol sambol in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

Though I thoroughly enjoyed just about all the Sri Lankan food I tasted on my visit, I developed an unstoppable addiction to something known as pol sambol.

Sri Lankan pol sambol is a shredded coconut garnish that includes just a few simple ingredients mixed together into perfect harmony.

Grandma, who cooked the best curry in the world, would prepare pol sambol each morning for breakfast, fueling my addiction!

With fresh ingredients, it’s easy to make – so easy in fact that I decided to jot down this recipe so you can make it yourself.

This is all you need for a Sri Lankan culinary adventure
This is all you need for a Sri Lankan culinary adventure

Sri Lankan Pol Sambol Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 300 grams of fresh shredded coconut (mature firm coconut that’s used to make coconut milk, not the young soft coconuts)
  • Around 2 – 4 spoons of chili powder
  • Around 1/2 spoon of salt
  • 5 – 10 cloves of raw garlic
  • 1 – 2 small red onion
  • 2 limes

Six ingredients, that’s it!

Just remember, these are just suggested amounts, you may need more or less of any of the ingredients, start off using less and do a lot of taste testing until it tastes right to you. You are the judge.

The key ingredient in shredded coconut
The key ingredient in shredded coconut

Being in Thailand at the time, I did cheat and buy pre-shredded coconut, instead of having to shred my own. However, you can also get a whole coconut and shred it yourself.

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix... that's about it!
Put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix… that’s about it!

Shred the coconut, mince the garlic, mince the onion and toss it all into a mixing bowl.

Add salt and chili powder, and finally squeeze in the juice from 1 lime first (more later).

Start mixing the pol sambol with the tips of your fingers – work it like you’re massaging someone’s shoulder. Begin to twist and lightly squeeze until all ingredients are equally coating the coconut (see video below).

At this point the pol sambol should be orange in color.

Sri Lankan Pol Sambol Recipe
Sri Lankan Pol Sambol Recipe

Taste it. More salt, chili, or lime juice? Add more.

Mix it again. Taste the pol sambol again.

Sri Lankan pol sambol should be a little bit spicy, sour (but not overpowering) from the lime juice, and salty to suit your own taste.

Pure culinary delight - Sri Lankan pol sambol
Pure culinary delight – Sri Lankan pol sambol

While I was in Sri Lanka I often enjoyed pol sambol along with roti paratha bread or as a side with a rice and curry feast. But pol sambol is so good, it’s even delicious scooped up with little bites of bread.

Lastly, here’s the video including the recipe that we just covered, and a little adventure to go with it:

And yes, I really did wake up with a pol sambol craving!



32 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Caryl

    2 months ago

    Your video brought back so many memories! Back in the 70’s I lived in Sri Lanka (again in the 80’s and 90’s). I too used to prepare pol sambol. I wish I could get it commercially here in Texas…being old and disabled limits my cooking. Thanks for bringing back a super time in my life. p.s. I use the mortar and pestle for mixing.

  • Henry Dullewe

    9 months ago

    I am from Sri Lanka now resident in Ajax Ontario Canada. I love the way you make it. I never knew that you can use garlic when making Pol Sambol . I am going to make it your way. Thank you.

  • Saman de Silva

    1 year ago

    Hi Mark,

    I just accidentally bumped into this post and was pleasantly surprised about your fascination with Pol Sambol. One suggestion. Instead of just mixing Pol Sambol with your finger tips it is better to use a food processor or a motor and pestle which will infuse all the flavours to the coconut. Have a look at this recipe http://www.anomaskitchen.com/pol-sambol-coconut-sambol/. It explains how to use a mortar and pestle as well as a food processor to make Pol Sambol.

    • Mark Wiens

      1 year ago

      Hey Saman, thank you very much, will have to give it a try!

  • Naren Senaratna

    3 years ago

    Great job .. I liked your version of Polsambol .. the garlic is a great idea as it enhances and brings a new dimension to the old traditional polsambol.
    Now a few tips of my own: if you want more heat, add finely chopped green chili and freshly ground pepper and some red chili flakes too. When mixing it always put in the lime skin too so all the oils from the skin of the lime is released but do remove it before eating of-course.
    Do visit our own site too on FB where your clip was highlighted a few hours ago https://www.facebook.com/groups/srilankanfoodlovers/
    Here is a link to my very own version called Polsambol Supreme check it out https://www.facebook.com/download/preview/521237604668695

    • Chathura

      1 year ago

      To make Coconut Sambol more tasty you can add some curry leaves too. Ideally chili should be ground using a motor and pestle and then you mixed it with some salt. Next you mix it with red onion and garlic and grind it again well. Finally you can add shredded coconut and grind it again. To improve the flavour of Sambol you have to add some lime juice too. In a variant type of Sambol, you can use green chilli, then it terns Sambol in to light green.

  • Alia

    3 years ago

    It looks absolutely delicious. Slightly different from how I was taught. My recipe uses coconut, red chili powder, chopped green chili, Maldive dried fish, lemon juice, mustard seeds. Gonna try your recipe now. Just not as much red chili 🙂
    Thanks

  • Thushan Rajika

    4 years ago

    oh i m fr SL. man ur pol sambol video had been shearing in 10000’s. its on many fb pages. n comments in 1000’s also. man u gonna b a star dude. KEEP IT UP. (y)

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Yah, I saw it on Facebook, thanks a lot for watching and sharing Thushan!

  • Dimitri

    4 years ago

    Mark, if you love pol sambol- you’ll love this genius creation-

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=560315913979509&set=pb.548913635119737.-2207520000.1360629592&type=3&theater

  • Dani

    4 years ago

    The proper way to make pol sambol is in a mortar pestle….. put all the ingredients in and basically bash it 🙂 but a food processor does the same job…..

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Thanks Dani, it’s such a wonderful addition to any meal!

  • Anne

    4 years ago

    I lived in Sri Lanka for several years and also became totally addicted to pol sambol! I bought a coconut scraper while I was there so I am able to grind my own fresh coconut. Like Seb above, I alter my ingredients just a little – I add finely diced tomatoes, I don’t use garlic, and I do use black pepper in addition to the chili powder. My mouth is watering just thinking of this dish. YUM! I miss all of the curries, string hoppers, kotu roti, indiappas… and so much more. Thank you for sharing!

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey Anne, good to hear from you and also that you love pol sambol too. Tomatoes in the mix sound great!

  • Seb Taylor

    4 years ago

    Hi Mark,

    I used to work in Sri Lanka, and like you I became addicted to pol sambol. I’m now based in New Delhi, and I’m going to make some p.s. for the office crew as a little surprise this week, so thanks for the reminder of basic ingredients.

    I remember finding that recipes always varied though, and I think the coconut, lime and chilli are the only real constants. Personally I always add a little garlic and shallot/onion (mashed together into a paste), but I know these are left out by some. Another thing I always added when I was back in London was Maldive fish, but such is the way of the world nowadays that, while I could find it easily in London, there’s next to no chance here in Delhi. Anyone in London wondering where – go to areas with high SL Tamil populations such as Tooting or Wembley.

    Other ingredients I also add sometimes are some coarsely crushed black pepper and minced curry leaves. I know some people temper the leaves in a little hot oil and then mix it in too (what you’d call a tadka here in north India).

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey Seb, great, thanks a lot for sharing, and great to hear you also love pol sambol. Even in just my short 3 week visit to SL I noticed quite a few variations – all of them being wonderful. And just like you, I love garlic and shallots in there too! Making me hungry again too!

  • heam

    5 years ago

    hoi, mark,
    pol sambal is nice ,when see your pol sambal ,i am getting wet mouth, (like your dream)
    city of ambalangoda is very famous for sri lanka (south) but we never use garlik.
    for breakfast,lunch,dinner, times we make teaste with rice,roti,paan(bread) hoppers,
    you are correct, it is easy and teast

    thank mark

    heam nl

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Hello Heam, thank you for sharing and glad to hear you also enjoy and eat pol sambol daily. I would love to visit Ambalangoda one day!

  • Oshan Siriwardena

    5 years ago

    Hi Mark,

    Wow, it’s really nice to see you make your own Pol Sambol. It’s true that it’s an easy to make dish. But I would like to give you some advice, please don’t eat too much Sambol straight away. Because when you eat too much fresh coconut at a time, you may have some stomach troubles. Also too much chili powder can harm your liver. 🙂

    You can eat small amount of Pol Sambol for many times instead of eating a large quantity for a 1 or 2 times. (Just a free advise)

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Cool, thank you so much for the advice Oshan. Everything is best in moderation, but somethings are so good, it’s hard to know when to stop – good reminder!

      • Thushan Rajika

        4 years ago

        hey no matter wot oshan says 🙂 the way having pol sambol gives a unstoppable craving . (y) KEEP IT UP

  • mina

    5 years ago

    my mum used to make this all the time. thanks for posting this. i’m going to see if i can find some shredded coconut this weekend.

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Cool to hear that Mina, you’re originally from Sri Lanka, right? I hope you can find some fresh coconut!

  • Stephanie – The Travel Chica

    5 years ago

    Looks delicious! This doesn’t seem too difficult to make.

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Hey Stephanie, yah, pretty simple and so delicious!

  • Ayngelina

    5 years ago

    Oh I love recipe posts, more please!