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Being served with sambol

Never mind if a debate is on to decide if coconut sambol is a salad or a side dish, this Sri Lankan delicacy is a winner

Being served with sambol

At first glance, it looked like the ubiquitous kandi podi (lentil powder) in an Andhra restaurant. But the coconut sambol, the popular Sri Lankan dish, contains no lentil whatsoever. A concoction of raw grated coconut, finely chopped onion, garlic, red chilli and lemon juice, sambol is an interesting and typical Sri Lankan delicacy.

During a recent visit to the island nation, we stopped at a highway restaurant en route Kandy for a buffet lunch. This is where I first spotted the sambol. Hesitantly, I sprinkled a bit on my string hopper and took a bite.

It was love at first bite. The freshness of the coconut and the mild tanginess of the lemon juice hit my palate straight away. Another scoop followed, this time, minus the string hopper. It tasted even better. The chef who was hovering, commented, “That’s the way it should be eaten... like a salad.”

There was a monopoly of sambol during the next few days of our stay in Sri Lanka — during breakfast, lunch and dinner — with hoppers, with pittu, with parathas and with rice.

There were slight variations though, from one restaurant to another, depending on the addition of chilli in varying degrees. Sprinkling of Maldive Fish (dried and granulated fish — a staple in the Maldives) in coconut sambol is another way of enjoying it, but I preferred the pure coconut version.

While continuing to enjoy the local flavours, gotu kola mellum too is what, we realised, is served with every meal in Sri Lanka.

Mellum is basically a green leaf salad with grated coconut, green chilli and lemon juice. The gotu kola leaf (found only in some parts of India) is commonly available in Sri Lanka. The elephant’s impressive memory is attributed to its eating these very leaves.

In Negombo, a small beach town on the west coast of Sri Lanka, Srimal Pinto’s family runs a hotel where they often host international backpackers. The gotu kola porridge served here is popular with the guests. Made with rice, coconut milk, and gotu kola leaves — with an option of jaggery or salt — gotu kola porridge is an ideal breakfast dish in most Sri Lankan homes too.

One way to have gotu kola salad without coconut is to eat it as a whole leaf with just some salt sprinkled over it.

Coconut Sambol


Fresh grated coconut —1 cup

Small onion, finely chopped

Garlic (optional) — 2 pods

Red and green chillies, finely chopped —2 nos

Juice of one lemon



Mix all of them well and add lemon juice and salt at the end and serve.

Gotu Kola Mellum


Gotu Kola leaves, finely chopped —1 cup

One small onion, finely chopped

One finely chopped green chilli

Juice of half lime

Grated coconut — 2 tbsp

Salt to taste


Mix all the ingredients and add lemon juice and salt just before serving.

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 4:27:14 PM |

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