Pol Sambol

Pol Sambol served in a coconut shell

For me no Sri Lankan meal is complete without a dollop (or twenty) of pol sambol! This fresh and spicy coconut condiment goes with everything and I literally can’t get enough of it! Be warned… It’s super addictive!

Traditionally served as an accompaniment to rice, roti, string hoppers, and hoppers, every Sri Lankan establishment has their own version of pol sambol, each with their subtle differences. My favourite has to be the one they make at Colombo’s Ministry of Crab – loaded onto their freshly baked kade bread and dipped in garlic pepper sauce! Yum!

Better yet, this super versatile relish is not just limited to complementing Sri Lankan food – I also love it inside toasted cheese sandwiches. Tastes amazing!

The key to a perfect pol sambol is freshly grated coconut (check out my cook’s guide to coconuts for handy tips). While you can use the desiccated stuff as a substitute, in emergency situations, there really is no comparison to the real thing! As you might imagine the desiccated coconut results in a much drier dish. That said, I know it’s not always easy to get your hands on a coconut when you need one and desperate times call for desperate measures. If I were faced with a choice of a pol sambol made with desiccated coconut vs no pol sambol – I’d take desiccated every time! If you do need to use desiccated coconut, soak it in some coconut milk, or a couple of tablespoons of warm water, to re-hydrate it before using.

Customarily, pol sambol is also made with Maldive fish – a cured tuna traditionally prepared in the Maldives and a staple flavour enhancer in Sri Lankan cuisine. However, if you are vegetarian or are unable to source it, you can opt to remove it from the recipe.

Coconut really does taste best when it’s fresh, so I always like to prepare mine as near as possible to the time I’m going to eat it. Saying that, you can keep any leftovers refrigerated, in an airtight container for up to a week.

Pol sambol should be eye-wateringly spicy, designed to inject a dose of fire into your meal. However, if you find this recipe too hot, simply reduce the amount of chili or try substituting half or more of the chili powder for ground turmeric or paprika, to maintain the vibrant colour!

Here’s my recipe for pol sambol. It should make enough to serve six people (or maybe only one, if you’re a pol sambol fanatic like me!)

Serves: 6


1 coconut, freshly grated (or 100 g desiccated coconut)
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 tsp chili powder
2 tsp chili flakes
1 tsp Maldive fish (optional)
Salt, to taste
Lime, to taste


  1. Pound the onion, Maldive fish (if using), chili flakes and chili powder in a pestle and mortar until you have a paste.
  2. Add coconut and mix well until the coconut is evenly coated. Alternatively, if not using a mortar and pestle, either pulse ingredients in a food processor or combine all by hand until coconut us evenly coated.
  3. Add salt to taste and squeeze over lime juice.
  4. Serve with rice and curry or with whatever else you fancy!

Pol Sambol in a mortar and pestle

Do you have a favourite pol sambol recipe, or a favourite place to buy it? What do you like to eat yours with?

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