Seeni Sambol


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes

    220 g

Appears in

Hidden Kitchens of Sri Lanka

Hidden Kitchens of Sri Lanka

By Bree Hutchins

Published 2013

  • About

I adore this mild onion sambol. The sweetness from the caramelised onions and sugar (seeni) is perfectly balanced with chilli and spices. One of the key ingredients is dried Maldive fish, which adds a saltiness and distinct Sri Lankan flavour. Thiloma gave me a jar of seeni sambol to take on my drive around the island. I would stop at roadside stalls, order some pol roti or egg hoppers and inconspicuously produce the jar from my bag and smear on the sambol — it was heavenly!


  • ¾ tablespoon Maldive fish pieces* (preferably flakes)
  • tablespoons coconut oil*
  • 10 cm (4 inch) piece rampe (pandanus) leaf*, cut into 2 cm (¾ inch) pieces
  • 2 sprigs curry leaves, leaves picked
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 2 thin green chillies*, sliced into thirds
  • 4 red onions*, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • teaspoons ground turmeric
  • teaspoons dry sambol mix (store-bought) (or dried chilli pieces*)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar


Using a mortar and pestle (or spice grinder), pound the Maldive fish pieces into a coarse powder and set aside.

Heat the coconut oil in a small wok or heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add the rampe, curry leaves, cinnamon stick, chillies, onions and salt; cook for 6-8 minutes, stirring regularly, until the onions are golden and almost caramelised.

Stir in the turmeric, sambol mix and ground Maldive fish, then stir in the sugar and cook for a further 3-5 minutes, stirring regularly so the spices don’t stick to the wok (add a little water if needed). Remove the cinnamon sticks and discard them. Cool to room temperature before serving.