Milk rice with fish curry and sambol


This recipe is for milk rice (kiri bath), traditionally a special occasion Sri Lankan dish eaten by itself like cake, or along with curries and sambols. This dish was prepared by Sylvie who I met during my first few days in Sri Lanka.

First impressions of Sri Lanka

I spend my first few days in Colombo wandering around the streets taking in the new sights and smells that are so different from Africa. I gape at trees so big and revered that some have their own bridge built over the roots where they have begun invading the footpaths. The smell of curry leaves, cardamon, garlic and coconut wafts from every ‘hole in the wall’ curry house and Indian style sweet shops filled with muscat and jaggery look enticing and dangerous. I use buses to get round. These have bright neon lights, musical horns and terrible break control from the drivers, giving the overall impression of being on a really crap Dodgems ride at the local fairground. The overriding impression though is of the people – small, smiley and reserved.


Aven and Sylvie

Our first stay in Sri Lanka is with a man called Aven who we met couch-surfing. He’s in his 40’s, in the bit-coin business and loves to swear – every other word is frigging or fucking. I put this down to him having lived in L.A and Vegas for 30 years. He also has a penchant for contraband food and ‘a good deal’. Before we arrive he messages me asking if I can pick up some liquor from Duty Free and during our stay he receives a massive order “through a contact” of food and drink from Amazon Market Place. During the rest of the stay I learn he has (illegal) venison, beef and crocodile in the freezer and a startling array of “high grade” palm syrups and honeys which he has collected from people all over the island.

Aven is something of a bachelor. After the Civil War ended in 2009 he and his parents moved back to Colombo. The house he now lives in he shares with his elderly mother along with a domestic helper called Sylvie and her cute but clingy daughter. Sylvie is 28 and, to Aven’s dismay, pregnant again. It’s Sylvie who shows me how to cook this breakfast and who’s recipes I share.



Food culture

Milk rice, or kiri bath, is traditionally a special occasion dish that is wheeled out at the beginning of birthdays, weddings or any other big day. Today I visited a Hindu temple and saw a father serving up ladles of kiri bath to the rest of his large family. Usually, when being used for this purpose, less coconut milk is used so that the rice sets hard and the whole dish can be cut into little diamond pieces and eaten off a banana leaf, like a piece of cake. For breakfast, and to Aven’s taste, Sylvie makes the kiri bath much wetter so that it resembles a rice pudding.

Along with this Sylvie prepares sambol, which literally means ‘mix’. Coconut sambol is arguably the most famous Sri Lankan dish and can be served with almost anything, but traditionally comes with rice and curry, bread and string hoppers. For this meal Sylvie prepares Katta Sambol, which has no coconut and is the traditional accompaniment for kiri bath and roti.

Finally, the fish curry which Sylvie prepares is commonly eaten for breakfast across the island. She adds a mixture of two typical Sri Lankan curry powders, one yellow and the other dark brown. The yellow one is ‘raw’ curry powder and typically used in vegetable dishes, the darker one is ‘roasted’ and reserved for meat and fish. The Ceylon Chef has a good list of ingredients and quantities needed to make both blends.


DSC_0038Recipe for Kiri Bath with Katta Sambol and Fish Curry 

Serves 4


Kiri Bath:

2 cups rice

200 – 400ml coconut milk

400ml water

2 tspn salt

1 grated coconut

Katta Sambol:

2 small onions

1 tspn salt

2 tbspn chilli flakes

3 limes

3 pieces of dried fish

Fish curry:

2 small white fish, filleted and chopped into medium chunks

1 onion

1 tomato

4 green chillis

4 garlic cloves

4 – 6 curry leaves

1 tspn chilli powder

1 tspn turmeric powder

1 tspn raw curry powder

1 tspn roasted curry powder

1 tspn salt

150ml water, or enough to cover the fish


For the Kiri Bath

In a pan or rice cooker add the rice, coconut milk, water, salt and grated coconut. Leave to cook for one hour. Add more coconut milk throughout the cooking process if necessary. The end result should resemble a thick rice pudding.


For the Katta Sambol

Roughly chop the small onion then add it to a pestle and mortar along with the chilli flakes, salt and dried fish. Pound together to make a paste. Transfer the paste into a bowl and squeeze in the limes, mix together.



For the Fish Curry:

Roughly chop the onion, tomato, green chilli and garlic cloves and set aside.


In another bowl place the chopped fish and add the various spice and curry powders and salt. Pour in just enough water to cover the fish


Place a wok or frying pan onto a high heat and the onion, tomato, chilli and cloves all at the same time. Cook for two minutes.


Add the fish and spices to the wok and give it a quick stir before adding the curry leaves. Add more water if it looks as though it’s burning or sticking, but bear in mind this dish should not have a lot of liquid. Continue to cook the fish on a high heat for another ten minutes or until the fish is just cooked and the water has reduced by half. If using the goraka, stir it in now.

Serve all the elements of the dish at once and enjoy!!

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