Sri Lankan Sini (Onion) Sambal

by ForSomethingMore
(Last Updated On: April 6, 2021)

Spicy and tangy, Sambal is a classic accompaniment to nearly any Sri Lankan dish!  From dipping your hoppers (Sri Lankan rice based crêpes) in it to dabbing it on some roti, at breakfast, lunch or dinner, it’ll please your pallet no matter the time of day!

pol sambal

pol sambal

And there are a TON of types!  This type is a sini sambla, but while in Sri Lanka we also had pol sambal (a coconut based sambal), and it was SPICY and delicious!
In Sri Lanka, most families have a large stone mortar and heavy wooden pestle.  After years of use, both the mortar and pestle become “seasoned” and produce flavors that cannot be replicated without such aged tools.However…If you don’t have a 30 year old mortar and pestle, no worries!  Two bricks, covered in tin foil (though this way is a bit messier than a mortar and pestle) will work just fine for pounding the ingredients, and you’ll be able to make a (nearly as) delicious sambal regardless!  Or you could buy a mortar and pestal now, and create a new family heirloom!

What You’re Going For

This recipe, put very simply, is savory, spicy and tangy condiment/accompaniment to almost any Sri Lankan dish.  It should be somewhat thick, like a paste, but can be a little watery if you’d prefer that.  It is usually, somewhat sparingly, put on rice or roti.  But I love it, so I put it on thick! More details in the recipe below!

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Sri Lankan Onion Sambal

(Last Updated On: April 6, 2021)Spicy and tangy, Sambal is a classic accompaniment to nearly any Sri Lankan dish!  From dipping your hoppers (Sri Lankan rice based crêpes) in it… Cooking Sri Lankan Sini (Onion) Sambal European Print This
Serves: n/a Prep Time:
Nutrition facts: 200 calories 20 grams fat
Rating: 5.0/5
( 1 voted )


  • Shallots
  • Dried Red Sri Lanka Chilis*
  • Dried Tuna Fish (bones removed)**
  • Lime Juice
  • Salt


No Rules Cooking Here

For this recipe, use whatever proportions you would like.  If you prefer more of a shallot flavor, use more of those!  Like fish a lot?  Use more dried tuna!  The end goal is to create a chunky paste of these ingredients (just like you see in the photo above).  Your sambal should not be dry and crumbly, and it should also not contain too much liquid!  Beyond that, have fun and rest assured that there are NO hard fast rules for how to make this delicious Sri Lankan condiment.

The Basic Procedure

  1. Soak your dried chilis in water until they soften a bit (5-7 minute is plenty of time).
  2. Squeeze the excess water out of the chilis.
  3. Place the chilis into your mortar and pestle and pound the chilis until they form a paste.  Leave the chilis in the mortar and pestle.
  4. Into the mortar and pestle add the shallots, and crush them too!  Again, you're going for a paste here, but any texture is fine.  If you like things more chunky, crush it all less.  If you want it smoother, you know what to do!
  5. Add in dried tuna.  Again, any amount will do, just do it to your own preference.  Pound the tuna too!
  6. Add in lime juice and salt to taste!
  7. Enjoy this sambal as an accompaniment with hoppers, rice, roti, or just about any dish to which you'd like to add a little spice and tang!


* Any semi-spicy dried chili will do if you can't find these. **Any dry fish will work. If you cannot find dried fish, canned tuna, with the water/oil pressed out will work too.

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