Saturday, February 24, 2024

Lunu Miris

I love the cuisine of Sri Lanka, which is known to curry almost everything. One particular aspect of this cuisine has really gotten my attention: the sambols. A sambol is a freshly made condiment or relish that typically incorporates chiles to add not just spice, but other flavors to whatever one is eating.

The history of sambols takes us to Indonesia, where they are referred to as sambals. Indonesians prepared these condiments using cabya, also known as the Javanese long pepper, which is native to the island of Java. The earliest references to cabya go back to the 10th century C.E. Although not technically a chile, the cabya provided a spicy element to the dishes prepared by Indonesian cooks. However, by the 16th century C.E., Spanish and Portuguese explorers and colonizers brought the traditional chiles from the new world to the Indonesian islands. Soon, cooks started using chiles over cabya. From there, the Dutch colonizers exported sambals to other countries, including Sri Lanka. 

Sambols (or sambals) have chiles as the central ingredient, around which a range of secondary ingredients are added. For example, pol sambol includes green chiles combined with coconut, shallots, Maldive fish chips, and lime juice. Dried shrimp sambol uses red chiles combined with dried shrimp (obviously), dried coconut, onions, garlic and lime juice.  

Lunu miris translates into onion chile. However, there are no onions in this recipe, but there are three different chiles: long red chiles, chile flakes and chile power, as well as freshly ground black pepper. I found this recipe in O Tama Carey's Lanka Food, which describes the sambol as more of a paste. When I prepared it, the final product was more like a salsa, but a very thick and extremely fiery one. Carey advises that this sambol is "[n]ot for the faint hearted." That is definitely an understatement. This recipe should only be prepared by people who order their food at the highest level of spice for those who ordinarily prepare it.


Recipe from O Tama Carey, Lanka Food, pg. 222

Serves 4-6


  • 7/8 ounces Maldive fish flakes
  • 1/8 ounce chile flakes
  • 1/8 ounce salt flakes
  • 3 long red chiles, cut into thin rounds
  • 2.5 ounces of shallots, finely sliced
  • 1/8 ounce chile powder
  • 1/10 ounces of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 limes juiced


Using a mortar and pestle, or a food processor, pound (or process) the Maldive fish flakes, chile flakes and salt until the flakes are finely ground. Add the long red chiles and shallots and pound (or process) to a paste like consistence. It does not have to be super smooth. Mix through the pepper and chile powder and season to taste with lime juice. Service at room temperature. 


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