Seeni Sambol (Caramalised Onion with Ceylon Spices) & a Brief Note about Popular Sri Lankan food

Seeni sambol, pol sambol, hoppers, string hoppers, kottu & chinese rolls are some of the popular Ceylon (Sri Lankan) food. Sri Lankan cuisine has many similarities with Kerala cuisine. We use lot of coconut milk, grated coconut and spices which are locally available ingredients. However even within Sri Lanka, there are minor differences among Jaffnese, Sinhalese, Muslims & hill country cuisine.

My origins are from Jaffna, we eat red parboiled rice and make string hoppers and pittu with red rice flour. Also we use tamarind and coconut milk to make tangy hot and sour curries. Sinhalese use lot of wheat flour to make their food and also white rice & red raw rice is popular. Hence you would find bread, different variety of rotis (flat breads) and ingredients like goraka (Gambooge), lemon grass being used to flavor curries. In Muslim cuisine you would find dates and influence of Malay cooking in their food. In hill country where tea plantations are, tea pluckers eat lot of rotis. Sri Lankan rotis are made with wheat flour and grated coconut.

Seeni sambol is one of the popular spread used in Ceylon to make sandwiches. Mainly because it can be cooked and stored in air tight containers in fridge for few weeks. I have fond memories of having seeni sambol sandwiches when we had gone on overnight school trips. Lots of onions are thinly sliced, stir fried in oil till they are slightly browned. Crushed cinnamon and green cardamom powder is used to enhance the aroma. Brown color comes from sugar, curry powder and chili. I like to spread it on my sandwiches with melted cheese on top. You can also serve it with typical Sri Lankan food like hoppers and pittu. ( Pittu appears like cous cous & is made with rice flour and steamed with grated coconut)


Hoppers looks like half a ball (hemispherical shape) and is a crispy crepe served as breakfast or dinner. Hoppers are made with fermented rice flour. Generally served with Seeni sambol, sambol or lunu miris (spicy salad made with lots of onions and crushed red chilies)

String hoppers on the other hand is steamed noodles made with rice flour dough. The dough is filled in a mould. Then the mould is gently squeezed to get strings, which is pressed into special string hopper mat in the shape of small circles.

Sambol is also another popular Sri Lankan food item. Its made with grated coconut, crushed red chilis and onion.

And the most popular Ceylon street food is Kottu, which is roti pieces (flat bread) mixed with curry sauce, vegetables or meat.

Vegetable Kottu
Chinese rolls are actually a snack. Its wheat flour pancakes filled with potato and vegetable or meat or fish curry. Then coated with bread crumbs and deep fried. Crunchy on outside with yummy curry filling. If you are spice foodie you will absolutely fall in love with Sri Lankan food.

Coming back to today’s recipe – Seeni sambol; I spread it on baguette bread and made a subway style sandwich. Filling is seeni sambol, cheese, topped with cucumber and tomatoes. Spread the choice of your sauce. I used mustard sauce.


Onion 1kg
50 ml / 4 large tbsp canola oil
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
half a stick of crushed cinnamon or 1 tsp cinnamon powder
2 tbsp zero chili curry powder
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp sugar
handful of curry leaves
Salt to taste

Add roughly chopped onions into a food processor, coarsely blend them.

Heat oil in a non-stick pan, add onion, cardamom, cinnamon, curry leaves and salt. Stir with wooden spoon. Stir fry till onion is lightly browned.

When you notice change in color i.e slightly browned, add sugar, curry powder and chili powder. Stir to mix the spices with fried onion. Cook for few more minutes till they are fragrant. Turn off heat, once it completely cool down, refrigerate in a airtight container.

Here are some other Sri Lankan food recipes.
Caramalised onion and garlic in hot and sour gravy
Green beans stir fry
Kottu (Flat bread pieces mixed with spicy curry sauce and vegetables)
Eggplant curry
Pumpkin curry
Cabbage stir fry
My Mom’s zero chili curry powder
Bitter melon salad
Sri Lankan lunch
Sri Lankan dinner – String hoppers
Soya meat curry
Sambol (Grated coconut salad)
Deviled Chickpeas (Spicy snack served with Alcoholic drinks)
String Hopper Biryani