Kiribath (milky rice) and the Sri Lankan Food Adventure

By Krizia Cooray

Singapore is known for being a melting pot of various cultures, and thanks to its multiethnic social makeup, it’s easy to find a variety of cuisines in general. However, one cuisine that surprisingly is still quite rare to find here is Sri Lankan food, although a few restaurants, eateries and home based food businesses have popped up recently to cater to the significant number of Sri Lankans living here in Singapore. 

Sri Lankan cuisine is not the same as Indian food, although rice and curry do feature prominently in everyday Sri Lankan cooking. Being married to a Sri Lankan, I have tried to whip up Sri Lankan dishes at home a number of times together with my husband – to serve to guests, or just to fulfill cravings. I’m no expert in Sri Lankan food, having visited Sri Lanka only four times, but based on my limited experience in enjoying authentic Sri Lankan food there, I can say there are a few key elements of Sri Lankan food that make it unique:

  • Short eats – pastries filled with various meats, fish or vegetables. Reminds me of Old Chang Kee curry puffs, Filipino empanadas, Indian samosas and Chinese spring rolls. During my visits to Sri Lanka, whenever we would go on a long road trip and set out early in the morning, we would never fail to drop by a nearby neighborhood restaurant and get different kinds of short eats to have for breakfast on the road! My husband loves the sausage and tuna filled short eats.
  • Intensely flavored sambols, chutneys and pickles – Similar to the sambals that are a staple in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, Sri Lankan sambols usually have chili, onion, lime and maldive fish (a type of dried cured tuna) that are served on the side with roti or rice. I also found the variety of pickled food interesting – the most memorable ones I’ve tried are wambatu moju (picked eggplant) and mango chutney – strongly spicy, sweet, sour and salty at the same time!
  • Lamprais – a tantalizing and intensely flavored dish consisting of yellow rice (rice cooked in chicken stock and spices), fish cutlet, wambotu (brinjal) moju, seeni sambol (made of caramelised onions), a meat curry, fried ash plantain curry, and a deep fried hardboiled egg. And if cooking each dish individually is not labor intensive enough, individual servings of lamprais are traditionally wrapped in banana leaves. Kind of similar to nasi lemak but a lot more complex. We’ve tried making this at home, and it easily takes at least half a day to prepare. 
  • Coconut! It’s widely available in SL, and I have fond memories of driving past roadside stalls selling big fresh orange king coconuts (locally known as thambili) that are ready to be drank with a few hacks of the machete. Coconut is a big part of many dishes. For instance, Sri Lankan dal curry (known as parippu curry) uses coconut milk, and Sri Lankan roti (known as pol roti) makes use of grated coconut in the dough to form flatbread! 

Since the Sri Lankan New Year is around the corner (14th April 2021), I wanted to share a recipe for a common celebratory dish that is usually made for occasions such as weddings, birthdays and of course, the New Year – Kiribath. Literally translated to milk rice, it’s basically rice cooked in coconut milk. Nasi lemak is also cooked with coconut milk, but for kiribath a lot more liquid is used to cook, so the resulting rice is sticky enough to be molded into a cake form and then cut into diamond shapes to be held and eaten with the hand. It’s usually served with lunu miris, which is essentially an onion based sambol. Both dishes are quite easy to make and is typically served for breakfast. It can be ready in one hour.

Kiribath recipe

Ingredients for 4-6 servings:

  • 2 cups uncooked rice, rinsed and drained (the rice has to be sticky when cooked, so short grain or jasmine rice is best. Long grain rice might not be ideal.)
  • 2.5 to 3 cups water (use enough water to cook rice normally)
  • 1 cup thick coconut milk
  • ½ tsp salt (or to taste)
  • Optional: a small piece of pandan leaf

Method:

  1. Add rice and water (and pandan if using) to a large pot, bring to boil. 
  2. Cover and reduce heat to low. 
  3. Cook until water is absorbed by the rice.
  4. Once water is absorbed by the rice, stir in the coconut milk and salt.
  5. Stir occasionally on low heat for about 10 minutes or so, until milk is absorbed by the rice and the rice becomes sticky. 
  6. Remove rice from heat and cool for a few minutes.
  7. Transfer to a shallow cake mold and press the rice against the mold, cool for a while then transfer to a flat serving plate. Or transfer directly to the flat plate and shape the rice there using the back of a spoon or spatula (which I usually do).
  8. Let cool, then slice into diamond shapes. Kiribath is normally served at room temperature.
  9. Serve with chicken curry or lunumiris (see below).

Lunumiris recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons of dry chilli flakes / red chilli power (depending on how spicy you want it to be and how potent the chilli is, I suggest using less then adding to taste as you go)
  • 3 large Onions, diced finely
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon of Maldive fish (cured fish that is a mainstay of many Sri Lankan dishes. If not available, can omit.)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt to taste

Method:

Add all ingredients together to a blender and blend, or pound using a mortar and pestle until pulplike in consistency. Taste along the way and adjust proportions as needed. We’re looking for a blend of salty, spicy and sour to go along with the mild creamy taste of the Kiribath.

HomSkil would like to thank Krizia for her contribution to the blog, and to wish her, Dom (her husband) and Tommy (their young son) a Happy Sri Lankan New Year.

Posted by Chayo, HomSkil Editor 1, 13 April 2021

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