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Madame Mahsa Travels

Good karma in Sri Lanka + Recipe for coconut milk rice

SRI LANKA | Thursday, 9 July 2015 | Views [1472]

A white-clad pilgrim gestures for me to join the procession. I tuck my tattered notepad under my arm, cup both my hands to hold my coconut rice offering and slink quickly into line. The air is balmy and paper lanterns sway with the wind. There are dozens of pilgrims—men, women, children—in front of me, and plenty more waiting to join the queue. A man playing a horanewa, an oboe-like blowing instrument, and a couple of traditional Sri Lankan drummers, lead the musical procession toward the spiritual site.

The crowd grows larger and more boisterous as we inch closer to the sacred site. I’m excited to see the site myself, but with such charming surrounds, what’s the rush? 

I’m in the ancient city of Anuradhapura, just a few hours north east of Sri Lanka’s capital. Year-round local and international tourists visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site for a glimpse of Sri Lanka’s majestic past. In June, however, the city is transformed as trainloads of Sri Lankan Buddhists come to town to celebrate the beginnings of Buddhism on the island nation and visit the one and only bodhi tree.

Considered the oldest living spiritual tree in the world, the bodhi tree was planted here more than 2000 years ago and serves as a reminder of the teachings of Buddha. Pilgrims visit the bodhi tree in the month of Poson, or June, and take part in one of many religious ceremonies, known as puja, during this time.

Watch the behind the scenes video here

I had heard that one of the most significant offerings during puja is a Sri Lankan dish called Kiribath, which is essential a delicious coconut milk rice. In local culture, the boiling over of milk is considered a sign of prosperity so it has become the most common offering to Buddhist monks, especially during festival season.

Kiribath is also a typical breakfast dish, and since the boiling of the coconut milk is meant to bring a touch of good karma, I decided that I had to try it myself.

At the crack of dawn, I met up with a local woman to learn how to prepare traditional kiribath for breakfast. Her kitchen felt old school but did the trick. She owned a good set of clay pots and had them waiting over an open wood fire ready to go, so we didn't waste any time. We started washing and rinsing the white rice, freshly grating the coconut flesh and squeezing out the milk by hand. Then it was time to boil the ingredients together in one of the clay plots

By 7am it was already too hot in the house, and the open fire wasn't helping either. An iced coffee or cold shower was in order, but my host had other plans. It was time to make some of the side dishes that accompany the coconut rice.

She handed me some fiery chilli powder and red onions and we took turns pounding and grinding it into a paste called Luni Miris, which we nicknamed “dynamite”.

We sliced up some more onions and tossed them together with fragrant seeds and spices before caramelising them in a hot skillet. This made Seeni Sambol, which literally translates to sugar salad.  

Once cooked, we rolled the sticky milk rice onto a banana leaf and portioned them in blocks so that they could be wrapped up as little rice parcels for the offering.

By the time we were done, I was famished. I didn’t want to mess with karma but all I could think about was those perfect little creamy, sticky morsels. Lucky for me, my lovely host had prepared a little extra and there was nothing left to do but tuck in for a simple, but significant breakfast with my new friends.

Sri Lankan Coconut Milk Rice (Kiribath) 

Kiribath, or coconut milk rice, is a traditional Sri Lankan dish that is typically served for breakfast, usually alongside popular accompaniments such as Luni Miris and Seeni Sambol. Sri Lankans extract the coconut milk by hand, from fresh mature coconut, but pre-prepared or store-bought coconut milk works just fine.



2 cups long or medium grain white rice
1½ cups coconut milk
4 cups water
Salt to taste


  1. Wash the rice, drain and place in a medium saucepan
  2. Pour in the clean water, add a pinch of salt and bring to boil over high heat
  3. Reduce heat to low, cover pan, and simmer for 15 minutes
  4. Scoop out the water, add the coconut milk to the pot and mix together
  5. Cover the pan and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked and creamy
  6. Once cooled slightly, transfer the rice to a large platter or tray and flatten it down into rectangle shape. Cut into pieces and serve warm with your favourite breakfast sides. 


Tags: ancient city, anuradhapura, bodhi tree, cooking, kiribath, milk rice, pilgrims, sri lanka, tradition



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