Generally, milk and rice symbolize prosperity and abundance in many South East Asian culture.In Sri Lanka, coconut milk boiling over a clay pot on fire signifies the same. The Sinhalese recipe that we are discussing today holds a high regard in the Sinhalese culture and is believed to bring luck and happiness to them. Kiribath – A mildly flavored rice cake.
Etymologically, kiribath means milk rice. Kiri is milk and bath is rice. It is a creamy rice cake with a subtle hint of coconut flavor.
In a Sinhalese home, special occasions begin with kiribath. In ancient times, this was offered to lord Buddha in reverence. It is the first solid food that a newborn tastes and is the first meal served for the newlyweds. The Sinhalese welcome the New Year by having kiribath and kaung (a sweet oil) as their first meal of the year. In short, the beginning of new pursuits, festive or auspicious occasions are celebrated with kiribath. This felicitous kiribath has now become one of the traditional breakfasts of Sri Lanka.
Preparation of kiribath is fairly simple. Rice cooked in coconut milk is cooled and set on a plate. Cut into diamond shapes and served with a variety of accompaniments for breakfast. In olden times, the milk rice was cooked in earthen clay pots in firewood hearth and that imparted a unique flavour to kiribath.
Choosing the right variety of rice is critical in achieving a perfect kiribath. Traditionally, it is prepared with a rice variety known as rathu haal or rathu kekulu hall. It has neutral flavor and good cooking qualities. The texture of the cooked rice is very important in making the kiribath, as the rice cake needs to set properly. In southern parts of Sri Lanka, the locals use the red rice. As it might be difficult to source the Sri Lankan rice variety, alternatively, you can use short grain white rice. Basically, any starchy and sticky rice variety will work best for this recipe. Make sure to not use parboiled rice. Parboiled rice is commonly found in Southeast Asian supermarkets and all the varieties are stacked together. Keep an eye!
Variations in Kiribath
There are two other types of kiribath. Mung kiribath – the savory version where mung beans, also known as green grams, are added. The same recipe can be followed to make mung kiribath and this is often prepared in Buddhist temples.
The second one, imbul kiribath is a sweet variety. Take a small amount of the milk rice (use the same kiribath recipe) and spread it on a banana leaf. Then a sweet filling made of coconut and jaggery called penipol is placed in the center. Fold the leaves vertically, bringing the sides together and keep pressing until it is firm and set and they are usually cylindrical in shape.
The combination of rice and milk/coconut milk is sublime and that’s probably why it is quite common throughout the world. Every cuisine has tried its take with these two ingredients. But the closest resemblance is nasi lemak, a Malay national dish. A fragrant rice dish made with sweetened coconut milk and cooked in pandan leaves. The similarity is not limited to the preparation or the coconut flavor. Nasi lemak is also served with a shrimp sambol and is eaten for breakfast.
Kiribath is best served with lunu miris – a red onion and spice mix, or seeni sambol, another type of onion relish. Apart from this, you can also serve meat/fish or chicken curries or katta sambol. Usually, not one but an assortment of sides is served as an accompaniment to kiribath.
To satiate your sweet tooth, eat this with crushed kithul treacle also known as palm sugar or jaggery on top of the rice cake together with banana and honey.
This recipe is validated by our expert in Sri Lankan cuisine, Chef Niza. Chef Niza is the chef-owner of the restaurant Apey Kade in the Los Angeles area.
- 1 lb white short grain rice (ideally Sri Lankan rice called kekulu)
- 3 cups thick coconut milk
- 5 cups water
- Salt to taste
- Wash the rice and place in a large saucepan with the water and salt.
- Bring to a boil uncovered, over medium heat.
- Reduce heat, cover, and simmer on medium / low heat until water is absorbed and rice is tender (about 20 to 25 minutes).
- Add the coconut milk and stir well until everything is mixed.
- Simmer on low heat until the rice absorbs all the coconut milk (about 15 minutes).
- Remove from fire and let cool for 5 minutes.
- Transfer the mixture to a large shallow dish and flatten with the back of a flat spoon, spatula or parchment paper.
- Draw lines on the top surface in the shape of diamond or square.
- Let cool and solidify for about 10 minutes before cutting into pieces.
- Serve with seeni sambol and / or lunu miris,