Walking or driving through the coastal regions of southern Sri Lanka – from Weligama to Talalla and Dickwella – a sudden pungent scent fills your unsuspecting nostrils. The culprit? Dried fish!
A key ingredient in traditional Sri Lankan cuisine, dried fish are widely used to add flavor and salt to curry and sambol. These little guys pack a punch, and only a pinch is required to really turn up the flavor.
The fish are air-dried under the scorching Sri Lankan sun, until they take the appearance of wood or leather. Being kept in this manner, the fish can be kept for an indefinite period without refrigeration – a handy side effect for traditional owners of the land who had no way to preserve and store the goods.
Dried Maldive fish is a key ingredient in one of the most traditional sambals – Pol Sambol – and combines with red chilli, coconut, red onion and lime to add a delicious zing to your breakfast of hoppers.
The fish is also used as a thickening agent and to really ramp up the protein in your curry. But beware, its often used in “vegetarian” dishes!
At Talalla Retreat, the chefs use the dried fish widely in their traditional cuisine – so be sure to ask if you’d like a look as you certainly won’t detect its position in the mix of up to 15 different spices.
Image courtesy of D. Jones photography and may not be reproduced without permission.