This weekend Mike and I joined our friends Sharman and Miguel for dinner at Sambol Sri Lankan Kitchen at 92 Street and 34 Avenue. I’d been wanting to try Sambol for awhile now, especially after hearing rave reviews from my friends Andrea and Chris!
Plus I’m always on the look-out for different types of ethnic foods to try in the Edmonton area (I love all the multicultural dining options there are here!) and Sri Lankan cuisine is something that is brand new to me.
Sambol Sri Lankan Kitchen is located in an unassuming strip mall in south Edmonton. From the main road, you might miss it because the sign is blocked by a few other buildings, but the strip mall itself actually has a lot of different restaurants and ethnic grocery stores – unofficially I guess the area is known as Little India in Edmonton!
Sambol is a really nice and bright restaurant (well-lit restaurants always get an A++ in my books! lol) specializing in authentic, Sri Lankan cuisine. Sri Lanka is a tiny island south of India. I’d describe the cuisine as very spice-focused (unique spice and flavour-combinations), with specialties that include dishes like string hoppers, roti, pittu, kottu (will explain those below in the blog!) and of course – sambol – a sort of dry sauce that adds more flavour to your other Sri Lankan dishes.
At Sambol, they offer a variety of sambol ‘sauces’ (I use the quotations because it’s not a sauce in a traditional liquid-y sense. It’s more like a dry texture kind of chunky paste) that accompany other side and main dishes. Their main bowls are either rice or noodle-based, with options for chicken, beef, mutton, seafood, or vegetarian.
Most of the dishes at Sambol will come with either a Pol Sambol (spicy, with sweet coconut), Katta Sambol (crushed chilis mixed with red onions and lime), Bitter Melon Sambol (savoury fried bitter melon with satueed garlic and onions), or a Seeni Sambol (caramelized onion relish).
You can also get those as additional side sambols ranging from $5-$10.
The founder/owner of Sambol is just the sweetest lady ever – Champa Pathirana.
Champa, along with the two servers who were working that night, were all fantastic – super friendly and so knowledgable about the dishes/preparation, as well as accommodating to requests!
Sharman is gluten-free and they were able to list off which dishes she could have, and one dishes she shouldn’t, even down to certain ingredients which they clarified with her over whether she could eat or not.
Sharman had invited a few of her other friends, so we were a bigger group.
You get a 2-page menu at Sambol, split into starters, roti, hoppers, sambols, bowls, drinks, and desserts.
We decided to share a number of the “small bites/short eats” appetizers and were delighted that Sambol uses smart tablet ordering technology that can easily split orders among a number of people, and as soon as you input the dishes ordered into the tablet, it gets sent back to the kitchen so they can start working on the dishes right away.
For our shared appetizers, we tried:
- String Hoppers – 5 string hoppers served with a side of coconut gravy and sambol ($4)
- Vadai – 4 crispy lentil patties ($4)
- Calamari – sauteed with onions, garlic, and chillies ($10)
- Fried Rolls – 3 crispy beef rolls ($6) – you can also get this with chicken
- Stuffed Roti – 4 stuffed chicken roti ($8) you can also get this with beef or vegetables
- and Spicy Fried Chickpeas – sautéed with onions, garlic and chilies ($4)
String hoppers were a very interesting texture. They’re a dough – but look like noodles – made from flour. You can also order crepe-like egg hoppers, but we opted to go for the string. We ate them sort of like tacos – adding the sambol on top of the string hopper, and dripping the coconut gravy over top, then biting into it that way. Mike really liked the string hoppers (which surprises me). I didn’t love the texture but the coconut gravy and sambol on top was a nice combination.
The string hoppers and lentil patty vadai were the two gluten-free appetizers Sharman could try.
She loved the Vadai, which came with that minty sambol I mentioned. Adding the minty sambol to the lentil gave it this really refreshing taste, but as a very big meat-a-tarian, I likely wouldn’t order the lentil patties again (it felt *too* healthy? lol)
The Calamari was delicious, and not overly battered, which I really enjoyed.
My favourite of the appetizers was the fried beef rolls – the order comes with 3 of the rolls (we cut them up to share with the group but I wish I had an order all to myself :D). They give you a bottle of hot sauce to accompany these rolls and I also mixed in some of the sambols we got with the string hoppers and vadai. Altogether making for a great, crispy, delicious bite.
I also liked the stuffed chicken roti. Roti is a Sri Lankan flatbread, typically comes flat, and with accompanying meat or sauces that you can pile on and eat (similar again I’d say to like a taco if you want a reference point). But this one was stuffed and looking like a sausage roll. Again we had to divvy it up into smaller portions for the group, but I could’ve eaten this all on my own as well. Yum!
While chickpeas are not my favourite legume in the world, I need to point out how much you get for a starter order that is $4. You get a ton of chickpeas!!! I don’t actually think my photo shows just how many chickpeas you get. That’s one thing I’ll note in the Sambol summary below, but will also say here – is that I think portion size for price at Sambol is pretty fantastic. You get a lot of food.
For our main dishes, Mike ordered the Meat Lovers Bowl – a fried rice bowl with chef selection of curry, black pepper and devilled meat, beef, chicken, pork and devilled potatoes. Mike LOVED his Meat Lovers Bowl! As you can see in the photo, it just comes loaded with all sorts of meat – sauces and spices. Mike ate his bowl clean and was raving about this dish even the next day. He thought price, portion, and flavour was fantastic.
I ordered the Biriyani Rice Bowl – with tender stewed meat (chicken or mutton), fried onion, cashew served on Biriyani rice and a fried egg on top. I definitely leaned towards choosing the Biriyani because I loved fried eggs and I thought it was going to come with what you might traditionally think of when you think ‘fried egg’ but was delightfully surprised to see it actually comes with this Sri Lankan Scotch Egg, which is like a deep fried and hard boiled egg (check out this recipe I found when trying to research more about this egg).
I loved all the flavours of my Biriyani Rice Bowl, and also got a side of Katta Sambol (the crushed chillis spicy one) to add even more heat to the dish. Admittedly, I found the Katta Sambol not that spicy at first – but it definitely has a slow burn, and my mouth was on fire after shoving a few spoonfuls of rice and Katta Sambol in my mouth. I also threw in some leftover minty sambol (because why not?) While I loved the flavours and seasonings of the dish, I did think it could’ve used a bit more chicken. There was a whole ton of rice (again, you get a lot no matter what you order), but whereas Mike had zero complaints about how much meat he got in his Meat Lovers Bowl (understandably as it’s called the Meat Lovers Bowl, lol), I was hoping for a bit more chicken to rice balance in my bowl.
My bowl though also came with a cup of Pineapple Salad – deliciously sweet and refreshing pineapple slices with tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. You can get this as a full salad order for $8 too. I loved this salad so much!! (This + my bowl of okra vegetables is in the top picture on this post).
Sharman’s friend Michelle ordered the Noodle Bowl – stir-fried noodles Sri Lankan style served with chicken or beef ($13), or mutton ($16). Her friend/roommate Marc got the Seafood Lover’s Bowl – shrimp and cuttlefish, curry, fried rice and vegetables ($17).
And some of us also ordered a few more vegetable bowls that are also meant to be shared with the table (because you get a lot of veggies!) I got the okra, and Sharman and Miguel shared the beets and kale.
We found business pretty steady throughout the dinner, with lots of people actually coming in to order their dishes to-go too. Sambol has been open since May – so just coming up on a year. Champa says they’re busier for dinner (but it depends). They’re closed Mondays & Tuesdays but open for lunch and dinner all the rest of the week.
So far, Champa says there isn’t much of a lunch crowd but I think that’s a matter of getting the word out there. There are a lot of businesses in this area so I think they could get a decent lunch crowd if more people knew this gem was tucked away in that strip mall!
Overall, we all loved our experience at Sambol Sri Lankan Kitchen – and it really is an experience.
As Sri Lankan cuisine newbies, we loved all the bright colours, unique flavours and textures of the dishes. The quantity/portion sizes is also really great for what you’re paying. I think it’s very well-priced and portioned, delicious food.
You can tell Champa and Chef Priyantha Jayawardena are proud of what they’re creating at Sambol (and they should be). If you want an authentic taste of Sri Lankan island cuisine, you must try Sambol!
The service was also fantastic, with everyone so eager and willing to tell you all about the food they’re so proud to be serving to Edmontonians. Even with our big group, there’s still a lot of dishes we didn’t try that we wanted to, and I know I’ll back soon to try them!
So have you tried Sambol? Have you eaten Sri Lankan cuisine before? Let me know in the comments below!