26 Sri Lankan Spices In Sinhala… And How Europe Made Me Eat Spicy Food

sri lankan spices sinhala

Photo Credit: The one-and-only Mrs. Smart


When people usually say “I can’t eat spicy food”, they’re referring to food with a lot of spice, right?


Most often than not, they mean food with a lot of CHILLIES.

For example, turmeric is a spice. Put a lot of turmeric into a curry and no one will be able to eat it.

But for the sake of sticking with the herd, I’m also going to keep referring to food that is booby trapped with chillie as “spicy food”.

(and yeah, that’s how I spell “chillies”, no matter what the spell-checker says).

Before I give you the Sinhala names for 26 spices, here’s how my spice-tolerance level went from “decent” to way-above-average in the most unexpected place > > >


(To go straight to to the Sinhala learning part, click here. If not, continue reading my sometimes funny, sometimes nonsensical, but always honest ramblings below):


When I was a kid growing up in Sri Lanka, I could eat a modest amount of spicy food.

And by that I mean that I was able eat at any family party and not be rushed to hospital to have my stomach pumped.

Then I moved to Monaco in 2000. Here’s where things got interesting.

It was around this time that I developed my interest to cook. I loved trying out various French and Italian recipes.

But my first year was riddled with homesickness.

Anything that even remotely reminded me of Sri Lanka or even rhymed with it (like “Bianca”), would make my mood spiral downwards.

But whenever I felt homesick, there was one sure meal that would get me out of it:

A good old fashioned Sri Lankan rice & curry.

Yes, I was the king of emotional eating. Explains the chubby cheeks I still carry with me.

But here’s the thing….

I would add extra chillies to the mix. In some weird way, I felt like the more chillies I added, the more authentic it was, and the less homesick I would feel.

It’s only during my next visit to Sri Lanka that I realized that I had overdone it because now I discovered that I could eat more spicy food than everyone in my family.


Situation today:

Thanks to the Voice Of Reason that I married last year, I’ve reduced my spice intake significantly.

Another eye opener was that my dad had a few gastric issues that were a result of too much chillie in his diet.

So today, I’m happy to say that I’ve become a health-conscious and responsible (young) man who’s taking it easy with the spice.

But send me to Monaco for an extended period away from my family and my favorite country in the world, and I can’t promise you that it’ll stay that way.


About This Post

What I Mean By “Spice”

Spice (noun):

Any natural ingredient that gives flavor or color to food


(I think that definition justifies some of the unusual items like coconuts and onions that I’ve added to my list below)



Big “Thank You” To:

  • “Awesome Father” for doing the initial outline of this post and most of the research
  • “Mother Dear” for giving me a list of spices she most frequently uses
  • One of our Tribesters, Signe, for reminding me to do this post.



Structure Of This Post



26 Sri Lankan Spices In Sinhala

Seeds (8)

black pepper gam∙mi∙ris1       
– black pepper powder gam∙mi∙ris   ku∙du2       
– black pepper seeds gam∙mi∙ris   ætȧ3       
cardamom (1) ka∙rȧň∙dhȧ∙mun∙gu       
(2) é∙nȧ∙sal       
coriander seeds koth∙thȧ∙mal∙li   æ∙tȧ       
cumin seeds soo∙dhu∙ru       
dill/fenugreek seeds u∙lu∙haal       
fennel seeds maa∙dhu∙ru       
mustard seeds a∙bȧ   æ∙tȧ       
nutmeg saa∙dhik∙ka       

My Random Notes:

1 ‘mi∙ris’ = “chillies”;   ‘gam’ = “of the village” (or in this case “native”). So essentially the Sinhala word for pepper (‘gam∙mi∙ris’) means “native chillies”

2 ‘ku∙du’ = “powder” / “flakes”

3 ‘æ∙tȧ’ = “seeds”



Fruits (5)

brindleberry go∙rȧ∙ka       
chillie mi∙ris       
– chillie flakes kǣ∙li   mi∙ris4       
– chillie powder mi∙ris   ku∙du       
– dried chillie vḗ∙lich∙chȧ   mi∙ris5       
– green chillie a∙mu   mi∙ris6       
coconut pol       
– coconut milk pol   ki∙ri7       
– coconut vinegar pol   vi∙naa∙ki∙ri       
lime dhé∙hi       
tamarind si∙yȧm∙bȧ∙la       

My Random Notes:

4 ‘kǣ∙li’ = “pieces” / “flakes”

5 ‘vḗ∙lich∙chȧ’ = “dried”

6 ‘a∙mu’ = “raw”

7 ‘ki∙ri’ = “milk”


Leaves (5)

coriander leaves koth∙thȧ∙mal∙li   ko∙lȧ8       
curry leaves ka∙rȧ∙pin∙chȧ       
lemongrass sḗ∙rȧ       
mint leaves min∙chi   kō∙lȧ       
Pandan leaves ram∙pé       

My Random Notes:

8 ‘ko∙lȧ’ = “leaves” (You might remember from Colors in Sinhala it also means “green”)



Plants & Trees (5)

cinnamon ku∙ruň∙dhu       
cloves ka∙raa∙bu   næ∙ti9       
onions loo∙nu       
– small red onions ra∙thu   loo∙nu10       
– big onions lo∙ku   loo∙nu11       
garlic su∙dhu   loo∙nu12       
ginger iňgu∙ru       
turmeric powder ka∙ha   ku∙du13       

My Random Notes:

9 ‘ka∙raa∙bu’ = “earrings”… Now don’t quote me on the following because I’ve not researched it yet but I heard that in villages whenever the women folk would not wear their earrings, they’d put a clove inside each pierced earlobe to prevent the hole from closing. Maybe this is where the name comes from? Someone please check?

10 ‘ra∙thu’ = “red”

11 ‘lo∙ku’ = “big” (see Adjectives In Sinhala Part 1)

12 ‘su∙dhu’ = “white”;   ‘loo∙nu’ = “onions”. So essentially, the Sinhala word for “garlic” means “white onions”

13 ‘ka∙ha’ = “yellow”



Other (3)

curry powder thu∙nȧ∙pa∙ha14       
– roasted curry powder bæ∙dhȧ∙pu   thu∙nȧ∙pa∙ha15       
vinegar vi∙naa∙ki∙ri       
salt lu∙nu16       

My Random Notes:

14 ‘thu∙nȧ’ = “three”;   ‘pa∙ha’ = “five” (see Numbers in Sinhala); But don’t ask me why “curry powder” literaly translates as “three-five”… I’m asking around. Will keep you posted.

15 ‘bæ∙dhȧ∙pu’ = “dry roasted” or “fried”

16 ‘lunu’ (“salt”) is NOT the same as the word for “onions” (‘loo∙nu’). Notice the slightly different pronunciation.



Bonus: The Sinhala Words For “Spices”

spices ku∙lu   ba∙du       



Here’s How You Can Design The Next Post:


What’s the use of learning a bunch of spices in Sinhala, if you can’t use them in a sentence, right?

So next week, I want to write a short post that has all the typical sentences related to spice.

For example:

  • “I don’t eat spicy food”, or…
  • “Please make it extra spicy”, or…
  • “Ease up on the spice, please. This morning the toilet paper caught fire and it set off the damn smoke alarm”


You get my drift?

So in the comments below, please send me all your suggestions of phrases.

Everything you ever wanted to say in Sinhala related to spices.

Enroll for free in my new Sinhala email course!

Click below to begin a personalized 8-lesson course that'll teach you the most useful concepts to get you started on your Sinhala adventure.

60 Responses to 26 Sri Lankan Spices In Sinhala… And How Europe Made Me Eat Spicy Food

  1. Clarissa Fraser October 2, 2016 at 02:21 #

    My most favorite post!!! I skype on the regular for cooking lessons with my sri lankan friends! Sri Lankan food is major comfort food for me!

    What spices do you use in dhal curry?
    How much of (fill in the blank) spice?
    In what order should I add those spices?
    Powdered or seeds?

    I like spice
    Please make it spicy… sri lankan spicy not foreigner spicy.

    Where can I buy (blank) spice?

    Does this dish have (blank) spice in it?

    More (blank) please
    Less (blank) please

    That’s all for now! Will continue thinking!

    • Dilshan Jayasinha October 2, 2016 at 12:18 #

      Thanks Clarissa! Best first comment I could hope for. Thanks for all the suggestions. I love the “not foreigner spicy”, haha. By the way, since you posted this comment, I added “My Random Notes” to each table which you may find useful.

      • Saha Uthay May 28, 2019 at 18:28 #

        Hi dilshan I want to learn correct pronunciation and the good flow.

        • Dilshan Jayasinha May 29, 2019 at 12:14 #

          Understood, Saha. That’s great. Now how do you hope to achieve this? What’s your plan?

  2. Clarissa Fraser October 2, 2016 at 02:22 #

    Oh! And thanks for the brilliant post! You are awesome!

    • Dilshan Jayasinha October 2, 2016 at 12:19 #

      You’re welcome and I never get tired of hearing how awesome I am. Keep ’em coming ;-)

      • Sandra Jayasinghe March 2, 2020 at 17:57 #

        Humbly adore your work Dilshan!!!! You are a bridge to everyone who wants to discover Sri Lanka! I refer your blog to all of my tourist guests at my bungalow. Best wishes for more and absolute pure contents like this!
        Thanks, Sandra Jayasinghe

        • Dilshan Jayasinha April 2, 2020 at 12:26 #

          Thank you so much, Sandra! That’s very kind of you to say. All the best with your bungalow.

  3. Uma Balu October 2, 2016 at 12:40 #

    Hi Dilshan!
    Here is what I discovered on my Sri Lankan culinary trail!
    Curry powders are commonly called “Thuna paha” (“Three and five”) meaning the eight kinds of spices used in them.
    There are also special, home-made variations of the “Thuna paha”.
    “Thuna paha” means raw curry powder while “Badapu thuna paha” means roasted curry powder.

    • Dilshan Jayasinha October 2, 2016 at 12:42 #

      Awesome, thanks Uma! Didn’t take long to crack that mystery. Any idea what the 8 spices are?

      • Uma Balu October 3, 2016 at 00:57 #

        Dilshan, you have already set me on an exciting spice trail!
        Here are the 8 spices (6C’s and 2 F’s)
        Coriander seeds
        Cumin seeds
        Cinnamon stick
        Fennel seeds
        Fenugreek seeds

      • Vivian October 3, 2016 at 07:12 #

        My Sri Lankan friend just told me that the spices are: coriander seeds, cinnamon stick, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, cloves, cumin seeds, and cardamon. Some spices might change depending on the dish. She says you are making her life hard and giving me too much information about the delicious Sri Lankan food! Now back to my kiribath and lunumiris…

        • Dilshan Jayasinha October 3, 2016 at 08:33 #

          Uh oh, we have a slight difference in answers. If you see Uma’s answer she mentions Chillies instead of the curry leaves that you suggested. The case of the 8 mystery spices has now been reopened…

          • Shirley Vilathgamuwa October 5, 2016 at 01:10 #

            i do not put chillies in my curry powder, i use the curry leaves. Adding chilliesyou may not realize how much chilli you are adding.Ialways use fresh chilli anyhow. (good ones are hard to get in my area, everything is Mexican and their chillies are different. Have been trying to persuade one of my Sri Lankan friends to send me some seeds. but no seeds yet )
            Fabulous post although I knew most of them already. I have my own little kara pincha tree, Rampe and sera , they do well in the summer but I have to protect them for the winter.

            love your time and trouble to do all this for us, you are totally awesome .

          • Dilshan Jayasinha October 5, 2016 at 10:27 #

            Thanks for your input, Shirley. Also, it’s fascinating that you have your own mini spice plantation over there. And there’s that “You’re awesome”. My day is made and it’s not even 10.30 a.m.

    • Michelle October 4, 2016 at 17:07 #

      I’ve actually heard the unroasted curry powder called ‘amu thuna paha’ – does anyone know if this is right? It makes sense, as it literally means ‘raw curry powder’, but just thought I’d check :)

      • Dilshan Jayasinha October 5, 2016 at 10:16 #

        Michelle, I asked my “Mother Dear” and she confirmed that people do call ‘amu thuna paha’. She knows her spices, she’s reliable.

  4. suduayya robert October 2, 2016 at 14:25 #

    ayubowan machan
    nice post.but i think you forget one of my favorite spice and daily used in sri lanka.caha (turmeric).But you mentioned it in your intro.
    for the next post,here is a sentence that i like to say to friends when they try to eat as strong as me and become as red as a tomato:you like spicy food but your body don’t!!!!!!!!

    • Dilshan Jayasinha October 2, 2016 at 14:44 #

      You’re absolutely, right Robert. It was on my original list but has strangely got deleted. Thanks for showing it to me. I’ve corrected it now. Thanks also for the suggestion for the next post.

    • Nish January 10, 2018 at 19:16 #

      Hi can i know the translations for the below..

      Chia seeds

      Thank you.

      • Dilshan Jayasinha January 17, 2018 at 10:05 #

        I currently have no idea buddy but will post it if and when I find out. On a separate irrelevant note, my wife has been trying to get me to eat flaxseed regularly saying it’s healthy.

      • Minuka June 9, 2020 at 11:45 #

        Flax seed is called “Hana Ata” in Sinhala

  5. Yolande October 2, 2016 at 19:58 #

    Hello Dilshan!

    Great posts! Here are some from me:

    can we have some __________

    what are you making?

    my favorite is ________

    go pick some / a _______________

    is it ripe?

    how much do I put in?

    • Dilshan Jayasinha October 2, 2016 at 20:21 #

      Good stuff, Yolande. Thank you. You’re making my job so much easier.

  6. Martin October 2, 2016 at 21:17 #

    On the food theme in restaurants:

    Do you serve wattalapam?

  7. Sara Pollock October 3, 2016 at 00:46 #

    Thank you for the post! This is something I would have liked to know how to say when I was in Sri Lanka in the ’80s with a group of college students: “This is very good, but I cannot eat very much because I’m not used to food this hot!” I think there were red peppers in most of the food that was cooked for us there, but I don’t know the particular spices. We got used to eating a lot of rice with the food to make it less hot. One in our group learned to eat the spicy food without rice, which impressed the rest of us. :)

    • Dilshan Jayasinha October 3, 2016 at 08:26 #

      Good one, thanks Sara. Shall probably break it down into smaller sentences.

  8. antje October 3, 2016 at 01:50 #

    Thank you for this post, Dilshan! It was right in time today – I just talked to my srilankan friends today about how to make pol sambol. Want to try it tomorrow. And now I can also easily understand what are the ingredients of “lunu miris” ;-).
    For the moment I have no further ideas for questions, but I will think about it.
    Thank you again. I like your funny posts and read all your stories. Always gives me a kick to go on learning.

    • Dilshan Jayasinha October 3, 2016 at 08:30 #

      Thanks Antje and Good luck with the pol sambol, one of my favorites. I could eat a good pol sambol with just rice and nothing else. Let me know how it goes.

      • Antje October 11, 2016 at 03:13 #

        Thanks Dilshan, all went well thanks to the good advices from my friend.
        I tried pol sambol for the first time and I love it! I agree – just rice and pol sambol and I don’t need anything else.
        But I must admit – I took only part of the amount of chili as my friend takes. Was spicy enough for the first time ;-).

        • Dilshan Jayasinha October 12, 2016 at 09:17 #

          Ha, yes I’d definitely recommend you adjust the chillie levels to your tolerance levels. No point making it too spicy as it would simply hijack the taste buds. Keep at it. My wife who is new to Sri Lankan recipes got it just perfect on her 2nd attempt of pol sambol.

  9. Di October 3, 2016 at 18:41 #

    HI Dilshan,
    I’m a new member and I’m afraid my question is quite boring when compared with the gems that have been posted so far!
    How can I ask ‘is this vegetarian?’
    I realize that many Sri Lankan dishes do not contain meat, but I don’t eat chicken or fish either so I just want to make sure.

    • Dilshan Jayasinha October 3, 2016 at 20:20 #

      Actually that’s a very good question (you’d be surprised and some of the dumb questions I’ve got in the past)…

      My wife is also a vegetarian so this is a topic close to home. The following phrases actually are from my Premium Phrasebook which I usually don’t share on the blog. However, my wife would get mad at me if I didn’t help out a fellow vegetarian…

      – Is this vegetarian ? = ‘mḗ∙kȧ vegetarian∙dhȧ?’
      – Is there meat in this? = ‘mḗ∙ké mas thi∙yé∙nȧ∙va∙dhȧ?’
      – Is there meat or fish in this? = ‘mḗ∙ké mas ha∙ri maa∙lu ha∙ri thi∙yé∙nȧ∙va∙dhȧ?’
      – I don’t eat any meat or fish = ma∙mȧ mas maa∙lu mo∙nȧ∙vath kan∙né nǣ

      That should be “good enough” start, right?

  10. Michelle October 4, 2016 at 16:39 #

    Hey Dilshan,
    Your friendly neighbourhood troubleshooter here again! Is it just me, or are there no soundbytes for the pronunciation in this article? It could be my internet playing up, but those columns are totally empty for me…

    • Michelle October 4, 2016 at 16:45 #

      Never mind – they suddenly appeared when I went to get my lunch from the fridge!

    • Dilshan Jayasinha October 5, 2016 at 10:13 #

      Michelle, this is a common problem. Could you walk over to a cold area in your home/office (like a fridge), come back, and try again?

      • Michelle October 5, 2016 at 18:01 #

        Hehe, I see what you did there, cheeky!

        Your solution worked like a charm! I find many problems are fixed by walking over to a fridge, and eating whatever’s inside, don’t you?!

        • Dilshan Jayasinha October 5, 2016 at 18:36 #

          I do. As someone who works from a home office, I know that solution only too well…Hence the “chubby cheeks” reference in the post.

  11. Susann February 3, 2017 at 21:57 #

    Hello Dilshan,
    After looking through my spices, I would be thankful, if you can tell me some more spices in Sinhala…
    – caraway (other name I found: persian cumin) I need it for German pickled cabbage =)
    – paprika powder
    – bay leaves

    • Dilshan Jayasinha February 13, 2017 at 18:15 #

      Susann, unfortunately I don’t know any of them but will search around. I have a hunch that paprika is called “rathu gammiris” (literally “red pepper”) but I’m not 100% sure.

    • Luckshan March 28, 2020 at 19:00 #

      Bay leaves are called Dawul kurundu in Sinhala.

  12. Dilshan Jayasinha February 13, 2017 at 18:30 #

    Sharing this pic with the the permission of Susann who labelled her spice jars based on the words she learned from this post. Nothing makes me prouder than seeing you guys actually using the stuff you learn. Remember, knowledge is not power, it’s only “potential” power. Apply what you learn my good people!


  13. Janaka March 16, 2017 at 06:36 #


    Could I ask what the difference is in the two words for cardamom?

    Green vs black? (Not a chocolate question).



    • Dilshan Jayasinha March 29, 2017 at 10:32 #

      Hi buddy, no it’s just 2 names that are equally used for cardamom. For example, my aunt calls it karandhamungu while my mom calls it enasal. Both refer to the same thing. Is that clear to you?

  14. Sandi September 13, 2017 at 12:51 #

    Lovely post!
    Could I please clarify something?
    I think dill is ‘asamodagam’ not another name for ‘uluhaal’
    And caraway is ? Kalu duru .

  15. Olive Nelson September 23, 2017 at 18:24 #

    Hi Dilshan

    Loved your blog. Thank you.
    But I have query for you –
    I was going through a Hydrabadi biryani recipe and it called for ‘nagkesar’ leaves. I surfed and learnt that the Sinhalese name for it is ‘dhiya na’. Have you heard of it? Was also called Ceylon iron wood? And also said “Sri Lanka national tree’ never heard of this …

    • Dilshan Jayasinha October 4, 2017 at 23:53 #

      Hi Olive, no, I never heard of both these. Shall look into though. PS. I’m a big fan of hyderabadi Biryani (actually, any biryani for that matter). My grandma used to do commercial catering for biryani dinners. The best.

  16. Dilhara November 17, 2017 at 13:58 #

    Hi Mr. Dilshan

    Loved your blog soooo much..
    But I have suggest for you. If can give pronunciation for English words, Its better than this. Anyhow this blog is vital blog for learners… & good job.

  17. Karen Alexander May 25, 2018 at 21:40 #

    How can I get your book?

  18. Rustom Jalaldeen June 29, 2019 at 09:50 #

    Hi Dilshan, thanks for your efforts. Great job.
    I had the identical experience in homesickness. I am a bachelor and live/lived alone but when in India on longish visits kept feeling home sick. Yet whenever I visited Ceylo n Restaurant in Egmore I felt great again for a few days. On having analysed the cause and efofect I subsequently armed myself with ample chllie powder on subsequent visits and.. “Hey Presto”.
    Now, what I wish to know is the Sinhala term for Mace.
    Could you please help?
    Rustom Jalaldeen.

  19. Preetha November 13, 2019 at 11:30 #

    Hi! What are sweet cumin seeds and white cumin seeds are they same as regular cumin seeds?

  20. isra April 11, 2020 at 11:03 #

    Hi Dilshan Jayasinha Can You Explain About ( Karal merish Word

    • Dilshan Jayasinha April 14, 2020 at 23:46 #

      Hi Isra, do you mean miris karal? It means chillies

      • Hashi October 21, 2020 at 23:41 #

        Hi Dilshan, can you explain about” shai jeera”?

  21. Dilum Maduranga August 31, 2021 at 19:05 #


    I’m Dilum. Please let me know, are there any books about the history or stories of Sr Lankan species & grains?

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