Sri Lankan Milk Rice / Kiri Bath

(with Bottle Gourd variation)

Kiri bath (pronounced ‘buth’), rice cooked with coconut milk, is an essential part of Sinhalese culinary tradition in Sri Lanka. It’s a required element on New Year’s Day (celebrated in April on a lunar cycle), and often eaten on the first day of each month. Kiri bath is generally served with lunu miris or other spicy sambols, although some prefer it sweet, with jaggery.

Sri Lanka has been a multi-ethnic society for over 2000 years, and when my parents’ Sinhalese neighbors made kiri bath, they would always bring some over to share with their Tamil friends. I didn’t grow up cooking it myself, but it was always a particular treat when my Sinhalese friends made it for me. I love kiri bath with pol sambol plus a nice curry, and a little paruppu (dal / lentils) never goes amiss. Maybe a bit of brinjal moju (pickle) too!

I ran across an interesting variation through a cooking video (by Chandeena and her mother at Village Life:, where you add bottle gourd to the dish — it lends a lovely delicacy to the finished kiri bath, and may also serve to lighten it up a bit, for those who love the richness of flavor, but are perhaps being careful about their portion sizes of luscious rice and coconut milk.

2 c. short grain white (or red) rice
3 c. water
2 c. thick coconut milk
1 1/2 t. salt

2 c. shredded bottle gourd (or cucumber), optional

1. Put rice, bottle gourd (if using), and water in a pan and bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook 15 minutes. The rice should be mostly cooked at this point, but it’s fine if it’s a little firm still.

2. Add coconut milk and salt, stir well. Cover the pan again, turn heat to low, and cook for a further 10-15 minutes, until the milk is entirely absorbed.

3. Traditionally, you’d let it cool a little, turn it onto a flat plate, and smooth it (using a spatula or banana leaves) into a firm, flat round. Mark it off in squares or diamond shapes, and serve with your favorite sambols.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *