2019 Nov 14
Pickles or achcharu as it’s known in Sinhala is a staple of Sri Lankan cuisine with its often intense flavour being the perfect accompaniment for most meals. However, over the years pickles have evolved into something more than just another side dish with fruit-based pickles being some of the most loved street food in Sri Lanka.
Pickles are basically fruits or vegetables that have been fermented in either an acidic or salt solution where fermentation takes place to create an environment that discourages bacterial growth, making it last longer. Throughout antiquity, pickles have been a staple of many cultures due to its simplicity and effectiveness.
Even though we don’t have to rely on the science behind pickles for survival, us Sri Lankans still love its tangy and spicy flavor. On a day celebrating pickles (apparently November 14th is World Pickle Day) let’s take a moment to take a look at some of our favourites.
This is THE most popular achcharu in the country and most probably the first thing that comes into your mind when you think of achcharu. Also known as Latapata Achcharu this dish originated as a way to preserve anything and everything you can find in a common kitchen (hence the term latapata).
The ingredients in this pickle can range all the way from carrots and papaya to deep-fried anchovies and cauliflower but the small onions and green chillies have to be there. Like most Sri Lankan pickles vinegar is the main ingredient that drives the fermentation and this means that you don’t have to let it ferment for a long time but doing so will be well worth it.
Here’s our version of the Sinhala Achcharu.
One of the many culinary contributions of the Malay community, this is the sweeter cousin of the Sinhala Achcharu and one of my favourites, especially with biriyani. Shallots, carrots and peppers are the main ingredients that are pickled and traditionally people don’t venture out of these
The pickling sauce is the star feature of this dish as this is what provides its signature flavor. Dates are the base of this sauce accompanied by mustard, garlic and other spices. Here again, vinegar and time are important components.
Here’s our recipe for Malay Pickle
Another staple in most Sri Lankan homes and one of the few pickles where the fermentation is done with salt as opposed to vinegar, lime pickle is basically what the name states (Lunu Dehi, basically lime and salt).
Lunu Dehi comes in two main varieties. The first is the basic Lunu Dehi which is lime fermented with salt and the other is the Jaffna style Lunu Dehi which comes with a few extra flavours.
The process of making this is not complicated but it takes time and each step needs to be executed perfectly in order for it to be perfect. It starts with drying the salt stuffed ripe limes which is usually done in the sun. Once the lime rind becomes a pale brown it can be stored in a jar for quite a long time although it would not last that long in most homes.
Street Food Pickle
The achcharu that you find in the streets are some of the most iconic snacks out there. When it comes to pickled street food fruits are at the forefront. Mango achcharu and ambarella achcharu are some of the most popular with woodapple, weralu, nelli and guava being strong contenders.
These pickles are not fermented for a long time with just an hour or two enough to impact the flavor.
Whether it’s at a wedding, with your takeout or on your way home after a long day pickles are an integral part of our lives so the next time you’re munching down on a pickle remember that you are munching down on a big story.