January 2018


The Versatile Pittu
January 2018




Ready for breakfast: a white rice flour pittu with kiri hodhi and lunu-miris served on a woven reed basket

It's the perfect staple for a wholesome meal or as a sweet dessert or tea-time snack.


Words: Nadeera Jayasinghe
Photography: Rasika Surasena


Pittu in Sinhala - or puttu, as it is called among Tamil-speakers - is a main dish prepared in this region for breakfast or dinner. The principal ingredients are flour, coconut, salt and water.


Although pittu is most often prepared with rice or rice flour, it can also be made using a base of other coarse flour such as kurakkan (finger millet), manioc, atta (wheat) or oats. No matter what goes into the mixture, the method remains the same: ingredients measured and mixed just right, filled into a pittu mould, and steamed to perfection.


Steamed in a pittu maker, the final product is of a cylindrical shape. It is said that in ancient times, bamboo or even coconut shells and specific leaves were used to make pittu, but later on specially-moulded pittu makers of earthenware or metal - copper, stainless steel, or aluminium - came to be the standard.


Pittu is so common and popular in Sri Lanka - and either its capacity to expand in the mouth or one's tendency to fill one's mouth with it is so great - that it has lent itself to everyday lingo. In Sinhala colloquialism, "katé pittu" generally refers to someone who is bereft of speech. To get back to the eaten form, however, here are a handful of popular forms of pittu.

Pittu in Sinhala – or puttu, as it is called among Tamil-speakers – is a main dish prepared in this region for breakfast or dinner. The principal ingredients are flour, coconut, salt and water.


Haal Piti Pittu and Kurakkan Pittu

The two most commonly found varieties in Sri Lanka are haal piti pittu and kurakkan pittu. Haal piti pittu - to be more specific, but often referred to simply as pittu - is a blend of red or white rice flour and grated coconut. The primary ingredients of kurakkan pittu are kurakkan flour and coconut. Kurakkan has regained its popularity due to its gluten-free and diabetic-friendly properties.


These are eaten mostly as a staple for breakfast and sometimes also for dinner. Some choose to eat these varieties of pittu accompanied by thick coconut milk and katta sambal. Others mightchoose seeni sambal, a spicy kiri hodhi, chickpea (kadala) curry or a fish or meat curry. The possibilities for side dishes are endless as long as there is some gravy due to the crumbly texture of this type of pittu.


Pol Pittu and Mani Pittu

These two varieties of pittu have similar main ingredients: rice flour, grated coconut, coconut milk, water, and salt for taste. However, the proportions of coconut and rice flour used are different. In fact, mani pittu can be made with only coconut milk, without using grated coconut. Its form comes from the kneaded dough being pressed out using a string-hopper maker.


Pol pittu and mani pittu can be eaten with lightly salted coconut milk and sugar or lunu-miris. Another favourite side dish for mani pittu is babath (fried goat intestines).

Pol pittu and mani pittu can be eaten with lightly salted coconut milk and sugar or lunu-miris. Another favourite side dish for mani pittu is babath (fried goat intestines).


Gotu Pittu

Made of rice flour and grated coconut with pinches of salt and sugar for taste, gotu pittu is prepared by placing the mixture into cones of leaves and steaming it. This is a sweetened form of pittu that is generally eaten with coconut milk. Gotu pittu is usually made for occasions like the traditional new year. A variant that is made using madu (cycas) flour is called madu gotu pittu, which is recommended for controlling diabetes due to the medicinal properties of madu. Gotu pittu is steamed in cones made of jak leaves, which are held together by coconut stems. When steamed this way, the pittu becomes infused with the flavour and nutrients of jak.


Welithalapa or Sau Dodol

If haal piti pittu or kurakkan pittu does not excite you, then this dish that can be made with left-over pittu surely will!


The pittu is mixed with heated coconut or kithul treacle and flavoured as desired with roasted fennel or cumin and crushed cardamoms.


Transferred to a plate or wooden chopping board, the mixture is compressed with a heat-treated banana leaf and then cut into square or diamond-shaped pieces for serving. Sau dodol will have coconut milk added making the consistency more gelatinous.


Called welithalapa in some parts of the island and sau dodol in others, the composition, taste and look take on slight variations geographically. Both welithalapa and sau dodol are also frequently made afresh for traditional New Year celebrations and other occasions.

Called welithalapa in some parts of the island and sau dodol in others, the composition, taste and look take on slight variations geographically.


Sweet Jaggery Pittu

This pittu is made of cooked rice or raw rice, grated coconut and ghee (clarified butter) that is sweetened with jaggery, and flavoured with cardamom and a pinch of salt. A sprinkling of turmeric and chopped nuts into the mixture will enhance the flavour and texture.


This is a dish that is commonly prepared as a naivedyam (food offering) for Navarathri and at other festive or auspicious occasions.


Other adaptations are buth pittu (with boiled rice), mannokka pittu (with manioc) and paal pittu (with ulunthu/urad dhal/black lentil).


So, whether you are craving a light-but-filling savoury meal or something sweet, select from the diverse choices of pittu to nourish you and satiate your taste buds.

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    A rarely-seen bamboo-based pittu bambuwa

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    A commonly-used metal pittu bambuwa

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    A plate of nutritious kurakkan pittu served with coconut milk

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    Mani pittu composed of the distinctive tubular formation of dough

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    Enticing gotu pittu steamed in jak leaf cones

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    A serving of pol pittu

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    A scrumptious serving of welithalapa

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    Manioc pittu served with sambal

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    Buth pittu steamed in cone-shaped leaves

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    Mouth-watering sweet jaggery pittu

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