Sri Lankan ‘short eats’ (popular snacks and small bites) are usually stuffed, fried, and come in many shapes and sizes. Short eats are commonly served for many occasions, but most comfortably in homes as an afternoon snack, or served to guests with hot sweet milk tea.
Fish ‘cutlets’ (malu cutlis) are one of the most popular short eats in Sri Lanka. They are typically prepared as bite-size balls (the size of doughnut holes) filled with a smashed fish and potato mixture, then breaded and fried. My grandmother used to make large flat fish cutlets, using a local variety of fish called king fish that she would serve her children for dinner, with fresh bread and butter. My mother recalls that on her wedding day, the yellow rice served to her guests had hundreds of marble-sized fish cutlets scattered throughout the rice to ensure each bite would include this crisp savoury treat.
Fish cutlets are often served with other short eats, and depending on the occasion, sometimes along side dainty quartered sandwiches. My aunt Amitha (Amitha nanthi) used to make the most delicious cheese and green chili tea sandwiches for road trips, or for parties. It is a common sandwich preparation in Sri Lanka, a paste prepared with three simple ingredients: cheese, soft butter and one or two green Thai chilies. Super simple to prepare, appetizing and addictive.
Short eats are unique to Sri Lankan food culture, with different preparations available all over the island—the warm, savoury, crispy, quick nibbles often have a bite of chili and spicy tomato sauce to accompany them. Friends enjoy them on-the-go with satisfying cups of of hot tea, or milky iced coffee to calm the palette afterwards. Short eats are all about sharing, and enjoying the moment.
Find my Fried Fish Cutlets (Malu Cutlis) and spicy tomato sauce recipes in Milk, Rice and Curry Leaves. Try your hand at this very simple cheese and chili sandwich preparation. Pack them up with a thermos of hot tea and a tin of cake for a perfect a picnic.
Chili & Cheese Tea Sandwiches
Makes 12 sandwiches
6 slices of fresh white bread, thinly sliced
Approximately ½ of one 8 oz block of firm white cheese, such as Monterey Jack or mild white Cheddar
2 - 2 ½ Tbs butter, room temperature
1-2 green Thai chilies
Tip: if possible, buy unsliced bread and ask the bakery to slice the bread at a thin slice setting. Alternatively slice the bread at home, or use a rolling pin to gently flatten thicker sliced bread
Finely grate the cheese using a box grater.
Very finely slice the green chili (or two chilies if you want more heat).
In a bowl, combine the cheese, butter, and sliced chili to make a soft paste. Add more soft butter if needed.
Carefully spread thin layers of the mixture onto three of the slices of bread, making sure to spread out the mixture to cover the entire slice. Top each with the remaining bread slices, and gently press to close.
Cut off the crusts, and cut the sandwiches into triangles.