Sri Lanka is known for its tropical forests, beaches, elephants, Hindu temples, and of course, coconuts! Blessed with an all-year-round tropical weather, Sri Lanka is soon becoming a favourite holiday destination amongst frequent travelers.
And yet, nobody talks about Sri Lankan food as a distinctive cuisine. Nevertheless, the pearl of the Indian Ocean offers a vivid array of flavor combinations – colorful curries, tantalizing seafoods, delightful street snacks, quirky relishes, palm sugar desserts – all made with the freshest of local produce.
Unlike its northern neighbour, Sri Lankan food is characterized by deeper spices and textures with meals heavily infused with flavours of coconut, curry leaves, and pandan. Most of the meals are served with a helping of plain rice, pickled vegetables, and a range of spicy side dishes.
For your next visit to this island country, here are our top picks of not-to-be-missed local delights:
1. Kottu Roti
Walk down any street of Sri Lanka and you are sure to come across the sound of metal clanking onto another metal. When you hear this, be assured that you are near a stall selling the most famous Sri Lankan street food – Kottu.
Kottu is a simple yet tantalizing combination of fried and shredded roti (flat bread) mixed together with your choice of meats or vegetables topped with a curry sauce prepared on a open stir-fry fan with metal clanks. This dish is often dubbed as the ‘Hamburger’ of Sri Lankan cuisine due to its ready availability and comforting taste.
For a long time, Sri Lanka was colonized by the Dutch; the influences of which can be clearly seen in its cuisine.
One such evident contribution of the Dutch Burgher community to the food here is Lamprais. Wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf, Lamprais consists of a ball of rice with meat curry, two frikkadels (Dutch-styled meatballs), blachan (shrimp paste), and some vegetables such as brinjals.
The flavors are a Dutch classic of cloves and cinnamon recreating a traditional Burgher community taste.
3. Hoppers (Appa or Appam)
The Sri Lankan take on pancakes, Hoppers are made from a fermented batter of rice flour, coconut milk, and sometimes a bit of sugar. A ladle of the batter is poured into a special shaped wok and cooked till crisp.
Hoppers can either be sweet or savoury, but the locals prefer to eat their hoppers with eggs. A whole egg is cooked inside the hoppers and is garnished with chilli powder, sambol, and lime juice, making it a perfect breakfast dish.
4. Gotu Kola Sambol
In a land known for its curries and rice, gotu kola sambol (also known as Asiatic pennywort salad) stands out as the only readily available green leaf vegetable dish.
The salad is prepared very simply by combining shredded pennywort with red onions, tomatoes, and green chillies with a dressing of lemon juice, salt, chilli powder, and crushed peanuts.
While the refreshing taste makes it a light meal in itself, gotu kola sambol is often served alongside a helping of rice and curry.
5. Parippu (Dhal curry)
Parippu is a staple diet in all Sri Lankan homes and is readily available throughout the country.
The principal ingredient of the dish is Masoor dal (split red lentils) that are first boiled. The flavor is enhanced by an additional tempering of onions, tomatoes, green chillies and spices such as fenugreek, turmeric, cumin, and coriander seeds. What makes this dish so hearty is the splash of coconut milk that makes the dhal creamy and full of texture.
Parippu is used as dipping gravy for pratha and rice and is the perfect meal at the end of a long day.
6. Kukul Mas Curry
If you are a fan of chicken and curry, you will fall in love with Kukul Mas curry, which is the Sri Lankan version of the chicken curry.
Cooked with a melee of aromatic spices, a blend of tomato puree, and strong flavor of coconut, lemon grass, and pandan leaves, the chicken curry is the most delightful meal you’ll come across in Sri Lanka.
The chicken is stewed in the spices for almost an hour to ensure flavor infusion and is served hot with either plain rice or roti.
7. Fish Ambul Thiyal
Being a coastal country, it is no surprise that fish forms an important part of the diet in Sri Lanka.
One of the tastiest fish curries to try here would be the fish ambul thiyal (sour fish curry). Originating from the southern part of Sri Lanka, the sour taste of the dish is contributed by a dried fruit called goraka. The dish is additionally spiced with turmeric, pepper, cinnamon, garlic, and pandan leaves.
Considered a dry fish curry, ambul thiyal is served with vegetables and rice to make it a complete meal.
You might have eaten a lot of chicken and mutton curries. But have you ever had a fruit in a curry? (Vegetarians, this one’s for you.)
If not, here’s your chance. Bite into a bowl of Polos or green jackfruit curry to escape into a world of flavors and textures. The jackfruit pieces are first boiled and then cooked with classic spices, aromatics and a splash of coconut milk, leaving behind beautiful flavoured cubes of jackfruit.
The dish is commonly available in restaurants and goes well with pratha and rice.
9. Pol Sambol
Just like how any serving of nasi lemak is incomplete without a side of ikan bilis, any Sri Lankan dish is incomplete without the garnish of Pol Sambol.
A country famous for its coconut, Pol Sambol is essentially a coconut relish made by combining grated coconut with chilli powder, onions, chillies, lime juice, and salt. As simple as it sounds, this delicious relish adds a zing to almost any dish.
If you are a fan of coconuts, this is made just for you!
10. Wood Apple Juice
After devouring all the delicious food, the best way to end the meal is to wash it down with a tall glass of wood apple juice, a classic Sri Lankan drink.
The wood apple is a fruit commonly found in Southeast Asia that slightly resembles a dehusked coconut and bears a dark brown paste inside the shell. In Sri Lanka, the best known wood apple preparation is to blend the paste with jaggery and water to form a nice smoothie.
The drink tastes sweet and sour and is often served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream to beat the heat!
Feeling hungry from all that? Better book your trip to Sri Lanka first on Traveloka!