Sri Lankan cuisine is a melting pot rich in flavours, spices & textures. The aromas made our noses tingle with happiness and the spicy flavours had us coming back for more.
Being an island with a tropical climate, coconuts, fresh seafood, vegetables and spices are the most influential components of Sri Lankan cuisine. Fish is made into curries, BBQs or even dried out (no thanks) and coconut is used in almost everything from bread to salads, dressings and inside curries. Rice and curry is a staple in Sri Lanka and the plates are always so colourful with a variety of different vegetables served around a centrepiece and the master of all Sri Lankan cuisine – rice.
This would be quite a lengthy post if we shared everything we tried in Sri Lanka because by now, you should know how much we love to eat. However, we’ve shared with you some classic Sri Lankan dishes along with our favourites. I hope you aren’t allergic to coconut. I believe it is in every. single. dish. We definitely weren’t complaining!
Note: The Sri Lankan people don’t eat their food as spicy as that of other Asian countries. If you like spicy food, you must specify 🙂
1/ Rice & Curry
The quintessential dish of Sri Lanka is a nutritious plate of rice and curry. Curries are everywhere, from roadside cafes to hotel buffets and everywhere in between. They can be as cheap as 250 LKR ($1.50 USD) for a whole plate (with refills). Our favourite place to eat a good Sri Lankan meal was during our time in the home stays. There’s nothing better than a home-cooked meal, especially in Sri Lanka!
Sri Lankans love their spices and a lot of preparation goes into making a good curry. The most commonly used spices are cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, chilli, mustard seeds, coriander, cumin, peppercorn, saffron (to get the colour) and curry leaves which are very good for lowering cholesterol. A fact of the day.
There are a variety of different vegetables and lentils used but the ones we’ve listed below are the most commonly eaten, especially the dahl.
- Dahl Curry – The most commonly eaten in Sri Lanka. Children as young as 6 months are introduced to Dahl curry! The first time we had this for breakfast, it was slightly confusing but as the days went on, we grew to the idea.
- Pumpkin Curry (our favourite!)
- Potato Curry
- Eggplant Curry
- Chicken/Fish Curry
- Beetroot/Carrot/Cucumber Curries
- Jackfruit Curry – A large fruit. One of the only curries, we personally didn’t enjoy.
- Gotu Kola Sambol – Gotu kola is the word for Asiatic Pennywort, a small leafy green vegetable that’s common throughout south-east Asia. It is chopped very finely and mixed with coconut meat, lime, salt and onions and served cold.
Hoppers are a Sri Lankan version of thin pancakes but with crispy edges. They’re shaped like a bowl and are made from fermented rice flour, coconut milk & coconut water. The batter is then fried in a very small wok and swirled around to cover the sides of the pan.
“Egg Hoppers” are the same concept, however, an egg is cracked into the middle as it is cooked. Both are served with coconut sambol, chilli paste or simply with salt and pepper. We found a restaurant in Unawatuna (Hop Stars) who had a western spin on these. Egg Benedict hoppers, bacon and egg hoppers (shown below). Absolutely delicious.
Kottu is another traditional Sri Lankan dish made of roti (flat bread), vegetables, oil, spices and egg/chicken or cheese (optional). The bread is chopped very finely on a hot plate with two blunt blades and you can hear them rapidly chopping Kottu from a mile away! It is the equivalent of a cheeseburger in America and Pad Thai in Thailand. Fast, tasty, cheap and greasy! We tried this a few times and each chef had their own flavour twist. Definitely not easy on the waistline though.
4/ String Hoppers (Noodles)
These were given to us at most of our homestays and are a very popular breakfast food in Sri Lanka. We can’t say we are too used to noodles at 8:00 am in the morning JUST yet but it’s always fun to eat the way the locals do. The noodles are made purely with rice flour and then pressed into a noodle shape and steamed. They are then eaten with coconut sambal, dahl curry and a coconut milk curry.
5/ Vegetable Roti aka the Triangles of Sri Lanka
These were our go to almost every day and I will crave them for months to come. Instead of being deep fried like samosas, they are just skillet fried, and sometimes with breadcrumbs. Inside they are filled with spicy vegetables, although some come with fish or egg. They’re in the shape of a triangle, square or cylinder. Oh so fun! Learn your shapes and eat them too! Educational eating at its best.
They can be eaten hot, cold, warm, crispy, it’s yum no matter what. One of these will cost 50 LKR ($0.30c). If you’re on a budget in Sri Lanka, rest assured you can live off of these.
6/ Coconut Sambol
Coconut Sambol which can also be called fresh coconut relish, is a simple blend of finely grated coconut, red onions, dried whole chillies, lime juice & salt. It is perfect to eat with absolutely anything. Bread, roti, rice, on curry, egg hoppers or even by itself.
7/ Coconut Roti
We love loved coconut roti! It’s such a simple combination of coconut, flour, salt and small amounts of water to bind the ingredients together, then cooked on a hot pan. The more coconut you use the better it tastes, however, we found the consistency to differ greatly wherever we got it. They are served at breakfast time, dinner, lunch and can also have additions such as grated vegetables, onions or chilli. However it came, it didn’t take long to devour. They were our favourite to soak up the curries!
8/ Devilled Dishes
A deviled dish is originally a Chinese dish but it is very popular in Sri Lanka. It comes with loads of fresh tomatoes, peppers, onions, large chillies and often prawns, chicken, calamari or fish and then smothered in a sweet and sour sauce with the focus on spiciness over sweetness. The protein is usually fried.
9/ BBQ Seafood
We thoroughly enjoyed the fresh BBQ’s the coastal towns of Sri Lanka had to offer. Every evening, the fish, prawns, lobster & crab caught from that day are on display and you can choose as you like. They’re served with chips, salad or potatoes. Our cheapest seafood meal was 3500 LKR ($23 USD) for a 1KG fish, 12 tiger prawns with fries and salad.
10/ Coconut & Honey Pancake
Another breakfast food! Thinly cooked pancakes made of just flour and water and filled with caramelised coconut and honey, then rolled and eaten in less than 3 bites. We ate these for breakfast, snacks and sometimes as a dessert.
11/ Buffalo Curd
Buffalo Curd, another iconic local food is often served for breakfast, but also as a snack or dessert (or when something is too spicy). It is a very thick, yoghurt-like concoction made from the milk of a water buffalo and is sold throughout Sri Lanka in disposable pottery. Try it with treacle, a syrup similar to that of maple syrup crossed with the consistency of honey or alongside a fresh fruit salad. It was the closest thing to Greek Yoghurt we could find and it tasted somewhat similar.
12/ Musical Tuk-Tuk Bakery
We had a love-hate relationship with these mobile bakeries. They would drive the streets selling loaves of bread, sweet treats, vegetable rotis and an assortment of other goods. However, the tune they played everywhere they went was permanently stuck in our head. I would attempt to write the tune but I’m not sure it would convey as it was supposed too so here, play it yourself, it’s “Beethoven- Fur- Elise“, but to a much worse degree. Luckily they were selling our favourite vegetable triangles so we forgave them for their choice of tune.
Our Sri Lankan Cooking Class
We had eaten so many rice and curries during our time in Sri Lanka and smelt so many delicious spices, it was only fair we knew what took to actually create these meals, so we signed up to a Sri Lankan cooking class.
Over the course of 3 hours, we went to the fish, vegetable and spice markets to get our ingredients and then cooked 5 curries (fish, pumpkin, dahl, bean, eggplant), pappadums, a side salad & coconut roti. We then enjoyed them together with 2 of the friendliest locals in Sri Lanka. We highly recommend doing a cooking class with these ladies at their Sea Waves Restaurant in Unawatuna!
Everything was done from scratch, including the spice blends. We ground the coconut, squeezed the coconut to get the milk, chopped the vegetables, washed the rice, kneaded the coconut roti and fried the pappadums. It was a colourful assortment of food which tasted downright delicious. Not that we’re biased or anything.
Sri Lankan Drinks
Need something to wash all this down? Try a…
- King Coconut
- Lion Beer
- Arrack (made from the fermented sap of coconut flowers, sugarcane, grain or fruit)
Sri Lankan cuisine left a lasting impression on us. We weren’t sick of rice and curries to the end of our stay but it was getting close… I wonder if we’ll like Malaysian food just as much!
Married Days Survived: 754