There are some who would relate Sri Lankan cuisine with Tamil cuisine. Although there is a minuscule resemblance, but Sri Lankan cuisine has its own individuality. Let’s tell you everything you need to know about the food in Sri Lanka. Here’s an elaborate post that will describe the flavours that locals find irresistible. We will also take you through the best dishes that you can find on this beautiful islet.
There are two things that Sri Lankans love: spicy dishes and deep-fried foods. No matter what you eat on this island, there will be a celebration of different flavours inside your mouth. Considering it is a tropical island, you will find a profusion of coconuts and seafood. If you are a seafood aficionado, the island has so much to offer to you.
This was just a glimpse of what you would find in this! We have so much more information on the wonderful delicacies that Sri Lanka has invented and re-created over the years.
Breaking The Bubble Of Perplexity
Amateurs describe Sri Lankan food in the following ways:
- ”It tastes like Indian food!”
- ”It is quite close to Indian cuisine.”
- ”There are curries in Sri Lanka as well. They took inspiration from Indian cuisine.”
With all due respect, Indian cuisine is wonderful, but there are cosmic differences between the two cuisines. Sri Lankan cuisine is NOT Indian cuisine. Yes, there are different forms of curries in Sri Lanka, but even locals in Thailand make the red and green curry. But, there is a different because the Thai natives use ingredients that are different from Indian and Sri Lankan ingredients. Just because there is a close resemblance does not mean there is no individuality.
The only similarity between Indian cuisine and Sri Lankan cuisine is that inhabitants from both the countries enjoy eating white rice with curry. It is quite pleasure to mix curries and Dhals with rice. It is certainly a fulfilling meal for both Sri Lankans and Indians. Let’s celebrate the similarities, but it is about time that we break the bubble of perplexity. The cooking techniques and even the spices are different. Yes, there is a close similarity between Tamil and Sri Lankan cuisine. The similarity is in the snacks they eat!
Yes, Sri Lankans, are big rice-eaters. In fact, they eat more rice than what a typical Indian would eat. However, curry with rice does not describe Sri Lankan cuisine. There is more to it than just curry and rice! Even though Sri Lanka is a small island nation, but there are people from different ethnicities who live on this land. Tourists will find Muslim, Tamilian, and Burgher influence in the food.
There is no doubt that Sri Lanka’s cuisine has been influenced by many countries, but the spices are more complex here. A local Sri Lankan enjoys samosas in the evening. The Chinese rolls are much-loved in the streets of Colombo. Hold that thought! Sri Lankan cuisine is still unique and you will find that out in the next sections.
What are the ingredients that set them apart? What flavours do they incorporate in the dishes?
Let’s find that out in the next section!
The Heart of Sri Lankan Cuisine
There are a myriad of ingredients that are used in Sri Lankan cuisine. Some of them are existent in pretty much everything! One of the most popular ingredients is coconuts.
As we mentioned-before, coconut is available in abundance at the tropical island. Head to any tropical island and you would find that coconuts tend to be used in every dish! Indonesia happens to be one of them.
Head to Kerala or Odisha in India and you would find that most of the dishes have coconut in them. In fact, the South Indian states use coconut oil to cook everything. Inhabitants from Tamil Nadu use coconut to make chutneys that go with Lentil Fritters and Idlis. Keralites use coconut in curries. Bengalis use coconut in their gravy to make Prawn dishes. Similarly, Sri Lanka is an island nation where you can find coconut-based gravies and a number of vegetables cooked along with coconut.
You might have noticed something in Sri Lankan cooking. The locals make good use of curry leaves. The aroma is breathtaking! When you add some curry leaves to hot clarified butter or oil, the aroma spreads in the entire room. It is intoxicating (in a good way!).
These are absolutely delicious and highly fragrant. Just put some coconut oil in the wok and add mustard seeds and curry leaves. Bam! The burst of flavours will make you forget the world for a moment. Curry leaves in any form of curry tastes supremely delicious.
Love for Deep Frying and Coconut-
If you head to any of the street food markets in Sri Lanka, you would find that most of the snacks are deep-fried in coconut oil. This oil is used for tempering, deep-frying and even grilling.
The creamy gravies/curries that you eat in Sri Lanka have a coconut-based gravy. That’s the secret ingredient to making a curry thick and delicious. Well, you could learn a little more from Peter Kuruvita’s television shows! He is one of the most celebrated chefs in the world. And, he hails from Sri Lanka!
Rice and bread can be enjoyed with Pol Sambol. This dish is also packed with the goodness of coconut flesh! Looks like the locals do not waste any part of the coconut. They use the fluid, the oil, and even the flesh.
Let’s not forget the famous sweet called, ‘Pol Toffee’ which is also made of grated coconut.
In a nutshell, Sri Lankans love to add coconut in almost every dish! Whenever you visit the island nation, you would be able to witness coconut-based dishes everywhere. From a small hostel to a luxurious villa, chefs in Sri Lanka create delicious dishes with coconut as the base. They also use the grated form to elevate the taste of the dish. It also gives nuttiness or crunch to the food.
Vegetarianism in Sri Lanka
Majority of the people wonder as to what vegetarians do in Sri Lanka! It is a myth that the island is only fit for seafood lovers. There are many dishes that vegetarians can enjoy on this land. Thanks to coconut oil and coconut milk that vegetarians can enjoy variety of dishes. You can enjoy kottu roti, hoppers, different types of curries, and dhal. In the Northern part of Sri Lanka, you will find Tamil Brahmans. They follow vegetarianism.
From Kokis to Samosas, there are quite a few vegetarian delicacies that you will enjoy. Also, the Tamils in Sri Lanka add coconut to their vegetable dishes. You can also find rasam with rice in the Tamil household.
The bottom line is the following – nobody will ever go hungry or starve in Sri Lanka. Vegetable curries are made with a number of vegetables such as mushroom, potato, pumpkin, banana, jackfruit, raw or young mango, and egg. Now, egg is considered vegetarian here! If you do not shy away from eggs, you can find some delicious dishes on the island.
Jackfruit curry is famous in Sri Lanka. Vegetarians can enjoy the humungous fruit. Did you know that jackfruit is the national fruit of the island nation? Well, now you know it! You can never leave Sri Lanka without tasting the yummy jackfruit curry with rice or hoppers. Locals cook the fruit in coconut milk as well. In Sinhalese, they call it ‘POLO’.
The bright wine-red beetroot curry is another food item you must try. Boiled beetroot slices are marinated in coconut milk. It is quite healthy and fulfilling. Roasted pumpkin is also cooked in coconut milk. Do you see the love for coconut here?
Cadju curry is made with cashew nut. This is truly home-cooked comfort food! There is an abundance of cashew trees in Sri Lanka. However, the process of taking out the cashew is quite tiresome. Hence, the pricing of the cashew is quite high on this island. Gotukola Sambola is a salad that comes as a side dish. It is a dish that adds freshness to the menu!
Since we talked about banana, there are quite a few parts of the banana that can be used for making different dishes. In different parts of the world, banana stem, fruit, and flower is cooked. In some parts of Sri Lanka, people eat their meals on a banana leaf. That’s quite eco-friendly! Not using plastic plates and using banana leaf as the base.
Sri Lankan locals use raw banana flower to make a delicious dish. You can enjoy it with rice, dhal, or even bread. Coconut milk pancakes can be devoured as it is! You can also mix up Dhal (lentil) with white rice and eat it.
When we talk about the breads in Sri Lanka, these are called ‘roti’. 100% vegetarian, my friend! Unless some chef recreated the dish and turned it into a chicken roti. These flat breads or rotis are best enjoyed with Dhal (lentil) and different types of curries. It looks like a tortilla and is made of flour, water and salt. It requires a little bit of skill to knead the dough!
If you want to eat a complex yet delicious form of roti, go for the deep-fried and stuffed one. This could be stuffed with vegetables, cheese, banana and even chocolate. Order this and you will not starve for the rest of the night. The locals enjoy paranthas (flatbread cooked with oil/clarified butter). Another specialty in Sri Lanka is Kottu. Whenever you plan to visit the island nation, this is one such dish that you will get everywhere! The chef cuts up the roti and mixes it up with vegetables and meat. Meat is optional, but it makes the dish heavenly.
There’s an interesting story behind the invention of Kottu. Long ago, tourists entered a restaurant and asked for food. The kind chef informed that nothing was left except some rotis from yesterday. Since the tourists were starving, they insisted that he makes something out of the rotis and vegetables. That’s how KOTTU was born!
Just in case you cannot have enough of coconut, try the coconut roti! The roti is smaller in size, but it is stuffed with coconut. How beautiful it tastes with the sweet and spicy sambol! If you love noodles, string hoppers is what you ought to try. This is another option for vegetarian tourists. A stringy and delicious noodle nest is created. It is a popular breakfast choice in Sri Lanka! The locals enjoy it with dhal. Dhal is basically boiled lentil that is tampered with curry leaves and some spices. It tastes amazing with flat breads, string hoppers, and rice (of course!).
Some places in Sri Lanka serve string hoppers with Sambol. There is another variant in the hopper family! The plain hoppers are much-loved by tourists and locals. The crispy pancake is made with fermented batter (coconut milk and rice flour).
In case you treat eggs as a vegetarian option, you could also try Egg Hoppers. Now the way to make this is quite similar to making a basic hopper. But, a sunny-side up egg is added in the middle. Imagine a soft centre with a sunny-side up egg. The yolk oozing out of the hopper and making it even more tempting. Taste the crispy edges of the hopper with the yolk. It will transport you to another planet!
The chefs and locals use a wok to make the hoppers. To be precise, making hoppers is an art. It is soft in the centre and crunchy towards the edges. That’s how the locals like it! This is another vegetarian dish that you would enjoy with Dhal and curries. Sometimes, they enjoy it with Sambol.
Do you know what Sambol is? Sambol is made with chilli and grated coconut. In case you want an extra spicy note to the dish, add some sambol. You will find it in every restaurant that serves local Sri Lankan cuisine. NOTE – PLEASE DO NOT MISS EATING THIS!
As we said, Sri Lankans love their spice, the sambol is a much-loved dish that they enjoy with breads, hoppers, and rice.
Ever tried the pineapple curry? Here’s an amalgamation of sweet and savoury. This delicious curry is best enjoyed with appam, hoppers and rice. Be careful while you are eating this! There are spiky pits inside.
Spice It Up
Since Sri Lankans love to eat spice, there is a list of spices that you should get familiar with. Anybody who is allergic to spicy foods should stick with hoppers and a basic Dhal. The spices used in Sri Lankan includes turmeric, chilli powder, mustard seeds, cinnamon, cloves, fenugreek seeds, cardamom. In case you are prancing around Sri Lanka, don’t forget to visit the cinnamon plantation.
The Sri Lankans have very less knowledge about coffee. However, they are big tea drinkers! Tea plantation is widespread in hilly areas. As you move up, you find green tea slopes welcoming you. Let’s talk about the famous curries! The Sri Lankan curries have a mix of raw or roasted spice in them. A mixture is created and blended. Raw spice mix is used for lentils and roasted spice mix is used for meat and seafood. The wonderful aroma of the dishes is due to the use of curry leaves.
Curry leaves is used in curries and is also utilized during tempering. The local name for curry leaves is ‘karapincha’. Add it to any of your Dhal preparation or even in vegetable preparation, the taste and aroma will be heavenly.
Heaven For Seafood And Meat Lovers
We talked about the vegetarian options and now we shall straight jump to non vegetarian options. As you are aware, Sri Lanka is a tropical island and is surrounded by clear water. The Indian Ocean holds several gifts in the form of fishes and crustaceans.
1. Deviled Calamari is one of the spiciest and most delicious dishes. Many of the seafood options and meats can get ‘deviled’ in Sri Lanka. Calamari is another name for squid. It is marinated in a spicy tangy sauce and is grilled to perfection.
Do you want to make Deviled Calamari (Restaurant Style)? We found an excellent recipe for you. Although you will enjoy it more when you a sea view and a Sri Lankan local makes it fresh, but do try making it at home.
2. Kukulmaas Mirisata – Here’s a beautiful chicken curry dish! Majority of the Sinhalese and Tamil people prefer not to eat pork or beef. Hence, chicken is their most favourite type of meat. In fact, people enjoy chicken more than they enjoy fish. Perhaps it is a personal preference! Coconut milk is added to the preparation. Sri Lankans prefer cooking the meat with the bone on.
3. Prawn curry – Prawn is fried with onion and curry leaves. Locals make prawn curry with coconut milk as the base. It is quite similar to the food in Thailand, but there is no lemongrass in the picture. Add some chilli, garlic and scallions to the fried prawn. Sri Lankans love eating fried prawns!
The Sri Lankan Spicy prawn curry is another variation and anybody who enjoys a little kick in their dishes would enjoy it thoroughly.
Here’s a recipe of Sri Lankan Spicy Prawn Curry that you might want to make within the comfort of your home. Yes, coconut milk is a part of the recipe. It makes the dish creamy and delicious. You can also add curry leaves for that beautiful aroma that will surround the kitchen walls.
4. Jaffna Crab Curry – Now this is one of the most famous dishes in Sri Lanka! It is an amalgamation of Tamil and Sri Lankan cuisine. Head to Jaffna to enjoy the famous crab curry. The catch is fresh, the spices are on-point and the locals make it with so much love.
Do you wish to learn how to make Jaffna Crab Curry? Cooking is not as difficult. Once you have all the ingredients, it gets easy to recreate dishes. We found a good recipe and would like to share it with all you foodies out there. This recipe is made in a clay pot.
Actually, whenever you travel to Sri Lanka, make sure you are eating all these dishes. A local Sri Lankan would make it better ANY DAY! Also, the catch in Sri Lanka’s ocean is fresh and of top-quality. The crabs straight come from the ocean and are cooked live. Did you know that you should never buy dead crab? It is poisonous to eat! Majority of the restaurants in Sri Lanka cook it fresh from the ocean.
Sri Lanka is the HUB of fresh seafood. You cannot miss eating the wonderful cuisine of this island nation.
5. Ambul Thiyal – Ambul Thiyal is basically fish curry which is partly dish. The spice mix includes a local ingredient called Goraka. The sticky paste helps in preserving the goodness of the fish. It not go stale for a week!
6. Lamprais – When meat is marinated in a beautiful sambal chilli sauce, magic happens. The meat, chilli sauce, and rice are wrapped in a banana leaf. This is steamed to perfect to create the perfect ‘lamprais’.
7. Sri Lankan omelettes – These are quite famous among local households. Eat it with fried rice or a bed of white rice. Just a little bit of shredded coconut and a salad by the side will be perfect.
Something For The Sweet Tooth
We cannot bid adieu to you before taking you to a sweet journey. There are many interesting desserts in Sri Lanka. We have listed some of them below (expect to see a lot more coconut-based dishes under this category):
1. Pol Pani is pancakes made of coconut. The locals add coconut milk to rice flour. The batter is then poured in a pan. The delicious pol pani is stuffed with sweet palm treacle.
Here’s a quick recipe on Pani Pol/Pol Pani that you can try at home. It has English subtitles which will make it easy for you to follow. Do try it at home!
2. Kribath is basically milk rice. Such a simple dish but it is packed with a lot of flavour! The locals shape it with their hands. You will see diamonds, balls or even hearts.
3. Weli Thalapa is made of coconut treacle, rice flour, shredded coconut and some exotic spices. If you don’t want gluten in your dessert, this is perfect for you.
4. Lavariya is a famous Sri Lankan sweet dumpling. You need hopper flour, lentil, cardamom, and other ingredients to make this sweet dish. It is quite different, but you must recreate it at home. We found an excellent recipe that you must try at home. It is easy to follow and the end result will be delicious!
Words from the Wise
The food in Sri Lanka focuses on fresh ingredients. Vegetables are quite delicious and the seafood comes straight from the ocean. If we started talking about the local food, there will be no end to it. Samosas in Sri Lanka are stuffed with vegetables and meat. Jackfruit seeds are deep fried and eaten as a snack. Ulundhu Vadai is another delicacy that is devoured as a local snack. Pittus are best enjoyed on Sunday afternoon with the whole family.
If we talk about comfort food, there are many dishes in Sri Lanka that can qualify to be one. The Tamil Muslims brought the ‘buriyani’ in Sri Lanka. It is fragrant rice cooked with spices and succulent pieces of meat are added.
The locals also enjoy fried rice in different forms. They add chicken, egg and vegetables to this fried rice. Overall, you will find food for every palate. In case you are a lover of spicy and deep-fried food, this is the place to be. You can enjoy the deep-fried foods with some Arrack. It is a local drink made of fermented sap of the palm trees. It is a liquor that you can enjoy with most of the deep-fried snacks in Sri Lanka.
What are you waiting for? It is a foodie heaven and there are plenty of things to do in the wonder-isle! You can also go fishing and do some experimentation with the catch of the day. Make sure you enjoy the local seafood and try all the vegetarian dishes. There is plenty of food in Sri Lanka! As we mentioned-before, nobody can go hungry on this island.