What to Eat in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan food is similar to South Indian food (there is a lot of rice and curry), but with an emphasis on seafood, thanks to it’s island geography. Most importantly, Sri Lankans have a serious love affair with spices: curry powder yes, but also cardamom, turmeric, cinnamon, chili and more. The result is a huge selection of different vibrantly colored dishes just bursting with flavor and heat- your mouth will tingle for hours.

Some of the spices used in Sri Lankan cooking

Here are some of the major dishes in Sri Lankan cuisine. This is really just the tip of the iceberg, but it should at least give you an idea of what’s available if you make the journey – or actually manage to track down a Sri Lankan restaurant.

Curry

A (somewhat fancy) rice and curry plate.

Most basic meals revolve around one, or a selection of, different curries. A common meal in Sri Lanka would be a plate of rice with several different vegetable curries and a meat curry. Fish curry is most popular but chicken, lamb and even beef curries are common (deboning however is not so common so chew very carefully).

There is also a large assortment of interesting vegetable curries with Sri Lankan food. Bitter melon, breadfruitruit, jackfruit, beets and eggplant are all popular stars of their own curries with their own unique balance of flavors.

Sambol

Sambol is a raw salad garnish and side dish. Research tells me it may have originated in Indonesia, but it is ubiquitous in Sri Lanka and integral to Sri Lankan food. You can find at least one variety, and sometimes several at pretty much every meal.

The most common version, pol sambol, is made with grated coconut, ground red chilies, onion, lime and dried maldive fish (a special local fish that makes it’s way into nearly everything). It’s a zesty, sometimes spicy accompaniment eaten on top of hoppers, rice, or alongside curry.

An onion and pennywort sambol

Other versions are made with pennywort, onions even plantains.

Hoppers

A common variety are egg hoppers, made with a crisp, pancake-like dough, swirled in a tiny rounded pan to create a bowl shape. An egg is cracked and fried in the middle (sometimes you can find them without the egg as well). The result is a sort of eggy bowl, which you can eat plain or sprinkle with sambol, spices, hot sauce, anything really. Great for breakfast but you can find them at any meal, and as a street snack.

String hoppers are an interesting variation on the theme. In this dish, the batter is squeezed into noodles and then steamed. The result is similar to a block of rice noodles. You can eat them with curry and they are popular for breakfast.

Pittu

In this dish ground up white rice (rice flour) is mixed with coconut shavings and pressed into a tight cylinder. Pittu is usually served for breakfast, with coconut milk and curry on the side.

Paratha and Kottu

Like India, Sri Lanka serves up delicious crisp roti bread, called paratha. Paratha is sometimes stuffed with filling like a crepe and sometimes served on it’s own.

Kottu is a uniquely Sri Lankan food (and popular street food) made with shredded roti, egg, vegetables and shredded meat. All the ingredients are chopped up, mixed together and grilled using a pair of metal blades which make a distinctive scraping noise. It’s regarded as takeaway food and is prepared to order, kind of like fried rice. It’s filling, delicious and comes in vegetarian and cheese varieties as well.

Sweets

Sri Lankans definitely have a sweet tooth. Fresh fruit is common- like most countries, there is a huge and delicious variety to choose from. There are also a ton of colorful and sugary snacks that looked similar to Indian sweets.

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