Sri Lankan Cuisine
Sri Lanka is a true foodie hotspot. Known for its abundance of spices and local fruits, Sri Lankan cuisine is unlike anything you’ve ever tried before. The markets and street food vendors offer travelers the best opportunity to try out a lot of dishes in one place. From breakfast-type snacks or entire meals to special desserts and cool refreshments – Sri Lanka has it all. Come join us on a tour through Sri Lanka’s kitchens!
Sri Lanka’s Most Delicious Specialties
We will begin our Sri Lankan cuisine tour with a classic breakfast: Pittus. Pittus are a cooked mixture of shredded coconut and rice flour, which are usually eaten with bananas and chickpeas. How does that sound to you? These little cakes can be modified to your liking, because they can go with either sweet or savory side dishes.
Appam – idiyappam and wandu appa
Appam, also known as Hoppers, is a type of pancake prepared from a dough made of rice or rice flour and coconut milk. The dough is then poured into a small wok which results in the typical shell shape and desired consistency – crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. Various side dishes are served with it, like curry or a spicy paste. You will often see the so-called Egg Hoppers as well. These are Appams with an egg in the center. Eggshells with a difference – you can eat the egg and the shell!
If that is too savory for you, there is of course a sweet alternative called Wandu Appa, which is prepared in a banana leaf with sugar. One of our favorites are the String Hoppers or Idiyappam. They are called “String” Hoppers due to their fine, round, threadlike noodles that are pressed into plate-like shapes. Idiyappam is also traditionally served for breakfast. They are braided rice noodles made from rice flour, salt, and water. Sounds simple; however, the pressing is real muscle work! But the labor is worth it, because these small noodle plates are a super delicious alternative to normal rice. They are also a good base for a lot of side dishes and curries. Now you can lend a hand: because that is how Idiyappam is usually eaten.
Similarly, a fantastic alternative to rice is a coconut flatbread known as Rotis. These are oftentimes improved with the addition of onions and chilies, which are first seared then poured over the dough. The dough is made from flour, coconut milk, and coconut flakes. This dish is once again served with an assortment of curries.
Sri Lankan cuisine includes a special form of Roti called the Kottu Roti. It consists of Roti flat bread as well as different curries, eggs, and vegetables. This bread salad in combination with the spices of the curry is a treat for your taste buds. As one of Sri Lanka’s most popular street foods, it would be tough to pass up a Kottu Roti, but you should try this delicacy.
In case you cannot imagine curry as a side dish, don’t worry – the curries there are almost as many as the grains of sand by the sea. Whatever your heart desires is probably already available in a curry.
Curries: Sri Lankan cuisine staple
If it seems like we have spent the whole time talking about curries, that’s because it’s undeniably a huge part of Sri Lankan cuisine. But there isn’t just one curry, you will find several variations and one that suites your taste. Curry is not usually made in a large batch, instead, a variety of curries are made in small batches. They are prepared with coconut milk and many spices like curry powder, curry leaves, turmeric, and chili. In the end you will have for example a lintel curry, potato curry, and a meat curry in front of you. These curries are then served with a portion of rice.
When it comes to Sri Lankan cuisine, even dishes like curries are traditionally eaten by hand. The components are mixed and tightly pressed together to form a ball shape that sits on top of the rice and can go in your mouth without making a mess. There is usually a small bowl of water next to the plate, so you can occasionally wash your hands. Two of the most classic curries are Parippu and Kukul mas. Parippu is a classic lentil curry and Kukul mas is the Sinhalese chicken curry. If you put these two together, it also results in an incredible combination worthy trying.
Pol Sambol is technically a side dish, but it is often eaten as a main meal. It is so iconic of Sinhalese cuisine that it deserves its own entry. It is prepared from coconut flakes, shallots, and dried pepperoni – preferably spicy – or another option is to use chili powder and lime juice. Sometimes it is also mixed with garlic, or a type of cured fish called Umbalakada.
Everything is packed together until a flaky mixture is formed. This can then be mixed into the rice. The combination of mild coconut, spicy chili, and sour lime creates a flavor explosion!
“Dumplings” of Sri Lankan cuisine
Shorties or Rolls are another must on your culinary trip through Sri Lanka. At first glance, they might seem to fall out of alignment with the rest of the theme, but it depends on what is inside. These little dumplings are filled with vegetables, meat and eggs, or potatoes and fish depending on your preferences.
Or would you like something sweet? You will also find that at the popular “short eats”. Short eats are the Sinhalese equivalent of Fast Food with influences from China, England, and India. One of the most popular Shorties is Isso Vadai – a lentil patty with shrimp inside and chili sauce over the top.
Kiribath and Lunu Miris
Depending on when you fly to Sri Lanka, you might experience the Sinhalese New Year Festival during the month of April. A traditional New Year’s delicacy is offered here consisting of rice pudding (kiribath) prepared from coconut milk and a savory mixture of chopped onions, chili pepper flakes, salt, and lime. These ingredients are then pounded into a paste (lunu miris). The stark contrast between the spicy paste and mild rice makes this combination very interesting. We know that rice pudding is usually paired with sweet side dishes, therefore this traditional food is a must on our list!
Speaking of festivities and sweets, what is always interesting to find out when travelling and most especially when exploring foreign dishes is: what desserts do the country have to offer apart from the well-known classics like ice cream and chocolate?
In Sri Lanka, one of these special desserts is Watalappam, which is commonly prepared for festive occasions. You can guess there are coconuts here too! Watalappam is a pudding with a coconut milk base. However, its dark brown caramelized color comes from jaggery, a type of brown cane sugar. Cashew nuts, eggs, and diverse spices like cardamom and nutmeg are also added to it. That makes for a unique combo, right?
Kokis are a dough made from rice flour, eggs, and coconut milk, which is then cut with a template to form pretty flowers. These little flowers are then deep fried in coconut oil. This delicacy is also traditionally served at the New Year festival. It is believed that Kokis are actually Dutch in origin; indeed, from the time in which Sri Lanka was colonized by the Netherlands. So perhaps they are not that far off from Europe’s kitchens!
The king of Sri Lankan cuisine: coconut
What loyally appears on every ingredient list is: the coconut. Be it flaky, floury, or milky – it is an absolute essential in the Sinhalese kitchen. In fact, the coconut actually has a reason for that, because it can do much more than you have already seen. Also, it is not called King Coconut for nothing. The Kurumba is a popular refreshment for both the locals and travelers.
This refreshment is prepared by cutting off the top of the coconut to create a hole, so you can drink the refreshing coconut water. The coconut also provides you with a follow-up snack. The meat of the coconut can be scraped out directly or eaten with a spoon; or if you are better off with only cutting it open once, you can do that too. Either way, the Kurumba is truly versatile!
National Fruits in Sri Lankan Cuisine
- Mango: We know what a mango is, but the taste of an original Sinhalese mango does not come close to what we have!
- The Veralu (Ceylon Olive)
- Red Bananas: How cool is that?
- The Wood Apple: Many say it smells like blue cheese but don’t let that scare you off. The flavor is supposed be a mix of sweet and sour with a subtle coffee note. How fascinating!
- The Rambutan: They look like lychees and are related to them as well.
- Mangostan: The name sounds like a type of mango, but the fruit itself is rather sour – but very healthy.
- Kekiri: It is theoretically a cucumber and very popular among the locals
These fruits and many others can be either be enjoyed as juice or be traditionally prepared – of course with spices and often with black pepper.
Sri Lanka’s cuisine is a clash of flavors. Savory is paired with sweet and spicy with mild; like the traditional New Year’s cuisine – mild rice pudding with spicy lunu miris paste. Have you ever tried fruit with pepper? It actually tastes good! If you don’t believe us, then see for yourself by planning a trip to beautiful Sri Lanka.