CulturallyOurs 13 Must Try Foods In Sri Lanka

13 Must Try Local Food In Sri Lanka

CulturallyOurs 13 Must Try Foods In Sri Lanka

Earlier in the week we shared some of the diverse landscapes of Sri Lanka. From sand, surf, sea, mountains, forests and ancient civilization, this country is such a great place to travel to and explore . Today we are sharing some epic street food and must try local dishes from this culturally rich island nation.

Given the diverse cultures and communities represented in Sri Lanka, it is only natural that food in Sri Lankan is also diverse and varied. Sri Lankan cuisine has been shaped by historical, cultural and environmental factors. It’s geographic location along with the colonial influences brought about a cornucopia of flavors, textures and spices to everyday cuisine. Today influences from South Indian, Indonesian, Malay and even Dutch cusines can be seen in Sri Lankan cuisine. The typical staples include rice which is locally grown in the country as well as coconut, sea food and spices.

Earlier in the year, Karthika Gupta had an opportunity to spend 10 days exploring Sri Lanka with the country’s Department of Tourism. She is sharing some of the foods you must try on a visit to this amazing country!

CulturallyOurs 13 Must Try Foods In Sri Lanka Roadside Fruit StallFrom Karthika

A majority of the Sri Lankan population are Sinhalese who are mainly Buddhist and food in Sri Lankan comprises of their cuisine. Although typically Buddhism promotes vegetarianism, meat and sea food are staples of Sri Lankan cuisine. Tamils who are mainly Hindu, especially those in the north, use slightly different spices and ingredients in their curries. Dutch and English influence is often seen in the local deserts and sweets. Sri Lankan food can be spicy but depending on your spice level tolerance, most dishes can be toned down easily.

Food in Sri Lanka offers an array of flavor combinations. From sweet caramelized onion relishes, bitter melon, spicy scraped coconut, and palm sugar sweetened desserts, there is something for everyone. Sri Lankan curries tend to be of a thinner consistency than Indian curry dishes and are more heavily spiced than many Indian versions. Any trip to this island nation is a fantastic opportunity to feast on its rich diverse cuisine full of flavor and color.

Here are a few famous foods to try in Sri Lanka.

<My trip to Sri Lanka was sponsored by Sri Lanka Tourism, but all opinions and impressions are my own.>

#1 Sri Lankan Kottu

I might be biased but if there is one dish that I could eat everyday, it would be Kottu. It is best described as a spicy stir-fry of shredded roti mixed with vegetables like leafy cabbage, carrots, onions and tomatoes. Optional ingredients can include eggs, meat and even cheese. We had it on our second day on the road and promptly asked to be fed Kuttu at every meal. The way it is made in restaurants on a large griddle is an art in itself. It was invented in Batticaloa and literally means ‘chopped roti’ in Tamil, which is the native language of people from South India and northern part of Sri Lanka.CulturallyOurs 13 Must Try Foods In Sri Lanka Egg Kottu WIth Fruit CulturallyOurs 13 Must Try Foods In Sri Lanka Making Kottu

#2 Sri Lankan Hoppers

Hoppers which are also known as appam are an iconic food of Sri Lanka. You can think of hoppers as a Sri Lankan version of a thin pancake or even similar to the French crepes. Hoppers are made from fermented rice flour, coconut milk, coconut water and a little sugar. A scoop of the batter is lightly fried in a small wok and swirled around to even out the batter. This gives it a bowl like shape. Hoppers are slightly thick in the center with thin crunchy edges. Sometimes an egg is cracked into the bowl-shaped pancake as it cooks. Traditionally, hoppers were cooked over coconut-shell embers giving it a very distinctive flavor.CulturallyOurs 13 Must Try Foods In Sri Lanka Hoppers And Sambal CulturallyOurs 13 Must Try Foods In Sri Lanka Hoppers for breakfast Egg hoppers are garnished with lunu miris which is a chutney like consistency of onions, chilies, lemon juice and salt. Another filling is Pol sambol is a simple blend of finely grated coconut, red onions, dried whole chilies, lime juice, salt and a little fish. It is sprinkled over almost everything! Research tells us it may have originated in Indonesia, but it is found all over Sri Lanka.

#3 Sri Lankan String hoppers

A variation of the traditional Sri Lankan hoppers, string hoppers which are also known as idiyappam are made from a hot-water dough of rice meal or wheat flour. The dough is pressed out in circlets from a string mold onto small wicker mats, and then steamed. String hoppers are also had with pol sambol or even dhal curry. Although both hoppers and string hoppers are typically breakfast dishes, they can be found at most street food stalls any time of the day.CulturallyOurs 13 Must Try Foods In Sri Lanka String Hoppers For Breakfast

#4 Sri Lankan Dhal curry (Parippu)

Dhal curry is one of the most commonly consumed food in Sri Lankan cuisine. The dhal, which is usually red masoor dhal (red split lentil) is cooked in a beautiful blend of spices. A few spoons of coconut milk are added to add flavor and create a richer stew than its Indian counterpart. Dhal curry is almost always present at every meal in Sri Lanka, and it’s consumed with all forms of rice and bread.

The most common types of rice in Sri Lanka is the locally grown variety which is slighter thicker than the typical Indian basmati rice. Red rice which is a much healthier version of rice is also locally grown and served at most meals.CulturallyOurs 13 Must Try Foods In Sri Lanka Dhal Curry

#5 Sri Lankan Young Jackfruit curry (Polos)

Sri Lankan food is famous for its curries and polos ( young jackfruit curry), is a quintessential dish in Sri Lankan cuisine. Jackfruit, which is locally grown in the country, is eaten at various stages of ripeness of the fruit. However traditional polos is prepared with the young unripe jackfruit. The fruit is cut into chunks and simmered in a blend of rich spices. The pieces of jackfruit are tender and a little chewy. The spices get easily absorbed by the fruit and hence the whole dish is filled with beautiful flavorful spices.

#6 Sri Lankan Beetroot curry

Staple food in Sri Lanka is curry and rice. And a plate of it would be incompletely without a generous serving of beetroot curry. Here beets are diced up and cooked with a number of spies like coriander power, cumin and green chilis. The beets are cooked until they are nice and soft. Sometimes shaved fresh coconut is also grated over the dish for added flavor. This is a dry dish that is almost always eaten with a liquid curry. You can expect to find this dish all over the island – at fancy restaurants, local street food joints and even in homestays as part of their everyday meal.

#7 Sri Lankan Ulundhu vadai

These deliciously tasty little fritters are made from yellow lentils and a variety of spices like coriander, cumin, mustard seeds, green chills and turmeric. The lentils are soaked overnight and then ground to a paste like consistency. The spices are mixed in and then a small cylindrical like shape is rolled out by hand. The vadai is then fried in oil until it is crunchy and crisp. This vadai is often found on street corners and among street food vendors and is best eaten when it is hot off the fryer.CulturallyOurs 13 Must Try Foods In Sri Lanka Ulundhu Vadai CulturallyOurs 13 Must Try Foods In Sri Lanka Ulundhu vadai

#8 Sri Lankan Eggplant (wambatu) moju

A classically Sri Lankan dish, the eggplant moju is almost always present in any buffet. It is also a dish with many regional varieties. The eggplant slices are deep-fried until brown and then combined with chili powder, ground mustard seeds, cloves, salt, sugar and vinegar to create a dark saucy moju. This is then added to fried shallots, crushed garlic and shredded ginger and served with plain rice.

#9 Sri Lankan Watalappan

Malaysian influenced Watalappan is a very popular desert especially among the Sri Lanka Muslim community. It is almost always present in any religious festival and ceremonies. It is a rich steamed egg custard made with Kitul jaggery, coconut milk and spices like cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. Air bubbles keep the thick dessert from getting too heavy. Food in Sri Lanka is influences by all the cultures that call this place home in some way or the other.

#10 Sri Lankan Milk tea

For a country that is known all over the world for its quality of tea, tea time in Sri Lanka is a big deal. There are of course many different kinds of tea but the traditional cup of Sri Lankan tea is called milk tea. Tea leaves are brewed in hot water and then strained out. The tea is then mixed with either milk powder or fresh milk. It is sweetened with a generous serving of sugar or jaggery. By definition, Sri Lankan tea is much thicker in consistency than perhaps Indian tea.

#11 Sri Lankan Thambili – fresh King coconut juice

If you have never had fresh coconut juice, you are really missing out on something super special. In Sri Lanka, King coconuts, a variety of coconut that is yellow in color and a lot bigger than the typically green/brown coconuts are found all through the island. Stacks of yellow king coconut are quite common fixtures along the side of the road, ready to be hacked open with a machete. The juice is clean and sweet without the sticky taste in commercial packaged coconut juice. Once you finish your king coconut, hand it back to the vendor, who will crack it open and craft a spoon from the side, so you can scrape out the soft delicious coconut meat from within.CulturallyOurs 13 Must Try Foods In Sri Lanka Fresh Thambili King Coconut Juice

 #12 Sri Lankan Fresh Dodam (green orange) juice

Naarang which is green oranges are quite popular in Sri Lanka. They are grown in most parts of the country and like the kind coconuts, these are found along the side of the road fruits stands that make fresh naarang juice. The fruit is green in color and even when it is ripe it is green. Freshly squeezed green orange juice is best had with a little sugar syrup and some ground pepper flakes to add a little flavor. It is a great thirst quencher especially during the hot summer months.CulturallyOurs 13 Must Try Foods In Sri Lanka Fresh Dodam Green Orange Juice CulturallyOurs 13 Must Try Foods In Sri Lanka Fresh Dodam Green Orange Juice

#13 Ceylon Arrack Liqueur

Sri Lankan Arrack is a traditional Sri Lankan spirit that is distilled from the sap of the coconut flower. The flower is collected by hand and processed and aged in Sri Lankan oak casks. Arrack initially was thought of as a very local Sri Lankan drink. But today it can be found all around the world as a specialty drink. It is definitely worth a try when you are visiting. It is best had with some spicy snacks like spicy roasted peanuts and even crisp fried plantain fritters.CulturallyOurs 13 Must Try Foods In Sri Lanka Arrack Coconut RumFood in Sri Lanka is diverse, flavorful and a feast to the taste buds. Local Sri Lankan cuisine has a lot of variety from vegetables, to meat to sea food. Street food and even restaurant food is relatively inexpensive so go ahead and indulge your culinary pallet when visiting this beautiful island nation.

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13 Foods To Try When Traveling To Sri Lanka By CulturallyOurs


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Leave your comments below

  1. Georgina says:

    I am familiar with most of these dishes but must say, I have never heard of green orange juice before now. I think my favourite is the coconut juice – so refreshing.

  2. Yummy! I had to stop myself from licking the screen. ? You get King Coconuts in Mozambique too; there is nothing better on a hot day than drinking fresh coconut juice straight out of the coconut.

  3. Jenn | By Land and Sea says:

    You’ve featured some wonderful sounding dishes here and I appreciate that. Oftentimes, I have concern over Asian dishes because they cook with so much seafood and fish, which I do not eat. I’m glad to read about some of the yummy sounding things here that I would eat!

  4. Jan says:

    Love the choices! I have been to Sri Lanka and found their curries very spicy! They also serve a mountain of rice and a small portion of curry. The hoppers remind me of the Kerala Appams. Nothing like fresh coconut water in its shell and having the scraped pieces at the end! 🙂

  5. YC says:

    I love Sri Lankan food, reading about this post reminds me of my trip there back in 2019. Truly fond memories of the beautiful people, delicious food and gorgeous scenery. I’ve even tried to recreate some of these at home in Malaysia. Hope to revisit this lovely place again!