Rice and curry may be Sri Lanka’s most well-known delicacy, but there is more to the culinary scene on the island than this fiery staple dish. During your sojourns, you are likely to chance upon restaurants and eateries serving popular local fare such as string hoppers, hoppers, kottu roti and vadai, along with myriad snacks, side dishes, desserts and beverages.
Start your culinary adventure right here – our foodie guide will inform you of the must-try dishes not to be missed on the island:
Sri Lankan Short Eats
In Sri Lanka, short eats refer to snacks sold at stalls and restaurants that are eaten by the dozen. The locals consume these treats as a snack on the go, or have them as a light breakfast.
If you are looking for a quick breakfast meal, try out the vegetable roti. These triangular items consist of vegetable curry wrapped in a flatbread. Other variations of this snack may include eggs or meat fillings. Fill up any remaining stomach space with an egg roll, which are pancakes containing a filling made of fish, potatoes and egg before being deep fried.
Pol roti, or coconut roti, is a flatbread that will also serve well as a breakfast treat. This roti, made from desiccated coconut and rice flour, is usually eaten along with curries or a spicy relish made of onions and chili.
Vacation makers with a taste for fiery flavours should give the malu paan a try. This inconspicuous bread roll packs a punch, for it is stuffed with a flavourful fish sambol. Stuffed chilies, which are banana chilies filled with a stuffing of onions and almond, also bring heat to the palate.
Samosas are an irresistible snack perfect for munching on at all times of the day. These crispy bites contain curries, and the fillings may include a mix of meat and vegetables.
Seafood lovers will find no shortage of dishes to indulge in during their stay on the island. Early birds keen on rising up in the wee hours of the morning may be in time to watch throngs of fishermen pull in their catches of the day along the coasts.
Local specialties in Sri Lanka include dishes containing squid, lobster, crab and jumbo prawns. There are a variety of ways in which the seafood dishes are prepared. Diners may tuck into a barbecue feast of grilled items, savour seafood curries, feast on seafood that are stir-fried with garlic, or eat them along with a devilled sauce made with chilies, peppers and ketchup.
Lamprais is a hearty dish made with a combination of meats, such as beef, pork or lamb, that have been infused with spices like cardamom, clove and cinnamon. These ingredients, along with rice that has been cooked in a meat broth, are wrapped with banana leaves before being steamed. The result is an aromatic dish eaten with a handful of sides, such as curries, sambols and fried egg.
Southeast Asia dishes up an array of fruits with intriguing flavours that may be too exotic for some. In countries like Singapore or Malaysia, you are likely to chance upon the infamous durian. A similar equivalent in Sri Lanka is the wood apple, a fruit possessing a distinct, pungent aroma that brings to mind the smell of blue cheese.
Traverse the street food stalls and markets of Sri Lanka, and you are likely to discern the scent of this fruit. Travellers with an adventurous palate can try out this fruit in different ways. You may consume the fruit out of the shell, or have it as a thick smoothie blended with additional ingredients of jaggery and water.
Pickles are a part and parcel of rice dishes consumed in Sri Lanka. The wambatu moju, an eggplant pickle, is a flavourful treat with a crispy exterior and a soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture. The pickle is prepared by frying bite-sized portions of the eggplant, before caramelising the vegetable with sugar, vinegar, red onions, green chilies, mustard seeds, chili powder and tumeric powder.
This local staple does not have much in common with biryani, the saffron-scented North Indian dish. Perfect for carb and meat lovers, the dish contains a generous portion of rice, chunks of chicken, a serving of curry and a boiled egg. Holidaymakers with a low tolerance for heat may want to opt for this item, as it is a less spicy alternative to rice and curry.
A meal is not complete without a sweet treat. Round off a feast of savoury delights by enjoying a dessert of kiribath, which are rice cakes cooked in milk and served with jaggery. Be sure to leave some stomach space for the halapa, a dessert wrapped in a kanda leaf. Unwrap the leaf, and you will find a curious-looking treat made of ragi flour, coconut, honey and salt. Possessing a mild sweetness, this nondescript-looking dessert can be surprisingly addictive!
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