Though Sri Lankan food has parallels to South Indian food, it remains distinctly its own form of cuisine. Throughout years of colonization and influence from other countries, Sri Lanka has adapted its food culture into a blend of different curry concoctions and dishes.
A few things about Sri Lankan food can be said with certainty: Sri Lankans love spices, they love food that explodes with flavor, and they enjoy deep fried snacks!
Being an island with a tropical climate, coconuts and fish are two of the most influential components of Sri Lankan cuisine. Fish is made into curries and coconut in some form or another is included in nearly all dishes.
Rice and curry is the Sri Lankan staple, though various kinds of flat bread are equally common.
So go ahead and grab a “paratha” and sit back to check out these 40 foods you can’t miss in Sri Lanka!
1. Fish Curry and Mixed Rice
There’s nothing more common to eat as Sri Lankan food than a nutritious plate of rice and curry. You normally get a plate of rice piled with a few of the daily vegetable curries and a choice of fish curry as well.
A plate like the one above cost me 120 LKR ($1.09), but without fish it would have even been less.
2. Deviled Sweet and Sour Fish Curry
There are a lot of different deviled dishes in Sri Lanka. This fish was deep fried and smothered in a lovely sweet and sour sauce and lightly fried again with red onions and banana peppers. It was excellent with fried rice and a flatbread paratha on the side.
3. Chili Fish Curry
This particular fish curry in Sri Lanka reminded me of the Burmese food curry that I also highly enjoyed. It was fragrant, oily, and the sauce was marvelous with a giant plate of rice.
4. Sri Lankan Daal Curry
Daal curry is one of the most commonly consumed staple dishes in Sri Lankan cuisine. The daal lentils are often cooked with coconut milk in Sri Lanka and made into a rich stew that acts almost like a gravy for rice.
5. Jackfruit Curry
Sri Lankan food is famous for its curries – and jackfruit curry is one of my favorites. The chunks of the fruit are curried in a number of different ways.
This particular version (brown dish above) tasted like it was chutney-ed and the pieces of jackfruit could have almost passed for chunks of tender beef.
6. Mallum or Mallung – Gotukola Sambol
Green leafy vegetables aren’t the most common thing to eat in Sri Lanka, so I welcomed every opportunity to eat a bowl of Mallum.
The leafy green salad is made with finely chopped gotukola, shredded coconut meat, red onions, and a few spices for flavoring. I would call it the Middle Eastern tabbouleh of Sri Lanka.
7. Beetroot Curry
A plate of Sri Lankan curry and rice is complete only when a nice helping of beetroot curry is included.
Beats are diced up and cooked to death with a number of spices including cinnamon and curry leaves. Throughout the duration of my stay in the country, I just couldn’t get enough of this blood red vegetable.
8. Vegetarian Kottu
An extremely popular Sri Lankan street food dish is known as “kottu.”
Essentially it is composed of shredded pieces of Sri Lankan godamba roti that is stir fried with an assortment of spices and a choice of other meaty (or vegetarian) ingredients.
Kottu is quite simply the “hamburger” of Sri Lanka, something so tasty it’s just impossible to resist!
To take things to the next level, kottu is served with a separate bowl of curry sauce to moisten and add extra flavor to the stir fried flatbread.
9. Egg Kottu
Another variation of kottu is with vegetables and egg. The vegetables include a few meager sprigs of leek, onions and cabbage and the sizzling godamba roti is lathered with egg to make it even richer…and more delicious!
10. Cheese Kottu
If vegetarian kottu is the hamburger of Sri Lanka, cheese kottu is the quadruple bacon heart stopping cheeseburger.
Yellow curry powder flavor is bumped up a few notches with cheese kottu and it’s a Sri Lankan food that you just can’t miss. The cheese is not traditional yellow cheese, but rather more like cottage milk cheese.
Check out this VIDEO of Kottu being cooked!
Pretty cool song…yah?
11. Fried Salted Fish
Little fried and salted fish are a lovely addition to Sri Lankan food. Unlike saucy curry, little fish are heavily salted and deep fried so they are crunchy. Their texture and flavor goes well with a plate of vegetarian curry and rice.
Maldive fish are a popular ingredient for Sri Lankan dishes. The little salted guys are included in a range of different sambol sauces.
12. Deep Fried Chicken Fried Rice
If only more countries in the world knew about fried chicken fried rice, it would be integrated into cuisines around the world…guaranteed.
I don’t think there’s much need for explanation; Take fried chicken and make fried rice with it.
13. Egg Fried Rice
Though it’s made in a wok and looks like an item off a Chinese or Thai street food menu, Sri Lankan fried rice still tastes like Sri Lankan food.
It could be the assortment of ingredients or the hint of cumin that accompanies the rice. Nevertheless, a number of Chinese influenced dishes remain popular as Sri Lakan food staples.
14. Brinjal Eggplant
Though I ate many Sri Lankan dishes, the candied brinjal eggplant (black stuff towards the right) was one that I couldn’t get enough of.
The eggplant is cooked to death with salt, oil, soy sauce, and sugar until it becomes fall apart tender and the sugar begins to caramelize. Though I’m not the biggest fan of sweet things, this eggplant was to die for.
15. Sri Lankan Chicken Curry
I have read that Sri Lankan food is difficult to master, simply because everyone has their own variation of each dish. No chicken curry will taste the same throughout the country.
This clay pot of Grandmother’s home-made chicken curry goes down as one of the top 10 flavors that has ever entered my mouth (article to come later).
16. Cobra Chilies
It’s not exactly a Sri Lankan food, but those innocent looking chili peppers on the plate above are far from kind.
Known as the “Cobra Chili,” these little guys were so delicious, but they nearly burnt a hole in my tongue.
17. Northern Sri Lankan Tamil Food
Some of my favorite Sri Lankan meals were from the northern Tamil tip of Jaffna. This outrageously tasty meal included yellow rice, an assortment of vegetable and seafood curries, a few parathas, and a number of heaping spoons full of tomato onion garnish.
18. Ela Batu – Thai Eggplant Curry
Believe it or not, Sri Lankan food includes a dish that is quite similar to Thai green curry. Thai eggplants are used in the dish and a similar but Sri Lankan tasting green curry sauce is what holds it together.
19. Squid Curry
This Jaffna squid was chopped into small pieces before being fried with peppers, onions, and a spiced tomato based sauce. It was wonderful along with rice and curry and a few parathas.
20. Candied Shrimp Curry
When I spotted these little blacked shrimps in the glass cabinet in Jaffna, I couldn’t pass them up. Luckily they were just as tasty as they looked, a marvelous blend of curry spices coating each and every part of the shrimp bodies.
21. Egg Hoppers (Appa)
Hoppers which are also known as Appa, are an iconic food of Sri Lanka.
It begins with a simple pancake batter that’s spruced up with coconut milk and a splash of toddy (Sri Lankan palm wine). The unique part is that hoppers are cooked in small “wok” like rounded pans so the dough cooks thick and soft on the bottom, and thin and crunchy around the edges.
The texture and even taste is quite similar to Ethiopian injera bread. Hoppers can be ordered plain, or even better with a fried egg in the middle.
Also check out this video that I took at a local hoppers stand:
If you can’t see it, watch the Sri Lankan hoppers video on YouTube.
22. Pol Sambola – Spicy Coconut Garnish
This Sri Lankan food may be one of the simplest things to make, yet one of the most amazing stokes of deliciousness that Sri Lanka has contributed to the world.
I could graze on pol sambola for hours at a time.
It’s merely a mixture of shredded coconut, chili powder, lime juice, red onions and salt – but believe me, every bite is like a miracle come true.
Pol sambola is perfect to eat with bread, roti, or on top of rice.
I was craving pol sambol so badly that I had to make it myself… Enjoy!
(if you can’t see the video, watch it on YouTube here)
23. Lunu Miris – Onion Sambola
Along with coconut garnish, Sri Lanka’s pounded onion and chili sauce known as Lunu Miris is almost as delicious.
The mixture included red onions, salt, chili powder, lime juice, and a small handful of Maldive salted fish to make it taste superb!
24. Roti Protein (aka Sri Lankan Chorizo)
This is not a common Sri Lankan food, but after devouring this burrito looking roti in Kandy I couldn’t help from including it on this list.
It was phenomenal…and though it was all soy protein, it tasted nearly identical to Mexican pork chorizo and eggs (more details on this to come).
25. Pittu – Flour and Coconut Funnel Cakes
Sri Lankan pittu funnel cakes are a combination of flour (either rice of karukan), fresh shredded coconut, and a handful of desiccated coconut. The precious little cakes are traditionally steamed in bamboo, but now are sometimes steamed in circular metal tubes.
After being cooked, the crumbly textured pittu cakes are served with fresh sweetened coconut milk.
26. Pol Roti and Potato Curry
Roti in Sri Lanka is less greasy and more of a thick tortilla like flatbread (paratha are the greasy flat-breads).
In Sri Lanka, roti are made with freshly grated coconut, flour, water and salt. They are made into balls of dough, flattened, and then cooked on a hot griddle. Any form of spicy curry sauce handles the task of being the dip for a delicious pol roti!
27. Paratha Flatbread
The greasy flaky flat-bread is melt in your mouth delicious, especially when dipped in coconut milk curry sauce. YUM!
28. Sri Lankan Omelet
Sri Lankan omelets are loaded up with local spices like cumin and curry powder and then simmered in a layer of oil coconut oil so it turns golden brown. Over a plate of rice and alongside some shredded coconut garnish, a Sri Lankan omelet is heavenly.
29. Ulundhu Vadai
These marvelously tasty little fritters are made from daal, combined with incredible spices, and deep fried to crunchy perfection.
30. Cassava Chips
I was excited to see a giant street food cart filled with my favorite kind of junk food: cassava chips. I had enjoyed countless handfuls of cassava chips while growing up in Kenya.
50 LKR ($0.45) will get you a small paper bag of salty chips at Galle Face beach in Colombo.
31. Deep Fried Jackfruit Seeds
Another popular snack in Sri Lanka are deep fried jackfruit seeds. They are salted and served in small paper bags made from scrap paper.
Some of the Sri Lankan street food carts and snacks even reminded me of Egyptian street food.
32. Deep Fried Morsels
As you may have noticed by now, though there are many vegetarian dishes, Sri Lankan food is not all that healthy.
On top of that, Sri Lanka is a country that loves their deep fried snacks. These snacky morsels of batter were heavily salty and seasoned with fried curry leaves.
33. Coconut Roti and Chili Salt
This little gem of a snack was purchased on the train from Colombo to Kandy. It’s basically a little piece of coconut infused solid flat-bread topped with a marvelous flaky salty chili sauce.
It almost tasted like a Sri Lankan mini pizza.
34. Sri Lankan Samosas
From Indian food to Kenyan dishes, samosas have become a popular snack from coast to coast. Some are filled with meat, while others are vegetarian.
35. Fish and Vegetable Roti
The triangular looking pockets are a form of roti filled with a range of different ingredients. Fish was my preferred filling, but there were also some nice vegetarian versions available. Instead of being deep fried like samosas, triangle roti’s are just skillet fried.
36. Sri Lanka Fish Cutlet Balls and Chinese Egg Rolls
The Chinese egg rolls in Sri Lanka were so-so, but the fish cutlet balls (pictured above) were absolutely wonderful. It’s like a little grenade of fish packed into a breaded ball and deep fried.
When it comes to short eats in Sri Lanka, there’s no need to go any further than the fish cutlets – they are delicious!
37. Full Cream Curd and Sweet Syrup
In India, curd is often eaten with rice or mixed with something; In Sri Lanka curd is devoured drizzled with kithul treacle - syrup made from liquid jaggery.
At first this “curd” sounded a little bizarre to me, but when I tried it, I was amazed and wanted to eat more for every consecutive breakfast.
Sri Lankan curd tastes very similar to what I know as plain yoghurt. It’s creamy, slightly sour, and the sweet syrup on top makes it absolutely fantastic.
38. Woodapple Juice
Yup, the outer shell smells a bit like rotting blue cheese mixed with dirty socks. The inside of the fruit looks a bit like diarrhea, but tastes similar to a tamarind. But hey, as a religious fan of durian, I’m not one to judge a fruit by its shell.
Despite the looks of this wonder fruit, woodapple juice in Sri Lanka is wildly popular – and I’ll be first to admit that it tastes pretty good when it’s blended up with some sugar!
There’s nothing better to wash down Sri Lankan food with, than a big cup of woodapple juice!
39. King Coconut
No component of Sri Lankan food is more vital than that holy coconut. In Sri Lanka there are many varieties of this special fruit, including the orange colored king coconut.
These coconuts line the streets around the country and are sold just for their sweet water. Each coconut costs from 30 – 40 LKR ($0.27 – $0.36).
40. Ceylon Milk Tea
Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) is one of the world’s leading producers of tea – no trip to the country would be the same without multiple cups a day.
Milk tea as well as ginger tea and plain tea are all popular and widely available choices.
Sri Lankan Food
Sri Lankan food is full of spices and exciting to the taste buds. At just an average of $1 – $2 for a giant meal, Sri Lanka is a culinary playground for sampling amazing dishes!
Have you had Sri Lankan food?
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