Sri Lankan food is reminiscent of South Indian food with some added island personality. Sri Lanka isn’t called ‘Spice Island’ for nothing – every dish you try will have a certain dose of spice, from just a little to a whole lot. From breakfast to dinner, every dish in Sri Lanka is a party for your taste buds. Read on to discover our 11 favourite dishes worth travelling to Sri Lanka for.
Sri Lankan breakfast
An all-time favourite Sri Lankan dish is Sri Lankan breakfast. It’s not just one dish but actually, an array of dishes. Sri Lankan breakfast will turn anyone into a fan of spice in the morning. Accompanied by a pot of tea or coffee, it’s the perfect way to start the day.
Rice and curry
Sri Lanka’s national dish is definitely rice and curry. Every meal that includes rice and curry is a hit to the senses and it can be different each time. The usual suspects that come along with steamed rice are one protein curry, like chicken or fish, a vegetable curry, a gram curry, like chickpeas of green gram and a fresh sambol, like gotukola or passion fruit leaves sambol. Rice and curry dishes are commonly eaten by hand!
There are many types of curry to try in Sri Lanka, but some are more memorable than others. Jackfruit curry is pretty special because when you eat it, you can’t really tell you are eating jackfruit and the flavour is spectacular. This is a great curry for vegetarians if they like eating food that resembles meat but isn’t. Apart from jackfruit curry, there are other fruit curries, like mango or banana, worth trying.
Vegetable curries are also quite varied in Sri Lanka. Just like fruit curries, there are some that stand out more than others – like beetroot curry. Sweet, savoury, spicy, a little crunchy and all around amazing, Sri Lankan beetroot curry is like no other and it’s a must try.
Sri Lankans make curries out of anything and they know what they are doing! But the most ‘comfort food’ style curry of all is dhal curry. This creamy, spicy and slightly orange goodness will have you licking your fingers. Dhal curry is made of split orange lentils and is mostly eaten at breakfast, although you might find it on the table during any meal.
Pol rotti and potato curry
Rotti is another staple in Sri Lankan cuisine. The classic rotti is eaten for breakfast or at any time with juicy curries but the Sri Lankan curry of excellence is Pol rotti. Pol means coconut in Sinhalese and Pol rotti is made with grated coconut. This is the best kind of rotti to dip into curry and use as a makeshift spoon.
One of the greatest fusion dishes in Sri Lanka is lamprais. The ancestors of the original Dutch settlers created this great one deal meal that is still eaten every day by hundreds of Sri Lankans. Rice and curry wrapped up in a banana leaf and steamed to perfection are what lamprais are all about.
This adored Sri Lankan street food can be heard from blocks away. Kottu rotti cooks take bits of rotti, vegetables, chicken and spice, cut it up and cook it on a griddle making an incomparable sound that will stay in your mind long after you leave Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan hoppers are a little like pancakes, but oh so much better! There are three kinds of hoppers: hoppers and egg hoppers which look like bowl-shaped pancakes, and then there are string hoppers, which are like little stringy clouds that soak up the juice from potato curry like nothing else.
When a local needs a quick snack, they go to the bakery or The Fab and grab a few short eats. Fish buns, chicken pies, egg rolls and other goodies are always available for breakfast or as a snack with tea. Short eats are a mix of fusion from the British and Dutch colonial era, which inspired all sorts of yummy treats.
Watalappam is a favourite among Sri Lankans. This creamy coconut dessert is sweetened with natural kithul jaggery and spiced with cardamom and nutmeg. Watalappam is a go-to for kids and grownups alike and you will find it in homes, restaurants and hotels.