A Guide to Eating in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan food: rice and curry

After 50 days in Sri Lanka, I didn’t crave a western dish once. And now that I am in Thailand, I actually crave Sri Lankan rice and curry. Do you remember the last foreign food you wanted?

Sri Lankan cuisine is a delight and it’s actually pretty good for you. dinner usually takes close to an hour to make, but for good reason. The cooks prepare each dish with homemade ingredients and made to order.

The Sri Lankan Food Experience

First of all, it’s important to know that traditional Sri Lankan’s eat with their hands. Yep, their hands.

Sri Lankan’s use no cutlery. As a Westerner, you will be served a fork and spoon at nearly every restaurant, unless you are eating at a super local spot.

At first, I felt apprehension and grossed out. I loathe having sticky hands so it took a while for me to try it. Eventually, I caved and tried the local way. Even though I won’t do it again, I understand the reasoning.

When you eat with your hands, the food tastes better. You don’t taste the metal of a spoon in your mouth. Eating with your hands is quite raw, animalistic, and gets us back to our roots. More importantly, it allows us to mash the flavors together to create a savory dish.

So, give it a try at least once.

Vegetarian/Vegan

Sri Lanka’s food is made fresh. I remember out hostel mom even grew her own chili’s, dried them in the sun, and made them into curry powder. It was amazing!

In addition to being homemade, a lot of the ingredients are good for you. Sri Lankan food usually consists of turmeric, ginger, spices, dhal, and coconut. All good for your gut and overall health!

Plus, being a vegetarian or vegan is easy. Sri Lankan’s are extremely respectful of other religions and food, so you’ll have no problem with a dietary restrictions.

Below are some food photos and dishes I recommend trying.

Sri Lankan Dishes and Snacks

BREAKFAST:

Sri Lankan local breakfast

Gourmet Sri Lankan breakfast

The second breakfast is more focused for the tourist, but it does include local dishes.

A hopper is a circular dish made with rice flour, coconut milk and spices. Usually, you can egg an egg to the top for a healthy fast food dish.

Coconut Roti are my absolute favorites and extremely sweet, but really well done. The dish consists of shaved coconut and local honey they are similar to a crepe. You eat them with rice and curries or during breakfast with coconut symbol and dhal curry.

THE NATIONAL DISH x2:

Rice and Curry from Sri Lanka
The best rice and curry we had in Sri Lanka was from Matey Hut in Ella. Be prepared to wait for a meal, but it’s worth it. They also offer a cooking course, but you need to book in advance.
Sri Lankan rice and curry
Rice and Curry from Jungle Vista Hostel in Sigiriya. Always delicious and homemade, even down to the homemade spices.
Kottu
Kottu from a small hut in Udawalawe.. oddly topped with ketchup and mayonnaise

Rice and curry is served everywhere and its an absolute delight. We literally ate rice and curry for 49 day straight and didn’t get sick of it. The meal includes a portion of white rice served with four or five curries, depending on the restaurant.

Dhal is always served with a few papadam’s, and seasonal curries. We have had pineapple curry, mango curry, beetroot curries, fresh greens, and even a side salad of tomatoes, onions, and spices. Jackfruit curry is also served quite a bit and tastes like chicken!

Apparently, Kottu was made when a Sri Lankan street stall ran out of food. Locals were hungry and all he had was some pieces of roti and vegetables. He had to make something so he tossed in vegetables, eggs, and pieces of roti and voila.

SNACKS:

We usually filled up on roti and a fresh coconut for lunchtime food or for snacks during the daytime. Here are some fresh snacks you shouldn’t be afraid to try. Be cautious because Sri Lankan’s use lots of spices, so your food may be hot!

A fried vegetable and spices triangle roti
A fried vegetable and spices triangle roti

SMOOTHIE BOWLS:

Although this isn’t “local Sri Lankan food,” they are delicious. With the influx of tourism Sri Lankan is adapting its foods to be a nutritious blend for travelers looking to eat well. You can find smoothie bowls at hostels, yoga shala’s, and a cafe catering to tourists.

They always use local ingredients and taste delicious. Oftentimes they are blended with turmeric, ginger, banana’s and cinnamon, taking advantage of the countries local ingredients.

Homemade with turmeric, banana, raisins, rice flakes, and ginger biscuits smoothie bowl from Jungle Vista Hostel, Sigiriya
Image of granola bowl in Sri Lanka
House granola with fresh fruit and coconut milk from Cafe Kumbuk, Colombo

DRINKS:

Tea is part of daily life in Sri Lanka. The country is covered in tea estates and it’s probably one of the countries largest exports. Mixed with tons of sugar and sometimes milk, it is served with most meals.

The King coconut should be a part of your daily routine (they can be as low as 30 cents each).

Sri Lanka is famous for it’s tea, so I highly suggest grabbing a cuppa.

Another strange drink is the wood apple smoothie. The wood apple has a ton of nutritional benefits: aids in digestion, constipation, and boosts energy, plus you can’t get it anywhere else.

DESSERTS:

Sri Lanka has a sweet tooth. You can buy light chocolate cake everywhere and there are a ton of bakeries that sell smaller sweet treats. My personal favorite is the watalappam which is a coconut custard with cardamon, cinnamon, and cloves.

Another delicacy is the curd and honey. It may not sound so delicious, but it’s just yogurt and sweet honey. And, it is amazing.

Sri Lankan Food

Despite none of Sri Lankan meals being listed among the top 10 meals I have ever eaten, it is still a foodies paradise. I mean no offense, I have quite a detailed list, from eating on the Eiffel Tower to dining on a perfectly rare Florentine steak paired with a Tuscan red, Sri Lankan food doesn’t quite compare.

However, no cuisine I have ever had from any country compares to the consistency of Sri Lankan food. It’s consistently delicious. Consistently made fresh and never bores you. We ate rice and curry for 49 days and I still miss it.

So, with that being said, I recommend eating everything you can in Sri Lanka. Try all the street stalls and eat with your hands at least once! Bon appetite.

 

 

My adventures and ramblings through Europe, Australia, and now back the United States. I generally write from daily inspirations or from random thoughts.

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