Top 20 Most Popular Sri Lankan Foods
Ever wondered what flavors a fertile island covered with lush greenery could possibly create? Wait no more and explore Sri Lankan cuisine, seasoned with aromatic spies that will tantalize your taste buds.
Located in the Indian Ocean close to the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka is a tropical island known for its natural beauty, world-class tea, and smiling people. And being an island, you are never more that a few hours drive from pristine white beaches and beautiful hill country.
As a nation with a rich heritage and 3,000 years of documented history, Sri Lankan cuisine has been shaped by many cultures and enriched by its relationship with neighboring India. The result is a unique blend of flavorful dishes that contribute to the people’s healthy lifestyle.
Let’s find out what this land of diversity has to offer in its top 20 Sri Lankan food favorites.
1. Ambul Thiyal: Sour Fish Curry
Despite the name, this fish curry is not so sour and is one of the tastiest ways of cooking fish.
The dish originated as a way of preserving fish. A paste made from dried goraka, widely known as Garcinia Cambogia, a tropical fruit, helps preserve fish for as long as a week without refrigeration.
Cubes of fish, ideally tuna, are simmered in a blend of spices, including cinnamon, turmeric, garlic, black pepper, curry leaves, and pandan leaves until they form a thick coating. This is what gives it its unique taste, which goes wonderfully well with rice.
2. Kaju Maluwa: Cashew Curry
Even meat lovers won’t miss the meat with this gluten free vegan dish. The key ingredient is cashew nuts (obviously!), and this curry is an all-time favorite on special occasions.
Unlike the usual spicy Sri Lankan foods, kaju curry is rather mild and has a soft crunch. Its creamy texture complements any type of menu. The cashew nuts are soaked in mild salt water so that they become well-seasoned and are able to absorb the full flavor of the mild spices.
If you ever need to cater for a fussy eater, Sri Lankan cashew curry might just be the answer.
3. Sri Lankan Crab Curry
One thing Sri Lanka is very well known for is crabs. They are generally larger than many other species and are considered a delicacy. In high demand both locally and internationally, sea food lovers must be sure not to miss out on them.
The curry has a spicy but creamy texture while the meat is tender and almost melts in the mouth. Given that it is a rather exotic dish, crab curry can be a bit pricy, but, rest assured, it is well worth the money spent.
Usually available in fine restaurants, many versions of this dish can be enjoyed, especially in the northern areas of the island.
4. Kiribath: Milk Rice
This dish is associated with all traditional Sri Lankan celebrations, including Sri Lankan New Year, which is celebrated in April, birthdays, weddings, Buddhist rituals, etc. Tourists commonly know it as milk rice.
As the name implies, its main ingredients are rice and coconut milk. Rather than water, Sri Lankan milk rice is cooked in a generous amount of coconut milk. This gives it a creamy taste and it is often eaten with local chili paste and/or a curry.
5. Elavalu Roti: Vegetable Roti
Vegetable roti is a very popular street food that can become quite addictive. It is pure comfort munching on the delicious filling wrapped with fine skillet-fried dough. They come in triangles, cylinders, and squares.
The shapes signify the filling. The triangle is the most common and is vegetarian, whereas the other shapes include meat or boiled eggs. They are all quite spicy and ideal with a sip of hot Sri Lankan tea, making this a perfect teatime snack.
6. Appa: Hoppers
Amusingly named, hoppers don’t involve anything that hops around. Appa is an all-time favorite in Sri Lanka. It is such an easy dish for satisfying hunger on the go, and you can find this local delight on street food corners and at extravagant hotels.
They are made from a batter of fermented rice flour mixed with coconut milk, salt, and a pinch of yeast. If you want it the traditional way, a dash of Sri Lankan toddy heightens the flavor.
The batter is swirled around in a small wok, giving it the bowl-like shape. It is soft on the bottom and the edges are thin and crunchy. Cracking an egg onto the middle of the hopper really takes the taste to the next level.
7. Indiappa: String Hoppers
This is a famous Sri Lankan breakfast which is soft and easy to digest, with a texture similar to that of rice noodles.
To make indiappa, wet rice flour is woven into a small round shape using a string hopper maker, a piece of specially designed equipment. These are then steamed for about half an hour.
String hoppers come in two colors, depending on the type of the rice used: white and pink.
However, other colors, such as blue, red, and yellow, are also offered, using natural edible colorings such as butterfly pea, hibiscus flower essence, and vegetable juices such as beet and carrot juice.
8. Kiri Kos: Mature Jackfruit Curry
In Sri Lankan cuisine, rice is the staple food. But jackfruit comes second in terms of popularity. This fruit can be prepared in many ways with a variety of flavors, but kiri kos is a jackfruit dish using a mature fruit and a minimal amount of chili and other spices.
The creamy texture it takes on due to coconut milk helps it mingle and blend with almost anything accompanying it.
9. Polos: Young Jackfruit Curry
This is one of those dishes that grab you with the first taste. Jackfruit is very versatile and can be turned into flavorful dishes whatever its stage of life. This dish is a favorite of vegans as it is packed with nutrients and fibre.
As the name suggests, young jackfruit curry, or polos, is made from young jackfruit, when it is hard and the seeds are yet to fully form. As with all Sri Lankan dishes, a range of spices are added: roasted curry powder, red chili powder, turmeric, tamarind juice, cardamom, and cinnamon.
All that is mixed with coconut milk and they all play their part in creating the thick aromatic sauce surrounding tender jackfruit.
Perhaps the most popular food with travelers is kottu, found at street food joints. It is basically diced roti mixed with chopped vegetables, eggs, fish, cheese, and various meats and it is cooked with oil and spices. Yes, that’s right; it’s basically an all-rounder! It is eaten as an evening snack or evening dinner.
The metal tool used to dice the ingredients make a lively and loud rhythmic sound, “the Kottu Beat”.
You are likely to hear them if you happen to go out on the busy streets in the evening.
This is a typical Sri Lankan breakfast or dinner made with rice flour and scraped coconut. The rice flour mixture for pittu is steamed is a cylindrical mold for a few minutes, giving the pittu the form of a solid tube.
Pittu is often served with coconut milk and some local chili paste and is known as a rather heavy meal that keeps you full for hours.
12. Pol Sambola: Spicy Coconut Garnish
This traditional garnish takes about 10 minutes to prepare, and that tells you how simple it is.
Freshly scraped coconut mixed with a pinch of salt, dried chilies, chili powder, red onions, and freshly squeezed lime juice all ground together, making this a perfect companion for rice, bread, and string hoppers.
For a flavor boost, sprinkle some minced Maldive fish with chopped tomatoes and you’ll be clamoring for more.
13. Kola Kenda: Herbal Congee
Kola kenda, or herbal congee, is a super food that is ideal for breakfast. There is an extensive variety of kola kenda, made with different herbs and leafy greens, each packed with a load of nutritional value.
The herbs and the leafy greens are ground in a blender and the resulting mixture is cooked under a low heat with coconut milk and a handful of precooked rice. Kola kenda is believed to prevent and cure certain illnesses, so it is often used by traditional Sri Lankan medical practitioners.
14. Batu Moju: Eggplant Pickle
A top-rated side dish in Sri Lankan cuisine, batu moju decorates any table and never fails to satisfy the appetite. Wedges of eggplant are deep-fried until mildly crispy and then stir-fried with a mix of spices, onions, and green chili.
Then comes the important part where it is caramelized with sugar, mustard seeds, and vinegar, making it juicy enough to melt in your mouth. Batu moju goes well with any staple food and is an essential dish for special occasions.
15. Pol Roti: Coconut Roti
Pol roti is a well-known Sri Lankan flatbread made from wheat flour, scraped coconut, salt and water. It is usually a breakfast meal but can also be found as a snack in tea shops. Pol roti is typically eaten together with lunu miris, a local chili paste, but of course it goes well with any curry too.
16. Gotukola Sambola: Pennywort Salad
If you are a fan of leafy greens and are looking for a healthy, simple to make dish, gotukola sambola is a tasty option. Sambola, meaning salad, is a simple mixture of finely sliced pennywort leaves, scraped coconut, salt, and lemon, together with a fair amount of minced Maldive fish for added flavor.
This superfood is widely known as an immunity booster that also rejuvenates the nervous system. Loaded with vitamins and cooling properties that help with the bodies heat balance, it also has many therapeutic and medicinal benefits.
17. Seeni Sambal
Sweet, spicy, and sour all in one. Seeni sambal is a simple dish made from chopped onions, spices, and sugar.
It goes well with hot beverages, which complement the sweet and spicy flavors. But it is the local bread that is most popular; hence, seeni sambal bread, a popular snack for outings and picnics and largely available in small or medium scale eateries.
18. Curd with Palm Treacle
This naturally fermented buffalo milk, high in healthy fats and full of nutrients, comes in clay pots, which preserve its natural qualities.
It has a yogurt-like texture with a mildly sour taste to it. Curd is an amazing dessert when served with palm treacle or sugar. However, if you fancy it, try it with treacle: the ideal combination.
It can be found at all supermarkets around the country.
Perhaps one of the sweetest Sri Lankan custard puddings, watalappam is an absolute to-die-for dessert. Made from jaggery, coconut milk, eggs, and cardamom, it is a true winner for those with a sweet tooth.
It is always on Sri Lankan wedding menus and served at other special family occasions. For the Sri Lankan Muslim community, watalappam is served to celebrate the end of Ramadan, when it is shared with neighbors and loved ones.
A quintessentially Sri Lankan dish with a unique taste and aroma. A dough of millet flour, treacle, and scraped coconut, is flattened on a leaf and steamed for about half an hour. Millet flour is gluten free and known to be highly nutritious with protein and antioxidants.
The leaf, wrapped around the dough, is taken from Kenda trees and adds its own organic flavor and aroma as it steams. As a signature dish of Sri Lankan New Year celebrations, halapa is an authentic sweet snack cherished by Sri Lankans of all ages.