10 must try dishes and street food of Sri Lanka


10 must try dishes and street food of Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan traditional cooking

10 must try dishes and street food of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is such an amazing country to experience the fascinating people, culture, traditions and cuisine around the country.  Food is a very important facet of daily Sri Lankan lifestyle and everything centers around making the best available dishes from shopping every day at a local market, preparing the ingredients and then making the food. For those with limited time to cook, there is a plethora of street food vendors and cafes that cater to take out style or fast turn around instead of dining in. No matter if you seek the street food or an exceptional fine dining experience in Sri Lanka, the quality and delicious food you will encounter will make an indelible impression on your visit to this magical island country.

Not entirely a comprehensive list, but this is 15 dishes and specialty foods, that I have tried and are a must try experience to get a great sampling of regional cuisine from Sri Lanka.



 Coconut Curries galore

A variety of coconut based curries at Cinnamon Hotels

A variety of coconut based curries at Cinnamon Hotels


Yes there is a lot of coconut milk in Sri Lankan cuisine and it is used in many of the curries that are made throughout the country.  Utilizing a variety of similar spices and ingredients like onions, peppers, garlic, curry leaf, turmeric, cardamom, cloves, mustard seed and cinnamon the dishes are then sautéed with chicken, beef, seafood or vegetarian ingredients.  Many of the popular curries include:  dhal curry, chicken curry, lake fish Badhuma, Elabatu Pahi (vegetarian curry), cashew and pea curry and so many other varieties. Even a popular curry made with jackfruit called Polos which is made with young green jackfruit and cooked with garlic, ginger, onions and spices and it is delicious.




 Sambols, chutney and condiments

Sambols, chutney and condiments

Sambols, chutney and condiments


Along with the main entrees and curries are the spicy chutney and accompanying side dishes that include a variety of accents to the dish which can be tangy like a pickle, hot like a sambol mix or sweet like a fruit based chutney. All of these accent side dishes usually follow the entrees and are used based on each preference to sweet, hot, spicy or sour tastes. Popular sambols include: Gotu Kola Sambol (pennywort and greens), Pol sambol or coconut relish,


Sri Lankan Seafood specialties


Spicy Sri Lankan Crab curry

Spicy Sri Lankan Crab curry


Sri Lanka is a small island country with so many coastlines and fishing villages throughout that create a variety of regional specialties in each district. I stayed mostly in the coastal communities of Galle, Negombo, Beruwalu and Colombo and had a chance to sample a variety of wonderful seafood which has an incredible assortment of seafood that includes: crabs, cuttle fish, fish and other shell-fish. Following are some of the more popular Singhalese seafood dishes worth trying

Fish ambul thiyal (sour fish curry) is on of the most beloved fish dish in Sri Lanka, made typically with a large firm fish like tuna and curry leaf, turmeric, cinnamon, garlic, pandan leaves and a blend of spices and dried goraka which gives it a sour flavor.


Dry fish curry with coconut sambal

Dry fish curry with coconut sambal


Ambul thiyal (dry curry dish),  a variety of spices again mixed in with small amounts of water which reduces to mostly coat the fish.

 Kool seafood, from the northern region around Jaffna is a mixed seafood broth with crab, fish, prawns and cuttlefish with long beans, spinach and tamarind



Breads, Appam (or hoppers), Paratha and Pittu

Appam also known as Hoppers in Sri Lanka

Appam also known as Hoppers in Sri Lanka


Outside of the typical rice served with curries, Sri Lankans also love breads to dip in the many sauces and side dishes. A typical breakfast bread includes Theti Paan (local bread) which is a typical flat bread that is served with a jam or coconut sambal. Another popular bread is the Sri Lankan Banis, a soft and sweet bread roll that includes sweet raisins in the mixture and served with butter and a nice cup of black tea.

Pittu is a typical rice side that are cylinders of steamed rice mixed with grated coconut

Roti – a simple Sri Lankan flat bread made with wheat flower and added ingredients create different varieties like Thengappu made with dried coconut flakes and Uraippu Roti made with chopped onions and green chilies


Roti served for breakfast in Sri Lanka

Roti served for breakfast in Sri Lanka


Kottu and other popular Sri Lankan Street food

Crabs and fried foods at a beach stand in Negombo, Sri Lanka

Crabs and fried foods at a beach stand in Negombo, Sri Lanka


You can find street food everywhere in Sri Lanka including the beaches at very popular areas with so many different street vendors offering fried crabs and other seafood specialties from the area. Most of these are served spicy hot with fried peppers added to go and wrapped in a cone paper takeaway, it’s that simple and oh so fresh and spicy hot!

Sri Lankan Kottu, street food

Sri Lankan Kottu, street food

Photo credit Dani Heinrich | Globetrottergirls.com

Another popular street food in Sri Lanka is Kottu, which is basically a grilled mix of up mostly of shredded meat, vegetables, eggs and roti as a starch.  It is mixed with steel blades that chop the ingredients into smaller pieces and then scraped into a take away plate and it is delicious. Vegetarian options are also available as are seafood and other meat dishes depending on preference. Kottu is typically served with a spicy curry sauce that you can use as a dip on the side.



Sri Lankan breakfast

Cooking fresh hoppers with egg and top off with various sambol

Cooking fresh hoppers with egg and top off with various sambol


It’s typical with any of the western style hotels that you will stay at will typically serve a buffet service with many local dishes and western fare at the buffet. Like most countries in South East Asia, there is not much differentiation between the foods made for breakfast,  lunch and dinner so you can find that most breakfast include leftovers or a common bread that is used for dipping into a condiment or sambol which is typical for a Sri Lankan style breakfast. My favorite below is a mixture of east and west with Hoppers and egg served with nice slices of crispy bacon and some local tropical fruit and it’s delicious.


Hoppers and meats for breakfast in Sri Lanka

Hoppers and meats for breakfast in Sri Lanka


But also there are typical sweet breads, pastries and the ever popular Appam (or hopper, a fried crepe-like batter which you can fill with various toppings)and paratha (roti). A typical roti or appam mixed with a chutney or jam or sambol is the standard Sri Lankan style breakfast along with any leftovers from last night and a nice cup of black Ceylon tea.



 Tropical fruit of Sri Lanka


An assortment of tropical fruits from Sri Lanka

An assortment of tropical fruits from Sri Lanka


Like most Southeast Asian countries, Sri Lanka grows a plethora of tropical fruits of every size and shape. The most popular fruits range from the typical coconuts, to mangoes, pineapples, guavas and bananas to the more unusual wood apple fruit, durian, longan, jackfruit and the delicious rambutan, which tastes like a sweet lychee fruit.

Tasting  a wood apple fruit – it’s an acquired taste

Wood apples for breakfast in Sri Lanka

Wood apples for breakfast in Sri Lanka



Tropical drinks and alcohol


Traditional serving of Old Arrack and Coca Cola

Traditional serving of Old Arrack and Coca Cola

There are a variety of tropical drinks that are sold throughout the country and are great to have throughout the day. These include:

Coconut water, either directly from a fresh king coconuts or canned is plentiful and cheap everywhere you go around the island

Arrack – another coconut drink, but this time made with fermented coconut flower. This is a popular staple to many Southeast Asian countries including Sri Lanka. You can find some low-grade distilled version made locally or some nicer versions aged in oak for many years to mellow out the flavors. A popular combination drink is mixing Arak with ginger beer

Ginger beer, This is typically the poor mans beer, ginger is a very popular and refreshing drink in Sri Lanka with main brands like Elephant ginger beer or EGB and made with 100 percent natural ginger extract.

Lion Beer – the beer of Sri Lanka is an ale beer originating from industry giant Carlsburg. It’s a  simple and refreshing ale perfect for those hot days and evenings while you are waiting for that wonderful sunset moment

With tea and coffee plantations throughout the country, both these drinks are also common served hot or cold in a variety of flavors and combinations.


A contemporary Arrack cocktail below was offered at Cinnamon Hotels in Columbo, it’s a mixture of Arrack, a fermented coconut flower, with a sparkling water and some pomegranate juice. It was a winner in my book for trying the local Arak with something more trendy and exciting.


A contemporary cocktail with Arak and seltzer

A contemporary cocktail with Arak and seltzer



  Sri Lankan Desserts

A variety of sweet Sri Lankan pastries

A variety of sweet Sri Lankan pastries

Sri Lankans love their desserts and this can range from mostly baked or steamed dishes to more elegant pastry and cake like dishes made at various cafes and eateries. From basic snacks like Kokis (biscuit like pastries) which go with teas or Sri Lankan dodol, rice cake with cashews or the very popular Athirisa – a sweet made with rice flour and jiggery into a paste and fried. Fried sweet rice flour pastries are the most common and popular Sinhalese dessert.



Sri Lankan tea


Tea service in Galle, Sri Lanka

Tea service in Galle, Sri Lanka


Tea culture is very strong with the English colonization and tea plantations grown mostly in the central highlands and southern areas of the country. The most popular of Sri Lankan tea is the Ceylon black tea. There are also Ceylon green teas and whites teas that are made from the various plantations around the country.  There are also many specialty and flavored teas created from the basic teas to include:  Chai, fruit green teas, Vanilla black tea, Mint black tea, lemon and a host of many other mixed teas and ingredients, based on your personal preference.


Freshly made vegetarian curry served on a large green leaf

Freshly made vegetarian curry served on a large green leaf


I hope you enjoyed reading the 10 must try dishes and street food of Sri Lanka. Have you tried Sri Lankan food before and what did you think of the food from the country, please do share.


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27 Responses to 10 must try dishes and street food of Sri Lanka

  1. Alyson October 27, 2016 at 1:37 am #

    Your tea shot is from the hotel we got married in.
    Love Sri Lanka,adore it, love string hoppers and Sri Lankan breakfast generally, but otherwise, we struggle with food a bit there. We prefer India by a long way.

  2. Saman February 20, 2016 at 9:30 pm #

    Noel, Great article about Sri Lankan food. Woodapple is an overlooked fruit when you talk about tropical fruits and I am glad that you included it in your article. But what about Woodapple cream? I think it is also a must try Sri Lankan dessert. If anyone is not sure what I am talking about, here is a link for the recipe. http://www.anomaskitchen.com/wood-apple-cream/. Some make wood apple cream in a food processor also but when the seeds get crushed it adds a funny taste. So, better to stick to the manual method according to the recipe. My mother used to add a bit of coconut milk also to tone down the sourness. But now, I add some vanilla ice cream which makes it even better.

  3. Meggy Streng September 21, 2015 at 11:05 pm #

    I love Sri Lankan food and especially the curries. They are better than all other curries in Asia. The curry leaves they ad to almost everything do a big part of the magic 🙂

  4. Snappy April 21, 2015 at 6:58 am #

    WOW I never knew so many nice dishes in Lanka, Makes me want to take a flight and try all that awesome food.

  5. Central America Experience February 27, 2015 at 12:34 pm #

    Lovely destination and stunning pics can be taken at Sri Lanka! It has everything and is full of landscapes, in this case you focused on its food, awesome! But what about Central America? Could it be a good idea for your next blog post ?

    Central America Experience

  6. Mary @ Green Global Travel February 22, 2015 at 3:46 pm #

    We love coconut curries. I had no idea that there were so many. Thanks for sharing all of these tempting delicious looking dishes.

  7. Lillie February 22, 2015 at 5:47 am #

    Ahh — this is my dream article! That food looks AMAZING. What great photos. The lead one really makes me drool.

  8. Nancie February 16, 2015 at 3:02 pm #

    Everything looks delicious. I wouldn’t know where to start. I always love trying new tea, too! Thanks for linking up this week. #TPThursday

  9. Paul (@luxury__travel) February 16, 2015 at 3:18 am #

    Like the sound (and look!) of the spicy crab.

    I thankfully tend (touch wood!) to be fairly resilient to whatever I eat, so am always up for trying street food when it’s available. I do pick and choose, though… if it doesn’t look clean for any reason, I will steer clear.

  10. Cat of Sunshine and Siestas February 15, 2015 at 11:04 pm #

    Wow, what a comprehensive post! I can’t say they all look appetizing, but the curries and roti would win me over!

  11. Leigh February 14, 2015 at 7:43 pm #

    The food looks delicious (what if you don’t like spice?) and I love the sound of some ginger beer – under appreciated in North America.

  12. Molly February 14, 2015 at 8:39 am #

    Coconut curry and tropical fruit. That sounds like an amazing dinner
    Asia is somewhere that I still haven´t visited but this food certainly sets my imagination going.
    I love coconut so Sri Lanka is clearly somewhere I should consider sometime.

  13. Freya February 14, 2015 at 4:38 am #

    ooh wow this looks all so delicious. It reminds me a bit of the food in India. Is it also spicy? I love spicy food.
    I have never been in Sri Lanka but it is for sure on the list (I want to try out all the above once there).

  14. Gran Canaria Local February 13, 2015 at 2:40 pm #

    Who knew our general all-round good health was down to our love of spices? Thanks to Kerwin for filling us in. Now, where did we put that bottle of Encona Hot Pepper Sauce?

  15. Will Hatton February 13, 2015 at 2:08 pm #

    I’ve never been to Sri Lanka but it’s on the list – a lot of this food looks delicious! Did you find it very different to Indian dishes?

    • Noel February 13, 2015 at 2:30 pm #

      Some of the coconut curries I think are similar especially from the southern regions of India where they have a lot of similar ingredients and dishes.

  16. Ruth February 13, 2015 at 1:49 pm #

    Wow! It all looks delicious – I love how all the food is so vibrant and colourful. Although I’m intrigued now – what does a wood apple actually taste like?

    • Noel February 13, 2015 at 2:29 pm #

      The wood apple is an acquired taste and quite stringy and not so flavorful, not my favorite tropical fruit

  17. Amila February 13, 2015 at 12:06 pm #

    I am getting hungry now just by looking at these pictures.Although I cook Sri Lankan food always at home,I miss the flavours and spices from Sri Lanka….

  18. Kathryn Burrington February 13, 2015 at 9:19 am #

    They all sound fabulous – well nearly all! I would love to visit Sri Lanka one day and try these for myself. Particularly like the look of the hopper breakfast and those pastries – yum!

  19. Meg @ Mapping Megan February 13, 2015 at 8:03 am #

    Fantastic photos as always Noel – I’m thinking the seafood is enough to convince me to book a flight on it’s own! I can’t wait to get to Sri Lanka just to try all of these amazing dishes 🙂

  20. Katja of Skimbaco February 13, 2015 at 8:02 am #

    I absolutely loved the food in Sri Lanka, and I wish I could get some breakfast hoppers now!

  21. Rahman @ Iran Tours February 13, 2015 at 7:10 am #

    The tropical fruits you show at your photo reminds me of the stalls in KL where I used to buy and enjoy everyday. they were so refreshing and I’m sure Sri Lanikan fruits are the same too.

  22. travelFREAK February 13, 2015 at 12:19 am #

    They all look delicious! Whatever you choose to eat, your mouth is definitely going to rejoice with happiness!

  23. Life Images by Jill February 12, 2015 at 10:54 pm #

    I fell in love with Sri Lankan food watching “My Sri Lanka” cooking show on TV, although I have never visited. We had roti several times in Penang however on our last visit.

  24. Kerwin February 12, 2015 at 9:48 am #

    You are making me hungry right now dude…

    I’m down for the tea Noel. Having some now in the form of bubbletea :-).

    I’m pretty skittish with trying street food when I travel due to food poisoning on two separate trips to two separate countries. So while in Sri Lanka, I stuck to food from places that looked good to me :-). It’s weird, my stomach goes bonkers quite easily now. The tip though is to have very spicy street food as the spice will kill the bacteria. So lots of pepper. When I asked the Sri Lankans if its spicy and they tell me now and smile, its spicy :-).

    No canned coconut water as its not the same, only drink it straight from the coconut and forego the straw. Once done, have then cut it and cut you a “spoon” from the side of the coconut and use it to eat the inside; so good…

    Of all the Sri Lanka foods, milk rice is my all time favorite. I could eat that morning, noon and night; pity they really only serve it at breakfast. Your favorite is good, but I’d have to ask them to cook the egg some more :-). no running yolk for me.


  1. Top food destinations around the world - February 7, 2016

    […] what produce or street food is being prepared right on the streets. Take a look at my top 10 most popular dishes and drinks from Sri Lanka here and you may put this on your bucket list of foodie places to visit soon because the food is that […]

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