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. If you are visiting the country, these are the 10 must try dishes and street food of Sri Lanka worth looking out for.
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.
Popular Sri Lanka local and street foods
Not entirely a comprehensive list, but these 10 dishes and specialty foods, that I have eaten all around Sri Lanka are the typical favorite dishes everywhere and a wonderful sampling of the best regional cuisine from Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan coconut curries galore
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
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
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.
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
Sri Lankan breads, Appam (or hoppers), Paratha and Pittu
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
Kottu and other popular Sri Lankan Street food
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!
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.
A Sri Lankan breakfast
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.
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 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
Sri Lankan Tropical drinks and alcohol
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.
Sri Lankan Desserts
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 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.
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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.