Sri Lankan food, explained
Sri Lanka knows food. A list of national dishes could fill a book, leaving most tourists confused at what’s available, and what to order. Our suggestion is to work your way through them all and delight in what each can offer. But if you’d rather understand a little more about what you’re eating, below is a list of the most common dishes you’re likely to see, and a brief explanation of what goes in to each. Enjoy!
Sri Lankan snacks: Short eats (often street food)
Much like the famed version in India, the Sri Lankan samosa is a fried pastry triangle filled with vegetables or meat. Delicious, but less friendly on the waistline.
A popular flatbread; typically wholemeal flour is mixed with salt, water and oil then cooked on a skillet and served hot and fresh.
Kottu Roti translates to ‘chopped bread’. Imagine roti mixed with various ingredients such as vegetables, egg or meats, chopped together with spices. You’ll likely hear the chopping from local ‘hotels’. A Sri Lankan street food favourite.
Breadcrumb covered patties, filled with spiced vegetables, fish or meat. A popular breakfast or mid-morning snack.
Usually a roti filled with vegetables, meat or egg (the latter being our personal favourite), and shaped into a square, triangle or rectangle then cooked lightly on a skillet pan. A great snack, any time of day.
You’ll find a huge variety of Sri Lankan hoppers anywhere you travel, so much so that they are deserving of their own section. A favourite for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack. Below are some of the most common:
A savoury, crepe-like bowl made from rice flour and water, usually cooked in a special high-sided hopper wok.
As per Plain Hoppers, but with an egg cooked inside it. Often served with sambol to sprinkle inside. Perhaps Sri Lanka’s most famous food export.
Rice flour and water are mixed together in the same way as other hopper varieties, but this time sieved through a hopper-sized mould to make it into strings. Steamed, and then usually served with curry and/or sambol.
Staples: Dishes served with almost any other main.
Pol Sambol (coconut sambol)
Fresh coconut mixed with onion, chilli and other ingredients to taste. A side dish served with Sri Lankan meals and often found on the breakfast, lunch and dinner table.
Made primarily with lentils and coconut milk, other ingredients in this dish will vary depending on the chef but will likely include tomato paste, cumin and varying spices. That said, this is not usually a spicy dish, more a home-cooked comfort food.
One of our favourites, sliced brinjal (aubergine) is mixed and fried with onion, chilli and a whole host of flavours and spices including garlic, ginger, turmeric and curry leaves. The magic touch in this dish is the addition of sugar and vinegar to the fryer, creating a delicious sweet caramelised paste.
Curries: Main dishes, often served together on the dinner table with rice and papad.
Sri Lankan curry (made with fish, meat or vegetables)
The base of many Sri Lankan curries is similar; coconut blended with onion, garlic, chilli and a variety of spices. Popular main dishes include fish (thanks to the abundant catch found in Sri Lanka’s waters) as well as vegetarian options including jackfruit, ladies fingers and gotukola, amongst others.
- By Katie Silcox
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This article was first written for Eden Villas in Sri Lanka.