Some people say, “variety is the spice of life” but Sri Lankan’s live by it. Their cuisine has been largely shaped by the surrounding countries such as Indonesia and India but also from the Dutch and British during their reigns of the island. Different areas in Sri Lanka have dishes they specialize in, so when you journey around this beautiful land, don’t miss an opportunity to try as much as you can!
Many of our curry dishes contain no less than 10 – 12 spices per dish! This creates a variety of tasty and flavorful dishes that you’ll want to experience. While everyone has their favorite varieties of curry with more or less coconut milk making more or less gravy, dry and wet curries you’ll be sure to find a favorite new dish during your adventures.
P.S. Included in the brackets is the phonetic spelling for these dishes in Sinhala, have fun pronouncing them!
I thought I’d start us off with everyone’s favorite beverage. When people talk about Sri Lanka, one of the first things that people start talking about is, you guessed it, Tea! Sri Lanka is known far and wide for being a leading exporter of a great many variety of teas. Because of the difference in elevation and soil conditions around Sri Lanka, there are unique flavor notes in the tea that shine through in each region.
Ask anyone who’s been to Sri Lanka about Kottu and they’ll keep the conversation going for hours. Kottu starts with a Godamba Rotti (flat white bread) which is diced along with a myriad of ingredients that come together to make a very unique dish. If you’re walking through the streets and hear a rhythmic metal clanging, you’re bound to see someone wielding two large metal cleavers preparing Sri Lankas favorite street food.
Hoppers (Ah-Pe[r]) or Egg Hopper (Be-The-Ruh Ah-Pe[r])
Crispy outer layer, with a soft and delicious center. It is a joy to watch it being made as the chef will pour the batter into the little tachi (small wok) that gives this dish it’s interesting shape, then swirling the batter around to get a nice even layer to create the crunchy outer layer of the hopper. This wonderful bowl-shaped carb is often accompanied by a spicy sambal or curry. The Egg Hopper is similar, but an egg is cracked and placed in the center of the still cooking batter joining a fried egg into the middle of the hopper.
String Hoppers (E-De-Yah-Puh)
A very far and wide distant relative of the hopper, the two are nearly nothing alike. String hoppers are made using a slightly thicker batter that is pressed through a special funnel where the batter is pressed out to a noodle form which is then steamed and formed into patties. The patties can be eaten with delicious curry’s or sambol.
Chicken Curry (Coo-Cool Mah-[u]s)
The Curry that’s better than Steph Curry; I know what you’re thinking! How could l write an article on Sri Lankan food and not have this higher up in the list? Excluding tea, the other items mentioned above are foundational to enjoying flavorsome chicken curry. A plethora of spices and magical dust (curry powder) thrown in and you have a lovely dish that is spicy, but has a lot of flavor behind it. As you enjoy the succulently cooked chicken, try your carbohydrate choice mixed with a little curry…it’ll blow your mind!
Black Pork Curry (Oo-roo Mah-[u]s)
Oh my! This right here can be claimed as one of the best ways to eat pork, making a darker and drier curry than its chicken counterpart. The dish has an extensive list of ingredients and powders that if blended just right can send your sensory system to eutopia. The soft pork, surrounded by a small layer of fat that practically melts in your mouth, mixed with the bitter of the Goraka and spices that seem to do just enough to flavor the pork without enveloping it. Do yourself a favor and try this with some steamed white rice and a nice vegetable curry (Coming up!).
Pollos Curry (Po-Los)
Vegetarians, we have you covered! Jackfruit is a fruit that can be eaten at varied levels of ripeness, and this particular dish is made using a very young green jackfruit. The fruit is broken and sliced into smaller chunks where it is then boiled till soft and made into a curry. The result is an almost meaty but not chewy texture that should leave you craving more!
P.S. Also do try some ripe Jackfruit (Va-rah-car) which is quite popular in the Southern Asia region, it’s like the beautiful love child of a pineapple and a banana!
Kiribath (Key-ree Ba-[a]th) with Lunu Miris (Loo-noo Me-rees)
Milk rice! A staple in the Southern Asian region. Many countries in this area have their own version of how they eat milk rice (i.e.: Indonesia has a lovey dish called Nasi Lemak). It is steamed and served often like a cake that is sliced and joined by a spicy sambol and curry that partner well. If you’re lucky you will get to try a Kiri Bath that is made with Kithul Jaggary (palm syrup that has hardened), it makes for a sweeter Kiri Bath that when eaten with the spicy sambal make an unlikely but delicious pairing.
Lamprais (Lah-mp Rai-[i]ce)
While there are arguments to the origin of its name, Lamprais is believed to come from the original name in Dutch klomp (lump) rijst (rice). Lumprais is a Dutch-Burgher influenced dish that is traditionally differentiated by what it is steamed and packaged in, a banana leaf. It has many different proteins and even seeni-sambol (spicy caramelized onions relish that is sweetened) that make for a variety of textures and flavors in one dish! If you are in Sri Lanka, it’s a must try.
Jaffna Crab Curry
If you love seafood, you’re going to love Sri Lanka! Take a trip to the northern most part of Sri Lanka and you’re in for a treat. The fresh seafood arrives daily and is cooked to perfection. The crab is normally cut in halves and cooked for a short time before being marinated in a beautiful broth of ingredients that give the meat an intense flavor which is deliciously spicy yet maintaining a perfect balance with the other flavors found in the dish.
Curd & Kithul Treacle
Any Sri Lankan household has this as a staple dessert that they offer to their guests after a hearty meal. The treacle is from the Palm tree and if you don’t know what curd is, it’s coagulated buffalo milk. The oh-so-slight sourness in the curd with the velvety sweetness from the treacle make for a beautiful combination. Warning: Most Sri Lankans will drown their curd in treacle, while it is a normal thing, add treacle a little by little till you find the “sweet-spot”.
Ambul Thiyal (Aa-m-bool Thee-yaal)
Ambul Thiyal originated from Ambalangoda, is now a signature dish of Sri Lankan cuisine. It is a dry fish curry (normally made with Skipjack or yellowfin tuna) with a paste based on tamarind (Goraka), giving a slightly sour edge to it. When used with the right mix of curries and sambals, it can make your meal quite interesting.
Parippu (Pah-ree-pu)/Dhal (Dah-l) (Lentil Curry) (Dah-l)
Everyone loves lentils (that’s still a thing right?), and Sri Lankan’s do it well. The small lentils are boiled till soft with a mixture of spices and then emulsified with rich coconut cream to make a beautifully thick curry that can be paired with a hearty paratha rotti bread. The appearance is similar to cream style corn, but the flavor is unique and delicious. You won’t find many homes in Sri Lanka that don’t serve this dish multiple times every week.
Wattalapan! A local sweet pudding with a texture sitting somewhere between Jelly and Crème Brule. This dish makes for a sweet, almost chocolatey dish with hints of spices of nutmeg, cardamom and cinnamon.
Chocolate Biscuit Pudding
Originally brought in by foreign occupiers. This is a Sri Lankan favorite that is often trademarked by the use of Maliban Gold Marie biscuits purchased from the store. This layered pudding dish contains a thick layer of chocolate followed by the biscuits, then repeated for about 2/3 layers each. The chocolate pairs well with the biscuits that have often been lightly soaked in milk to give you a lovely textured bite that is rich and creamy.