Drawing on Indian and East Asian cuisine, Sri Lankan food culture is nothing but an explosion of flavor. This island nation has its own sources of ingredients and spices, culminating in cuisine that is unlike anything else. Sri Lankan food can’t easily be found in the West so it’s worth traveling to Sri Lanka to experience these authentic meals for yourself.
As is often the case in Asia, the food will be on the spicy end of the spectrum. Nevertheless, it won’t let you down on flavor, with an incredible blend of herbs and spices being used in every meal. If you can find a local restaurant serving authentic cuisine, then you’ll be in for a treat.
To help you learn more about Sri Lankan food culture, we’ve rounded up our nine favorite dishes. These are all examples of food you just have to try if you’re ever in this stunning country.
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Parippu is a kind of dal that’s commonly found in South Asia. It’s made from pulses, which can include peas and beans but more often refers to lentils. These are considered a staple of the Sri Lankan diet. While other Asian cultures favor rice, lentils are an arguable healthier food that can act as a protein-rich base for your meals.
This is an example of Sri Lankan food culture that has borrowed from India. However, it’s mostly found in south India, which is why it was easily transported over to Sri Lanka. The pulses are simply boiled then added to a pot or pan filled with amazing aromas, including huge flavor combinations like turmeric, mango, and garlic.
During your trip to Sri Lanka, you’ll come across all sorts of curry combinations. While chicken and lamb are the most commonly eaten in India, this doesn’t leave much for vegetarians. Well, don’t worry. Sri Lanka’s got you covered. Beetroot curry is an extremely delicious, not to mention healthy, curry that you can try.
This is a fresh and mild meal that you’ll grow to love. With plenty of ginger, garlic, black mustard seeds, and curry leaves, it’s a symphony of flavors and aromas. You can add coconut milk to create a smooth, creamy texture. Finish with fresh lime juice to lift the whole dish and add some much-needed acidity. If you love beetroots, then this dish will make you smile every time. Just be sure to find a local Sri Lankan chef who knows how to make it properly.
Along with rice and pulses, the most commonly consumed staple food in Sri Lankan food culture is the roti. This is a kind of flatbread, similar to that of Indian naan. Unlike naan, though, this dough is unleavened, meaning that it’s not kneaded to create gas inside the bread. This is what keeps it flat and crispy.
Roti is a crucial accompaniment to many dishes, used as a way to soak up all the amazing sauce that covers your curries. Sri Lankans love to add flavorings to their bread to jazz it up a little. This can include mixing coconut or chilis right into the dough. Find a flavor combination that you just can’t get enough of. Whatever meal you order in a Sri Lankan restaurant, the chances of it coming with a side of roti is high.
Coconuts are a huge part of any tropical island nation’s food culture. In Sri Lanka, it forms an important part of many meals, serving both its flesh and its milk. The king coconut is a kind that’s native to Sri Lanka, meaning that by ordering this food, you’re guaranteed the freshest, sweetest, most delicious coconut on the market.
You can drink water straight out of the coconut for the ultimate hydration or cut it up and use it as an ingredient for other meals. This kind of coconut water is also used as herbal medicine. Besides being delicious, it’s full of antioxidants and can even lower your blood sugar if you have diabetes. If you want to boost your health, try the wonderful king coconut.
Fish Cutlet Balls
Are you looking for your favorite food served up in one easily consumable package? Similar to Scotch eggs and Chinese chicken balls, Sri Lankan fish cutlet balls offer exactly that. Fish is taken from the sea that surrounds this island, then formed into spicy croquettes. Serve with a mango salad dip to add some fresh sweetness.
It’s the perfect snack to serve at parties or a side dish to your curry. It’s made from white flaky fish like tuna or mackerel then mixed with green chilis, potatoes, and plenty of herbs and spices. From there, soak the ball in an eggwash, cover completely in breadcrumbs, and fry. Finish with some lime juice for some all-important acidity.
Samosas are a side dish or appetizer that you’ll commonly find in almost every Indian restaurant. However, did you know that they’re also widespread in Sri Lanka? If you love them already, then you’ll definitely like the Sri Lankan version of samosas. If you’ve never had one, then a samosa is a baked pastry with many different fillings.
Some samosas will come packed with chicken or, in Sri Lanka, fish. However, most are vegetarian. They’re packed with spicy potatoes, vegetables, and sometimes lentils. The result is a small package of intense flavor. Once you’ve had one, you’ll probably find it hard to stop yourself from eating more. You can have this as a more filling alternative to roti bread and use it to soak up that delicious curry sauce.
Curry is one of the most famous dishes associated with the South Indian sub-continent. It’s spicy, bursting with flavor, and always hits the spot. However, it’s most commonly associated with meat like chicken. Sri Lanka, being an island nation, puts its own twist on this Indian classic. Using its ample access to the sea, fish curry has become one of the country’s best-loved dishes.
This is usually a combination of sardines and vegetables, but the possible variations are endless like any curry. To soak up all that amazing sauce, you can pair this dish with rice or naan. In Sri Lanka, though, it’s more common to have a fish curry with a few pieces of roti flatbread.
Wambatu moju is a unique and amazing traditional food from Sri Lanka that you need to try. It’s made mostly from eggplants, which are cut up and fried. Once combined with shallots, mustard vinegar, and green chilies, you have a pickle that will last for ages. The result offers a surprising symphony for your tongue.
A combination of sweet and sour, wambatu moju is a wonderful accompaniment for other traditional Sri Lankan meals. Sri Lankan locals use this as a quick way to soak any other food in an extra layer of flavor. It’s a quick and simple way to take your cooking to the next level as a way to impress your guests.
Much of Sri Lankan food is incredibly healthy but cheese kottu is reserved for when you want a real treat. It’s often served up during feasts and celebrations. Originating in the East of Sri Lanka, noodles are combined with your choice of vegetables and any meat you desire. The whole thing is then doused in cheese, which is what makes this dish so incredible.
It’s almost like a South Asian version of the fondue you find in Switzerland. It really is that decadent, creamy, and delicious. Sri Lankans don’t eat this every day, but it should be your go-to option if you want a special dinner to celebrate a special day. Cheese kottu, like most Sri Lankan food, is best served with a side of roti.
What is traditional food in Sri Lanka?
Naturally, much of Sri Lankan food culture comes from neighboring India. However, this island nation takes its cuisine in a new direction, incorporating much more seafood into its spicy curries.
What is Sri Lanka’s most popular food?
There are many delicious and popular dishes in Sri Lanka but perhaps the most commonly consumed is fish curry with a side of roti flatbread. The bread is ideal for soaking up all that amazing flavor and taking the edge off the heat.
What is a traditional breakfast in Sri Lanka?
Sri Lankans typically have curry for breakfast, starting their day with delicious dahl or fish curry. People like to have meat, potatoes, and vegetables for breakfast, all covered in an aromatic and spicy sauce.
What makes the food in Sri Lanka unique?
Sri Lankan food culture developed independently but was inspired by surrounding cultures. They’ve taken some Indian cuisines and added local spices, including cinnamon and black pepper. They’ve then combined this with the seafood dishes eaten in places like the Maldives.