For a small country, Sri Lanka’s cuisine is one of the most flavoursome and unique in the world. The food here is influenced by the country’s melting pot culture, which is incredibly diverse – as well as Sinhalese and Tamil elements, there are Burgher, Malay, Moor and Chetty influences here.
Coconut milk features a lot in Sri Lankan food, along with a variety of rich spices and local fruits and vegetables. Given that this is an island, you’re likely to see a lot of seafood on menus, though Sri Lankan cuisine offers plentiful options for gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan diets, too.
Coupled with our Top 10 Sri Lanka experiences, we’ve put together a list of essential eats – things you simply can’t miss on your holiday to Sri Lanka – alongside a selection of our favourite restaurants on the island. So, read on for our mouth-watering guide, which we’re sure will inspire a trip to the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ sooner rather than later…
The quintessential Sri Lankan street food, kottu (also known as kottu roti) consists of strips of godamba roti stir-fried with egg, a combination of spices and meat or fish. Watching the making of kottu is a wonderful sensory experience – the dish is quickly put together using unique metal ‘choppers’ – the sight, smell and sound is unforgettable!
Meaning ‘lump rice’ in Dutch, this staple dish is one of the many signs of the Burgher influence on Sri Lankan culture. This all-in-one meal is usually a combination of rice, curry (often chicken), ash plantain, fried cutlets or frikkadels, sambol and boiled egg, wrapped and infused together in a banana leaf.
These thin and crispy ‘pancake’ bowls are a universal dish – often served for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert! How you eat them is up to you – laden with sambols and chutneys, dipped in curry, with a freshly fried egg (egg hopper), or with a spoonful of jaggery (cane sugar).
Ambul thiyal (sour fish curry)
Though sour fish may not be the most enticing name, this is undoubtedly one of Sri Lanka’s most popular curries. Firm fish (usually tuna) is cooked with spices such as pepper, turmeric, curry leaves and pandan leaves. The addition of dried goraka – a small fruit similar to tamarind – gives the curry its distinctive and moreish flavour.
Parippu (dhal curry)
Extremely common on menus across the island, parippu is creamy, rich and utterly addictive. Vegan-friendly, the dish consists of red lentils, a variety of spices and lots of Sri Lanka’s staple coconut milk. Perfect as an accompaniment, our favourite way to eat parippu is with a fresh roti for dipping!
Polos (green jackfruit curry)
A trendy superfood quickly growing in global popularity, jackfruit has long been used in Sri Lankan cooking; its meat-like texture and starchy quality makes it the perfect addition to a curry. Bite-sized pieces of jackfruit are cooked down until soft and tender, then combined with a variety of spices in a creamy, coconut-rich gravy.
There are many varieties of sambol in Sri Lanka, though pol sambol is one of the most common and easily accessible versions. Made of shredded coconut, shallots, chilli and lime juice, this garnish-style accompaniment is sure to be one of the culinary highlights of your Sri Lankan adventure.
You’ll find a variety of roti in cuisines across the world – from the Indian subcontinent to the Caribbean and Africa. In Sri Lanka you’re likely to come across pol rotis – flatbreads made with flour and fresh coconut – frequently, along with godamba rotis, which are used in kottu and often function as a wrap.
With a texture similar to very thin noodles, string hoppers – or idiyappam – are made with a thick rice flour mixture which is pressed through a mould and steamed into noodle cakes. A great alternative to rice as a curry accompaniment, string hoppers feature on breakfast and dinner menus.
Wambatu moju (eggplant pickle)
In Sri Lanka, the words aubergine, eggplant and brinjal all refer to the same vegetable. In this classic dish, aubergine is pickled into a sort of relish – sweet, spicy and slightly sour at the same time. This is a fairly universal accompaniment to a lot of Sri Lankan dishes.
Inspiring Restaurant Recommendations
Ministry of Crab (Colombo)
Named one of the Top 25 Asian Restaurants in 2018, this stylish institution serves some of the island’s best crab, alongside an array of other superb dishes and accompaniments.
Royal Bar & Hotel (Kandy)
The historic atmosphere alone would be enough to visit this place, but there’s also a lovely international menu to peruse.
Tuna is a speciality at this world-renowned Japanese restaurant (named in the Top 50 Asian Restaurants 2018); Tuna Bone Sashimi is a firm favourite, but the Wagyu burger is also sensational.
Barefoot Café (Colombo)
Part of the Barefoot shop, the relaxed vibe here is complemented by excellent food; don’t miss the Black Pork Curry, and on Sundays enjoy the jazz lunch.
Dining on Wheels (Nuwara Eliya)
Served by the ‘train captain’, your eight-course meal at this unique railway carriage restaurant will be a truly superb experience.
A Minute by Tuk Tuk (Galle)
Grab a table on the deck at this seaside restaurant to enjoy a signature prawn curry, or treat yourself to an excellent burger.
Discover 150 different ways to order your seafood at Cinnamon Grand’s lively restaurant!
Il Mare (Tangalle)
Enjoy award-winning and authentic Italian fare at Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle’s elegant restaurant, complete with clifftop deck.
Gallery Café at Paradise Road (Colombo)
Within Paradise Road, one of Colombo’s most iconic shops, Gallery Café’s menu features a variety of international dishes.
The Tuna & The Crab (Galle)
At Dharshan Munidasa’s third restaurant (after Ministry of Crab and Nihonbashi), you’ll find a hybrid best-of-both; local ingredients are cooked with Japanese techniques
Are your taste buds tingling? To experience all this Sri Lankan cuisine and more on a fantastic Indian Ocean holiday, simply get in touch with our team for a bespoke quote.