The Gastronomy of Sri Lanka

If you are vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian and you love spicy food – Sri Lanka will be the gastronomic heaven for you. The variety of vegetables, the creativity of preparation and their cooking skills, combined with amazingly tasty and delicious spices, such as curcuma, curry, cinnamon, cardamom, chili, ginger – result in an irresistible fusion.

If you are a meat-lover, do not worry either – almost everywhere they serve chicken or mutton curry too. At the touristy places the options are even more wide for you too.

What to eat in Sri Lanka for Breakfast

Egg Hoppers

If you have a copy of the Lonely Planet Sri Lanka guide, the first image you will see in the book is a tiny pic about an Egg Hopper. The first moment I have seen that pic, I knew that we need to try this local delight. What I didn’t know is that it’s not that obvious that you’d fine this dish. Let’s say, that in the touristy places – like in Kandy, Galle or Colombo, your chances are higher. Other parts of the island though – it’s not the most common option.

Moreover they also think differently that which part of the day is better to serve it. For a European a combination of rice pancakes with eggs – sounds more like a breakfast dish. Even if they serve to you with lentil curry & coconut sambol. Hence we always asked in the morning hours, and usually they apologised that they don’t serve it in the morning, rather lunch or in the evenings. Sometimes you can find it on the menu – but don’t confuse it with String Hopper – those are completely different things.

We had the chance to taste home made Egg Hoppers by an amazing place at Atulya Villas in Nuwara Eliya. The managers of this fantastic villa were so kind – that even though usually they don’t serve it for breakfast, but once we asked, they prepared for us. It was very tasty – and even it wouldn’t have been, the kind gesture & hospitality that the managers represented towards us already made the experience unforgettable. But nevertheless, these Egg Hoppers were just perfect! Highly recommended!

Coconut Pancakes – Pani Pol

Soft crepes stuffed with a sweet fried coconut filling – these “Pani Pols” are a Sri Lankan classic that we loved eating for breakfast. These Sweet Coconut stuffed crepes are very filling and really quite addictive. Perfect tea-time treat or snack as well.

The best Coconut Pancakes we had the chance to try at Ceylon Resort in Wilpattu. They were fresh, home-made, done by the lady of the house. If you are around, don’t hesitate to choose this place for a night or more.

Coconut sambal

Coconut sambal is one of the well-known dishes among Sri Lankans. People prepare this dish very often for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. But most often it’s served for breakfast with milk-rice or with egg hoppers. It contains fresh coconut, chili, onion, lime & bit of salt. Lovely combination!

Rotti – Pol Roti

Rotti or Pol Roti is a simple, soft Sri Lankan flat bread with a wonderful coconut and chili flavour — perfect for serving with curries or as a snack or breakfast with chutney.

String Hoppers – Idiyappam

Idiyappam is a traditional Sri Lankan and South Indian specialty consisting of rice flour that is squeezed into a press to form thin noodles, that are then steamed before being served. Frankly speaking, they were not our favourites. It’s tasteless by itself, needs a lot of spice and curry to give it a taste. Still the consistency is a bit rare. I would say – it was our less preferred option among the breakfast options.

What to eat in Sri Lanka for Lunch & Dinner

Rice with curry 

Rice and curry is the national dish of the country. Sri Lankan rice and curry consists of hot rice, that is served with a variety of side dishes commonly called curries. There are typically at least three (ideally five) different curries served along with the rice. One of which is usually based on fish or meat, and the other two are based on vegetables.

This specialty is a typical home-cooked dish and an undisputed staple on restaurant menus throughout Sri Lanka. It is enjoyed every day, usually for lunch, although it can also be consumed as a dinner or very rarely as a breakfast, and it is traditionally eaten with hands. To tourist they also give utensils, do not worry.vThere are many recipes in many versions. Here below we list the most common ones.

  • Prawns Curry
  • Chicken Curry
  • Mutton Curry
  • Vegetarian Curry
  • “Wattakka” – Pumpkin Curry
  • “Dahl” – Red Lentil Curry 
  • “Brinjal Pahi” – Eggplant Curry
  • Mango Curry or Chutney

Sri Lankan fried rice

Fried rice is also very common on the menus all around Sri Lanka. It comes with chicken, mutton, prawns or in vegetarian version. Usually served with chili, or chili sauce. Nice and easy choice for both lunch or dinner. 

Kottu roti

Kottu, also known as “Kottu rotti” meaning chopped rotti.  It is a Sri Lankan dish consisting of diced rotti (Sri Lankan flat bread) stir-fried with scrambled egg, onions, chillies, spices, and optional vegetables or meat, such as beef and chicken also occasionally mutton.

Sri Lankan Yellow Dosa – Thosai

Dosa is a large, thin, salty and crispy rice pancake that they fill with many nice and spicy ingredients. It can be eaten as an accompaniment with a variety of meat and vegetable curries too. It is very common in the Tamil territory of the island, on the north.

We have eaten super nice dosas in Jaffna city at Mangos. The place in undoubtedly the best place in town for dinner.

Kadju Badun – Sri Lankan Deviled Cashews

It’s usually eaten as a starter or side dish next to the curries. Either way, it’s delicious, spicy and warm. It’s made with curry leaves, chili & curcuma and fried or roasted on coconut oil. Lovely!

Desserts in Sri Lanka

Curd with honey – Mee kiri

Besides cold fresh fruit, the best thing you can have for dessert is their curd. It is called “Mee kiri“, this is the Sri Lankan curd, traditionally made from buffalo milk. In many villages, the road is lined with open stalls selling curd in earthen pots. It’s definitely worth to stop at one and try it there. But it’s also widely served all around the island as dessert.

The milk’s high fat content gives it the creaminess. The curd is made through natural fermentation, with tiny spoons of old curd added to milk that’s boiled for two hours to reduce the water content, then cooled to room temperature. It’s then sealed with paper and set aside for 12 hours (usually overnight). A part of the secret to this curd’s taste and texture lies in the coarse and porous nature of the baked clay pot (kiri hatti) in which it’s set, which provides natural insulation.

Watalappam

Watalappam is a coconut custard pudding made of coconut milk or condensed milk, jaggery, cashew nuts, eggs, various spices, including cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg.

The dish is believed to have been brought to the country by Sri Lankan Malays in the 18th century, who moved from Indonesia to the country during Dutch rule. The name, Watalappam, could be a corruption of the Tamil words Vattil (cup) and Appam (cake), hence Vatillappam (cup cake). The dish however was originally unknown to the Tamil population. It is more likely that the dessert is derived from a Malay dish known as serikaya, which is a steamed custard made from eggs, coconut milk, palm sugar and pandan or screwpine leaves. The similarity between the two dishes suggests a common origin. It is likely that it is a word borrowed from the Dutch, Vla, which means a custard, and was applied by the Moors as a vernacular name, vattil-appan, using the Tamil phrasing.

The dessert is the favourite of the Sri Lanka’s Muslim community and is a part of a traditional Eid al-Fitr celebrations, marking the end of Ramadan. It is also popular during weddings, religious festivals and other social functions and celebrations.

What to drink in Sri Lanka

Lion Beers – Lager, Stout & Strong

British Planter Sir Samuel Baker decided to establish a home brewery in the cool climes of Nuwara Eliya, although it was in 1881 that the facet of commercial brewing is evidenced, managed by Messrs Bremer and Pa Bavary. Ownership changed in 1884 to Murrey Brewery Company Rawalpindi, who later sold out to Ceylon Brewery, helmed by the pragmatic J B Hampson and later G W Lindsay White, who founded The Ceylon Brewery Limited in 1911.” – you can read further the story here.

Lion beer is the number one beer and an icon in Sri Lanka. The most common one is the Lager, that you can find almost everywhere. Stout & Strong are more rare – but in any liquor shop it’s easy to buy them too.

Ginger beer – With and without alcohol 

We can find ginger beer among the soft drinks with zero alcohol, and there are alcoholic versions similar to normal beers. Both are delicious, amazingly refreshing and spicy thanks to the real ginger that they use. You can also taste it at some restaurants freshly made & of course they are simply the very best.

Arrack 

Arrack is a distilled alcoholic drink typically produced in India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, made from the fermented sap of coconut flowers or sugarcane, and also with grain or fruit depending upon the country of origin. Don’t confuse it with the anise-flavored distilled spirit called arak or araq.

There are two primary styles of Arrack that are very different from one another: 

  • Batavia Arrack is often clear in color but has a flavor profile more similar to dark rum, with a distinctive “funk” or “hogo” imparted to it from fermented red rice. 
  • Ceylon Arrack, by contrast, is a more refined and subtle spirit. It has hints of Cognac and rum character and a wealth of delicate floral notes.

Fresh juices

For breakfast, during the day, as an afternoon snack – drink fresh fruit juice! The varieties are endless, depend only on the available fruits at the store. The most common is the mixed juice, but if you are lucky you can get 100% papaya, mango or even wild apple one.

Fresh coconuts

Like other fresh fruits, as well as fresh coconuts are everywhere in the island. They are the best if they are cold, so feel free to ask the sellers if they have any in the fridge. They usually have. Enjoy!

Fresh aloe vera juice

Aloe vera is a medicinal plant that we can use to treat various health conditions for thousands of years. It’s usually safe to use also vera directly from the plant or you can buy it in gel form. Aloe vera creams, gels, and ointments contain the clear gel found in aloe vera leaves. These products we can apply typically to treat various skin conditions. Aloe is available in capsule or liquid form to take internally to promote health and well-being. But did you know that you can also drink it? Well in Sri Lanka they prepare it! It’s honestly nothing special – very similar to a lemonade. But with many health benefits!

Lassi

Lassis are part of the Indian influence on Sri Lankan cuisine. The most common ones are with Mango, Pineapple, Papaya or Banana. They add three or four pieces of fresh fruit to a lassi. Like most Sri Lankans, usually they prepare it with buffalo curd instead of yoghurt, and they never add sugar. Super tasty!

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