No trip to Sri Lanka is complete without diving headfirst into the country’s cuisine. Though Sri Lankan food is not as well-known as neighbouring India's, this small island country packs a ferocious punch in the kitchen. Richly spiced food and unique dishes bursting with flavour will have you following your nose — and stomach — around the whole county.
1. "Rice and curry"
The country’s number one staple, this dish is more a category of dishes: heaping piles of rice combined with a variety of curries makes up the quintessential Sri Lanka eating experience. Depending on where you order, you may get rice and three or four curry dishes — or you may luck out and get more than a dozen. The dish is plated with the heaping pile of often-refillable rice in the middle, and curries circling the edges — like your own personal buffet.
2. Hoppers (Aappa/Appam)
Holy hoppers! Available as street food as well as on restaurant menus, this iconic snack consists of rice flour and coconut milk, poured into a bowl-shaped pan and fried into a round bread that resembles a pancake; crack an egg inside, and you've got yourself an egg hopper. Most hoppers are served with sambol (spicy chilli paste) or pol sambol (spicy coconut and chilli garnish). Hoppers are often served with breakfast, too, and are great for dipping into dhal.
3. "Short eats"
Eating street food just about anywhere in East and South East Asia is one of the best culinary adventures in the world, and Sri Lankan street food — known as "short eats — is no exception: Around nearly every, corner someone is dicing, flipping, and frying up something good. It may not be healthy, but it’s just too good to ignore. "Short eats" basically refer to hand-held snacks that can be quickly gobbled up, which are commonly served to guests during tea. The most common ones are triangle-shaped roti, stuffed with curried veggies, meat, and/or eggs; fried vegetables, fish, or egg rolls; meat and vegetable patties; and vadas, which are mini lentil donuts. Pro tip: these are all great for bus and train journeys..
4. Kottu roti
Kottu roti is almost like a bread stir fry: a roti skin is placed on a grill and chopped, along with spices and vegetables, and — depending on your palate — eggs, cheese and meat, until it has been transformed into something completely new. Another quintessential Sri Lankan eat, kottu roti is ubiquitous — in fact, it’s Sri Lanka’s national dish.
5. Pol sambol
You might start wishing this little side dish accompanied your every meal. The good thing is that it’s served as a garnish for many meals and often accompanies rice and curry. Coconut, chilli, and lime are mixed together and chopped to prepare a fluffy, spicy, tangy snack that basically goes on top of anything. Pol sambol is a celebration of simplicity: it's made of simple ingredients, is simple to make, and the taste is simply drool-worthy.
6. Dhal (Parippu)
Sri Lanka’s most common curry, dhal, is a spicy lentil curry you'll find literally everywhere. Delicate, sometimes soupy or creamy, richly spiced and often fiery, dhal is more than food; it’s a dish that soothes the soul. One of the best ways of eating it is for breakfast, when a piping hot bowl will be served with some type of bread. Dip the bread into the golden yellow mixture of goodness, and savour the taste as it slowly leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy.
7. Young jackfruit Curry (polos)
I was unsure what to expect the first time I had jackfruit curry. A versatile food, jackfruit is delicious when eaten fresh, and equally so when cooked. It also makes a great meat-replacement: when cooked, its texture is similar to braised meat. You’ll commonly find jackfruit curry as a side dish in Sri Lanka.
Hungry for some kottu roti? Check out our small group tours to Sri Lanka here.