Sri Lankan Cuisine: What to Try on Your Visit to the Island
With its warm spice-infused meats, tantalising aromas, piping hot rice, and roast paan; Sri Lankan food is a weary traveler’s panacea. Unlike a number of other international cuisines, local food in this teardrop shaped island is rich, spicy, and a delightful assault on the senses – in the best possible way. With everyday staples such as string hoppers, milk rice, kottu, and those famous avurudu (Sinhalese and Tamil New Year) sweetmeats, Sri Lanka is a must-visit if you’re looking for a foodie adventure unlike any other.
While local and international restaurant and hotel chains here cook up mean fast food and a range of continental fine-dining options, the list below will focus on local meals and dishes you absolutely cannot miss out on. Beyond our breathtaking, mist-shrouded hills, golden coasts and beaches, the dishes we prepare are filled with more than just spice and heat. We pack in the love and warmth characteristic of our people into our food; a secret ingredient you can’t pick up anywhere but in the humid city streets of Colombo.
Comprising of chopped up godhamba rotti, your meat of choice and a bevy of vegetables and spices, kottu is a popular and quintessentially Lankan dish. Avidly consumed after a night out in Colombo’s glittering pubs and nightclubs, kottu is purchased and ravenously consumed in lines of cars parked outside the ubiquitous Pilawoos, a giant in the local street food industry. Often enthusiastically consumed with generous servings of melted cheese, the tender slivers of rotti together with spice infused meats, hit gastronomical sweet-spots from start to finish. Add-ons include either cheese or palandi, a form of thick curd added to your kottu. Both are must trys!
Kiribath (milk rice)
Like the name plainly suggests, this dish basically comprises of milk-soaked rice. Traditionally prepared for the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year or just about any mildly momentous occasion, kiribath is a favourite in the heart of just about any bona fide Sri Lankan. With a slightly soggy consistency, this dish is not complete without an accompaniment of spicy sambol or meat curries, balancing out the texture and flavour, to produce a winning combination. Despite being slightly cooling, the true danger of this dish is simply that you can’t stop going back for more.
Pro tip: avoid eating copious quantities of this dish before any important meetings or events; you’re guaranteed to fall asleep in a food-coma induced stupor.
Heralded by the sound of the cuckoo calling, the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year is an auspicious cultural celebration for majoritarian ethnic communities in Sri Lanka. Celebrated in mid-April every year, one of the hallmarks of this period is the honeyed local sweetmeats prepared in almost every household. Consisting of a range of crispy kokis, soft and sugary kavum, crunchy aasmi and more, it would be a waste to visit the country during in April and miss out on this diabetes-inducing goodness.
Popularly referred to as Sri Lankan pancakes, this is probably the best way to describe this flaky delight, despite many differences between the two. Looking like a flaky, edible bowl at first glance, hoppers are made entirely of flour and are popularly prepared either plain, with egg or with milk. While each of these possess its distinct taste and appeal, an absolute winner at Sri Lankan dinner parties are piping hot egg hoppers, consumed together with a spicy chicken or pork curry. Do this, followed by enthusiastic baila dancing in sarong, and congratulations! You’re officially a bona fide Sri Lankan uncle.
Rice and Curry
While rice and curry is not an inherently Lankan thing, per se, nobody does this better than Sri Lankans and therefore warrants an entry on this list. Freely available in just about every nook and corner of the country, rice and curry is sometimes the staple breakfast, lunch AND dinner of many Sri Lankans. Such is our obsession with rice and well prepared curries. Not to forget the pappadum, of course! Best eaten when it’s hot and fresh off the pot, rice and curry can be modulated to your preference and eaten with any range (or number) of curries! If you find yourself roaming the streets of the country and are ravenous for a heart and substantial meal, simply walk to the closest buth kade and prepare for an delightful explosion of all your tastebuds!