Sri Lankan food is a melting pot of cultural influences and flavours, fusing fiery spices with sweet tropical fruits, fresh ocean fish and healing Ayurvedic herbs. The Tri team have eaten our way along the length and breadth of Sri Lanka and narrowed this down to the top 10 dishes which every traveller must taste – it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it! Read on for our highlights…
Crisp and lacy-edged pancakes made with fermented rice flour, bowl-shaped hoppers are surely the most iconic Sri Lankan dish. Traditionally served for breakfast, our favourite hoppers are served with a golden-yoked egg and generous helpings of sweet onion seeni sambol and fiery lunu miris.
Flavoured with fragrant spices, fiery chillies and black pepper and sweet-sour tamarind, curries are perhaps the most famous Sri Lankan food. The humble Parippou (otherwise known as dhal) is king of the curries: mild and creamy, the perfect foil to hearty meat or vegetable curries and sweet sambols.
A pale green-to-yellow fruit, jack fruit is a staple in Sri Lankan cookery. The fruit takes on a convincingly meaty texture as it cooks and soaks up all the surrounding spices and flavours, making it the ideal base for a delicious vegetarian — or vegan — curry.
The ultimate quick and tasty meal, kottu roti is a delicious, spicy dish formed of flaky roti bread, which is shredded and quickly fried up with spices, fresh vegetables, meat or fish on a hot, flat grill. Travelling through regional towns and villages, you’ll often hear the rhythmic metal clacking sound of Kottu Roti being prepared. Fast, fresh and delicious!
Another common Sri Lankan breakfast option, string hoppers are a far cry from their bowl-shaped cousins. These hoppers are a tangle of rice noodles, steamed and piled high with curries — a little like a savoury noodle pancake!
Served sizzling hot and wrapped in newspaper, ‘short eats’ are quick afternoon snacks sold to hungry passers-by at roadside stalls up and night markets and down the country. Our favourite is a fresh fritter called a vadai – a lentil-based dumpling, fried until crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside, dotted with spices and fresh corn or flavoursome shrimp.
Ambul means ‘sour’, and ambul thiyal is a fittingly hearty fish curry which strikes a perfect balance between sour tamarind, sweet coconut milk and fragrant spice. Our fish is always fresh from the ocean or our very own Koggala Lake, and the curry is served with myriad accompaniments including coconut pol sambol and fresh mallum made from shredded greens.
Credit: Nick Hopper
BUFFALO CURD & TREACLE
Thick and creamy buffalo curd, paired with sweet kithul palm treacle, makes for a delicious start to the day. Add some colour with vibrant local pineapple, mango, papaya and banana, or try Tri’s famous buffalo curd ice cream, served with homemade granola!
Of all the bright and colourful fruits used in Sri Lankan food, the wood apple is not going to win any beauty contests. The small, hard, ball-shaped fruits have a tough rind and curious scent, but the smooth and sweet brown pulp aids digestion, tastes delicious and can be used in tangy chutneys, or blended with water and jaggery to make a refreshing juice.
With so many delicious savoury dishes In Sri Lankan food, there’s rarely any room for dessert! One exception, however, is watalappan: a wobbly custard pudding akin to pannacotta, made with coconut milk infused with sweet jaggery, crunchy cashew nuts and fragrant spices including cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Finally — no meal in Sri Lanka would be complete without an amber-toned cup of the finest Ceylon tea. The national drink is grown throughout the country, along the coast and in the lush and mist-draped central highlands, picked by hand and carefully sorted and dried to produce a refreshing, fragrant brew: the ultimate taste of Sri Lanka.