What to Eat in Sri Lanka

It took me a while to reach my food peak in Sri Lanka.  And to be honest our first week of eating (apart from in the capital, Colombo) I was pretty non-plussed.  In that first week we were in the hill country (Kandy and Ella) and then on safari in Udawale (which is in the middle of nowhere) – and for whatever reason, they were feeding tourists pretty basic stuff in these places. Or maybe I didn’t look hard enough.

However, as soon as we hit the coastal resorts of Tangalle, Mirissa and Galle – our food experiences rocketed, and we ate an awesome array of interesting curries (including banana flower and tamarind root) and great rotis and hoppers (more on what they are below), and I came away excited for more Sri Lankan food experiences.

I’m going to talk you through the different dishes we had, starting with the hoppers:

Hoppers

They are a kind of crater shaped pancake made with rice flour and coconut milk.  Fillings vary from savoury to sweet, but the most popular are cheese, egg and curries or if you’re going sweet there’s nutella, ice-cream of fruit fillings.

sri lanka An egg hopper, a cheese hopper and a roti wrap
An egg hopper, a cheese hopper and a roti wrap

Lassis

I think you’ve probably all heard of lassis – a delicious yoghurty milkshake.  We had some crackers out there.

Banana lassi

Fruit Juices

I became obsessed with juices in Sri Lanka. Every day was an opportunity to sample a new variety, favourites included:

  • passion fruit
  • mango
  • papaya
  • watermelon, mint and ginger
Passion fruit juice

Fruit Platters

I decided to go on a bit of a health kick in Sri Lanka.  This still involved booze every night, but other than that I stuck to a light breakfast, and a modest lunch and dinner, with no snacks (unheard of for me).  Fortunately the astonishing fruit we would have for breakfast every morning made ‘light breakfasts’ a breeze – I never felt I was missing out.

Enough fruit for two?

Kottu

Kottu is a bit like egg fried rice, but instead of rice, there’s chopped up roti (flatbread) thrown in instead.  You could have pretty much any variety of kottu – whether that was egg, cheese, fish, chicken, veg. I don’t think it was the most healthy thing we ate on our trip, but it was brilliant comfort food – full of spice and heat and flavour – and it was the meal that no matter how poor the options were in a restaurant, we knew it would be tasty.  In fact, if you need another comparison, it was a bit like a Sri Lankan take on bubble and squek.

Chicken kottu

Rotis

Rotis are basically flatbread, but we ate them in so many different versions including the kottu which I just described.  I personally was a big fan of just a plain coconut roti, maybe with a spicy sauce to dip it in.  Another options was a samosa type roti filled with potato curry – a cold version of this was sold at pretty much every corner shop in Sri Lanka and rightly so – it was a tasty 20p snack! Another clever adaption was a roti wrap – whatever filling you desire wrapped in a roti and fried on a griddle pan – I tried a prawn, egg and tomato number which was a winner.

Unusual Curries

We certainly had some nice curries on our travels – veg curries, seafood curries, but until we got to the colonial town of Galle, we hadn’t had anything that seemed that unusual or particular to Sri Lanka. But in Galle we had two magnificent and very local curry experiences.

First there was Coconut Sambal – a dinky little place that only seated about 10 people. They offered an all you can eat buffet of curries all served in 6 clay pots (for about £5 a head).  We were given an little basket tray with a plastic sheet to put our food on and off we went.  The curries were: chicken, ‘meat’, mango, dal, banana and aubergine and there was coconut sambal for sprinkling (a spicy grated coconut mix). It was a delicious meal and I loved that it was a tiny little authentic set up – it felt cosy and fun. And the mango was curry was a revelation – I’ve had mango chutney – but this was a hot juicy curry – it was beautiful and really complimented the other dishes.

Sri Lanka Coconut Sambal
Coconut Sambal
Sri Lanka Curry in a basket at Coconut Sambal
Curry in a basket at Coconut Sambal

The second destination was not as interactive and fun as Coconut Sambal – but Lucky Fort Restaurant served the most extraordinary food. We paid £15 between us and received ten curries to share (with rice).  It was an unusual line up and I’d struggle to choose the most delicious, but I think their stewed mango may have won again.  These were the curries:

  1. Chicken
  2. Stewed mango
  3. Banana flower
  4. Tamarind root
  5. Green beans
  6. Pumpkin
  7. Sweet potatoes
  8. Crispy aubergines like crispy onions
  9. Dal
  10. Okra

I would go back to Sri Lanka just to have this meal again. It was such a unique and tasty experience.

Sri Lanka The ten curry bonanza at Lucky Fort
The ten curry bonanza at Lucky Fort

Bad Food Experiences

The stuff I was less wowed by – any food that was ‘devilled’ – menus always offered devilled chicken or beef or prawns – basically a lame version of sweet and sour.

Anything involving packaged white bread (which was quite a lot).  Sri Lankans eat roti not this pap, but I guess tourists often want home comforts.

Any attempts at salad were pretty hilarious, usually involved a few tomatoes, lettuce and some rubbery meat. I mean I should have known better really – Sri Lankans don’t eat salads themselves, so why would they be good at salads?

Inspiration

I was very inspired by the Sri Lankan food so we will be attempting to create some of these lovely dishes by trying recipes from the brilliant Weligama cookbook by Emily Dobbs.  Watch this space as I may even blog about our attempts!

Sri Lanka Weligama Cookbook
Weligama Cookbook

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