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The Ultimate Guide to Food in Sri Lanka

Author: Charlotte Boswell

Influenced by historical, cultural and geographical factors, Sri Lankan food is not only delicious but also diverse. This tropical island located in the Indian Ocean has access to an array of fresh seafood, exotic spices and local fruit and vegetables. Cuisine has been shaped by previous European settlers, neighbouring India and varying Sri Lankan groups, resulting in a melting-pot of gastronomy. Sri Lanka offers many delicious dishes unique to this beautiful island; if you are planning a holiday to Sri Lanka we recommend trying the following foods.

Curry & Rice

Sri Lanka’s signature dish, curry and rice, can be found in just about every café and restaurant throughout the country. Unlike the classic curries of neighbouring India, typical Sri Lankan sauces are made from coconut milk infused with chillies, cardamom, turmeric, lemongrass and pandan leaves and resemble more South East Asian style curries than Indian. The curry generally includes a serving of meat, fish or vegetables and is often accompanied by pickles, rotis, dhal, salads and sambol, making it a delicious and memorable experience. Styles of curry also vary region to region, for example Northern Sri Lankan curries are often dark red in appearance due to the use of tamarind and chilli paste by Tamils, whereas Sinhalese are partial to add curried jackfruit.

Short Eats

Short eats are essentially the Sri Lankan’s version of snacks. Originating from the idea of classic afternoon tea that was bought over by the Europeans, the various savoury snacks known as short eats have been influenced by the different nationalities that have left their mark on Sri Lankan cuisine. One particularly popular short eat is a vadai, a classic Tamil delicacy that is now eaten all over the country and comprises of a spicy flattened donut made of deep-friend orange lentils and curry leaves. Various street food vendors have taken their own spin on the snack, for example in Galle they are served with three grilled prawns on top. Other popular short eats throughout Sri Lanka include spicy samosas, puff pastry pies filled with curried meat, fish and potato cutlets and fluffy buns packed with sausage and sweet onion relish.

Fresh Seafood 

As you’d expect from an island nation in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka offers a wonderful array of fresh seafood. From the celebrated lagoon mud crab to tiger prawns, lobster and cuttlefish there are bountiful options to try Sri Lanka’s tantalising shellfish. Crab is much-loved in Sri Lanka and you will find many fantastic restaurants serving their own take on this delicious crustacean in Colombo or on the coast. Some of Sri Lanka’s favourite styles of cooking crab include a local crab curry, black pepper and coconut crab or even a spicy crab hot pot. Common fresh fish found on Sri Lankan menus include mullet, tuna and butterfish which are usually simply grilled or barbecued, a wonderful beach dining experience, or added to traditional curries.

Dhal Curry

Parippu, or dhal curry, is said to be the most common curry in Sri Lankan cuisine. Split red lentils (masoor dhal) are the basis for this dish which are initially cooked in coconut milk. Separately, onions, tomatoes and fresh green chilies are sautéed and spices such as cumin, turmeric, fenugreek,  mustard seeds and curry leaves are all added to make an aromatic and flavourful base. The ingredients are then combined with a splash of creamy coconut milk that gives the curry a classic creamy and rich texture. Parippu is a must-try when in Sri Lanka and can be found in most restaurants. Try it with some rice, coconut sambol and a freshly baked roti. 

Crab Seafood Prawn Lobster Rice Sri Lanka Cuisine Food Beach
Sri Lankan crab
Sri Lanka Curry Rice Thali Roti Sambol Dish Food Cuisine
Sri Lankan curry condiments

Kottu Roti

After hearing the rhythmic clank of metal on metal over the traffic and noise of Sri Lanka, you’ll know that kottu roti isn’t far away. The ultimate Sri Lankan street food, kottu roti comprises of shredded roti bread, a traditional wheat flour flat bread, that is mixed together with vegetables, meat, egg, spices and garlic on a flat iron skillet using two metal cleavers, topped with a spicy curry sauce. You’ll find this classic speciality all over the country sold in markets and street cafes that use their leftover ingredients from the day in this dish. It is quite mesmerising seeing how kottu is made; each cook has their own unique way of shredding the roti and creating their own music when mixing, a definite must-see.


There is a strong Dutch Burgher culture throughout Sri Lanka which has influenced the country’s cuisine. The dish of lamprais originates from the Dutch words ‘lump’ and ‘rice’ and is traditional Burgher delicacy that can be found in local markets and roadsides all over Sri Lanka. A lamprais is made up of rice infused with cardamom, clove and cinnamon cooked in a meat stock and sambol chilli sauce all wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. The filling includes delicious frikkadels, which are Dutch-style meatballs, a spoonful of curry and either some plantain or aubergine. Traditionally the frikkadel balls are made from beef, pork or lamb, however modem recipes also incorporate chicken or egg.


After tea plantations were first introduced by the British in the late 1800s, Sri Lanka has established itself as one of the world’s most prominent tea producing countries and is the fourth largest producer globally. The central highlands provide sloping terrain which offer the perfect conditions and eco-system for growing high-quality tea. Sri Lankan tea, otherwise known as Ceylon tea, is the preferred refreshment throughout the country and will be offered in restaurants, local’s homes and at social gatherings. Black tea is the most common tea in terms of production and exportation and is very pure and clean, green tea is also becoming more popular to harvest, whereas white tea is the most unique and expensive in Sri Lanka. There are many tea plantations and heritage properties throughout Central Sri Lanka that you can visit, learn about tea production and experience some high tea tasting.

Sour Fish Curry

Sour fish curry, or known locally as fish ambul thiyal, originated in Southern Sri Lanka. Traditionally it was a recipe to preserve fresh fish and is now one of the country’s most popular dishes. The much-loved sour fish curry uses a firm fish such as tuna and is cubed and then marinated in a blend of spices including turmeric, cinnamon, garlic, black pepper and pandan and curry leaves. Dried goraka, which is perhaps the most significant ingredient of the dish, a small tamarind-like fruit is added and gives the fish its distinctive sour flavour. This particular curry is a dry dish, so the ingredients are simmered with a small amount of water until the liquid is reduced and then usually served with rice and roti.

Kottu Roti Bread Street Food Sri Lanka
Kottu roti
Tea pickers in hills of Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan tea leaves
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No trip to Sri Lanka is complete without tasting one of Sri Lanka’s classic dishes; hoppers. These bowl-shaped pancakes are made from a batter of fermented rice flour and coconut milk and are fried in a miniature wok to create crispy edges and a soft base. The quintessential way to eat hoppers in Sri Lanka is for breakfast where they are filled with a fried egg and garnished with sambol and black pepper. Alternatively, they can be served with curry or coconut sambol. The string hopper is another version which consists of a much thicker dough that is passed through a special press which produces thin rice noodles. They are then steamed and stacked into nests and served with delicious curries such as a coconut milk potato curry.


Kiribath is a traditional Sri Lankan rice dish that is often served during special occasions and celebrations such as Sinhalese New Year. Although kiribath can be served in different ways, the basis of the dish is always the same; the rice is boiled and then thick coconut milk is added which gives the dish a creamy and sticky consistency. When the rice is ready, it is cut into wedges are served like slices of cake. One popular serving option is to garnish the kiribath with curry or lunu miris, a sambol chilli sauce made from red chillies, lemon juice, onions and dry Maldive fish which is a bonito tuna fish that’s dried in the sun and shredded. Alternatively, kiribath can be sweetened with jaggery, a local cane sugar, and a treacle coconut filling. 

Sri Lankan Coconut 

The coconut, or pol as known in Sri Lanka, is one of the country’s major plantation crops and plays a very important role within traditional Sri Lankan life.  It is used for construction as well as in medicinal, beauty and household products and of course is a staple ingredient of their cuisine. One of Sri Lanka’s most common side dishes is pol sambol, a spicy coconut relish that is served throughout the country to accompany curry, roti, hoppers or any other meal. The classic sambol comprises of finely grated coconut, red onions, dried whole chilies, lime juice and salt which are finely diced and mixed together. Pol roti, a coconut flat bread, is another traditional staple and serves as the perfect accompaniment to mopping up curry sauce or dipping in some spicy sambol. These sweet flat breads are made with freshly grated coconut, maize flour and salt and you can watch street food vendors whipping these up in under 10 minutes. Sri Lankans also often add desiccated coconut to desserts and sweets; one favourite is saravita is a luminous-coloured cone of shredded coconut wrapped in a green betel leaf which can be found in local markets. 

Egg Hoppers String Hoppers Sri Lanka Food Cuisine
Egg hoppers
Coconuts Sri Lanka Local Woman
Local woman selling coconuts
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