A Complete Guide: Food in Sri Lanka

I don’t know about you, but one of my first search on Google, when I travel to another country, is “What to eat in…”. I can call myself a foodie, but I also call myself a vegetarian, which makes it a bit more difficult. So, let me walk you through the must-try food in Sri Lanka.

Breakfast

Rice & Curry

Of course, the signature Sri Lankan dish. And yes, curry for breakfast. If you’ve been to India before you might find it quite similar. The difference is that in Sri Lanka they use a lot of coconut milk when they cook the vegetables, which gives a slightly different flavor. Usually, you will get a plate with rice, 2 curries, 2 salads, and papadam. These are the curries you can expect:

Dahl curry

Red lentils cooked in coconut milk with spices.

Potato/sweet potato curry

Potatoes cooked in coconut milk with spices, curry leaves, and onion.

Egg curry

A whole hard-boiled egg in spicy gravy.

Ambarella curry

This one is a bit sweet and sour because of the fruit they use, ambarella. It’s very tasty, but a bit annoying to eat the fruit because it’s very fibrous.

Beetroot curry

Absolutely delicious. Sweet and spicy at the same time.

Fish/ meat curry

This one is different than the veggie curries because it’s not cooked in coconut milk, but in water gravy.

Pani Pol ( Sri Lankan Pancakes)

This was one of my favorites for breakfast. The pancake batter is made out of wheat flour, coconut milk, eggs, and turmeric and the filling is shredded coconut mixed with palm tree syrup and spices. Sometimes you might even find it with banana as well.

String Hoppers

This is a tricky one. String hoppers are literally long and thin steamed rice noodles. And that’s about it because you have to mix it with curry or other dishes. Now what you really want to try is string hoppers filled with the same mix as the pancakes.

Sambol (with coconut roti)

This was my number one choice for breakfast while in Sri Lanka.

Sambol is a mix of shredded coconut, diced onion, diced tomato, chili, and lime juice. It’s absolutely delicious to have it on top of a coconut roti (a kind of bread made of coconut, rice flour, and water). For extra flavor, you can even add butter on top of the roti.

Coconut sambol (the red mix on the left) with dahl and plain string hoppers.

Lunch

Rice & Curry (yes, again)

Rice and curry with dahl, coleslaw salad, ladyfingers, and papadam.

Fried Rice

Same like rice & curry, you can have it almost every time of the day. The dish is quite basic, rice with vegetables and meat or fish.

Dinner

You guessed it: Rice & Curry

Seafood

At night, you will see many restaurants displaying the catch of the day. My recommendation is to try the coral fish.

Kottu (or Kottu Rotti)

This was my all-time favorite in Sri Lanka and it’s probably the most basic food I’ve ever had. When the time for dinner is coming, you will start hearing everywhere near local restaurants the clanking of metal on metal. This means kottu is being served. This dish is a mix of chopped rotti bread, vegetables and egg or meat.

Egg Hoppers

Surprisingly, this is a dinner food, but for me and probably for all foreigners, this looks more like a breakfast one. Basically, the egg hopper is a bowl made out of an egg. You can either have it with coconut sambol or plain.

Drinks

What most locals drink are tea, fresh fruit juices, coconut water, and ginger beer. You can find them anywhere at very low prices. But there are a few things to know before:

  1. Coffee is bad

If you plan on grabbing a coffee somewhere on the street, expect a watery drink with coffee flavor. If you want a real coffee, you will probably find it at your hotel.

2. They use a lot of sugar

And I mean a lot. Teas and fresh juices are extra sweet unless you tell them not to put sugar.

3. Don’t drink water that doesn’t come from a bottle.

Water in Sri Lanka is very unsafe. Drink only bottled water if you don’t want to ruin your holiday.

4. They only have bottled ginger beer

Whenever we were in the mood for it, we were buying EGB (Elephant Ginger Beer) and it was always a great way to refreshen ourselves.

5. Lime juice is more popular than water.

I’m saying this because you will need a drink that really works when you will be dealing with those high temperatures. They make it with either sugar or salt, but don’t forget to ask it on the side.

6. The actual price of beer is 180LKR (0,91€).

The right price for a 750ml Lion beer bottle is 180LKR if you buy it at the liquor store. If you’re buying it in a bar, it shouldn’t be more than 500LKR. I’m saying this because someone tried to trick us and we were asked 750LKR for a small beer.

Must-try

Wood apple juice

The wood apple is a fruit you can try only in Southeast Asia. It looks a bit like a small rock and has a hard shell. The taste resembles something fermented. I tried it both from the shell and as a juice. To be honest, I didn’t like it at all when I tried it from the shell but loved it as a juice.

Wood apple
By Seisfeldt at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Jayantanth using CommonsHelper., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8711348

Arrack

Alcohol is quite expensive in Sri Lanka, due to the fact that it’s a Muslim country. But you can still find it at liquor stores and bars. Arrack is a fermented drink made out of coconut palms. For me, it resembled the taste of rum. You can find arrack bottles for around 1,500-2,000LKR (7,5-10€).

Personal Opinion

I’m going to be honest: I was not impressed by Sri Lankan cuisine.

If you can try dozens of different kind of curries in India, here you have the same 10-15. At some point, you don’t want to see any more curry in your plate.

I didn’t feel there was much variety, especially for breakfast. I also felt like they didn’t know how to properly cook seafood. The fish was either too cooked, or almost raw. The best fish I had was at Amuura Beach House, where not only the fish but everything was delicious. We’ve spent 1 month and a half eating only amazing food cooked by chef Ashan.

If you’re planning to visit Sri Lanka, Amuura Beach House is one of the best places where you can stay and enjoy the beach in your garden. Check out their prices and availability here.

Use this link to get a $15 discount on your next reservation on Booking.com.

Booking.com

I barely had any good sweets. I found most of them oily, deep-fried, and with a lot of treacle ( a syrup made out of palm trees). The only one I liked is called Dodol and it’s cooked with coconut and jaggery or sugar.

dodol in sri lanka
By santi_andrini – Jenang’s Salesman, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7128284

Keep in touch,

A.

If you’re curious about Sri Lanka, check my review about Anuradhapura, Dambulla, and Sigiriya and why I’m not recommending these places.

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Food in Sri Lanka

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