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If you’re after a diverse and delicious culinary paradise, then welcome to Sri Lanka, where the food is comprised of fresh local ingredients, sizzling spices and traditional recipes. A unique blend of Dutch, Portuguese, English, Arab, Malay and Indian influence informs the country’s best loved dishes. Read on to discover more about what you can expect from Sri Lankan cuisine, including the incredible curries
Our favourite Sri Lankan dishes
A visit to Sri Lanka isn’t an authentic one without trying Kottu Roti! This stir fry dish, in essence, originated as a simple way of dealing with leftovers. Pieces of roti bread are combined with finely shredded vegetables, meat, soy sauce, spices, ginger and garlic. Wander along any food market in the evening and you’re bound to come across this Sri Lankan street food classic, which makes use of the final scraps of the day.
The Dutch traders of the 17 th century left their mark on Sri Lankan food in the form of Lamprais, which literally translates as ‘lump rice’. These days, the unique dish consists of boiled eggs, aubergine, meat, vegetables, sambol and rice. This combination of food is typically infused with cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, and then baked slowly in a banana leaf parcel.
Again, the mouth-watering desserts you’ll discover in Sri Lanka often have roots in Portuguese or Dutch recipes. Whilst they are now considered a traditional Sri Lankan recipe themselves, Kokis (crispy and sweet biscuits) are a prime example of a culinary influence left by the Dutch. They are typically presented in a decorative shape and are enjoyed during Singhala and Tamil New Year. Similarly, breudher is a lovely, buttery yeast cake eaten at Christmas, which has Dutch origins. The influence of the Portuguese can be thanked for the prevalence and popularity of love cake in Sri Lanka. This sweet and spicy cake contains semolina, cashews, honey and rosewater, and definitely satisfies those with a sweet tooth.
Our favourite Sri Lankan restaurant
The Gallery Café – housed in the former offices of world-renowned Sri Lankan architect, the late Geoffrey Bawa, the restaurant is internationally acclaimed and a must-visit for anyone visiting the city of Colombo. The menu offers both local and international cuisine and the dessert menu includes over 30 choices, with a focus on chocolate. Besides the delicious food, Paradise Road Galleries features monthly rotating exhibitions by established and emerging local artists.
Vegetarian & vegan advice
Sri Lankans tend to be very considerate of vegetarians and vegans and will accommodate as best they can. In fact, many traditional Sri Lankan dishes are meat free – meaning you won’t miss out on the delectable cuisine!
Before serving and eating a meal, it is basic Sri Lankan etiquette that you wash your hands. It’s also expected that you eat with your hands, more specifically, with your right hand. As a tourist, you will be offered cutlery but if you wish to eat like a local, use the fingertips of your right hand to mix the food. Don’t attempt to eat with your entire hand, neither should you lick your fingers afterwards – regardless of how tasty and satisfying your meal has been! If you are fortunate enough to be offered homecooked food, as a guest, it is gracious to leave a little bit of food on your plate to indicate when you don’t want a second serving.
A few key phrases
There are some great translation apps you can download before you go that will make eating out in Sri Lanka that little bit easier (iTranslate, Google Translate etc.). Alternatively, we’ve put together a few basic Sri Lankan phrases which will come in handy:
- A table for (two) please – meja untuk (dua) orang
- Can I have the bill please – tolong bawa bil
- I don’t eat meat – saya tak suka makan daging
For even more Sri Lanka travel tips, head to our travel guide below.