What do you eat in Sri Lanka? typical dishes, tips and curiosities on typical cuisine

Who I am
Lluis Enric Mayans

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

Author and references

One is led to think that Sinhalese cuisine is similar to Indian cuisine. In reality, Sri Lanka has developed its own national cuisine as its heritage and culinary traditions derive from the mixing of local products with recipes and products brought to the island over the centuries by Indians, Arabs, Portuguese, Dutch and British.

The staple dish is curry rice, almost omnipresent, which accompanies meat, fish and vegetables. The basic ingredients are also fish, coconut and fruit. A mix of contrasting flavors, testimony to the fact that, par excellence, this is the spice island.
Sinhalese cuisine is extremely spicy. If you do not like it, it is good to notify the restaurant staff when ordering, or opt for the convenient buffets where there is always something neutral (white rice, grilled chicken).

Street food is an essential part of local cuisine and, traveling around the country, you often come across stalls selling samosas and vadai.

Here are the typical dishes of Sri Lanka.


  1. 10 Typical Sri Lankan dishes
  2. Typical Sri Lankan sweets
  3. Drinks and liqueurs: what people drink in Sri Lanka
  4. Tips and trivia: where to eat and what to avoid
  5. User questions and comments

10 Typical Sri Lankan dishes

1 - Curry and mixed rice

Curry rice is omnipresent, a bit like bread with us. It is available in any cafe or restaurant, it is cheap and nutritious.
By curry we mean a set of spices and fresh aromatic herbs mixed together, to which an inordinate amount of chilli is added.

The rice + curry combination is the basis; then there are many variations. The simplest form involves a mound of rice with a few spoonfuls of vegetable curry, dhal, a piece of chicken or fish on top.
The more sophisticated version instead provides a portion of rice accompanied by at least 7 side dishes, an important meal that is inspired by the Dutch rijsttafe.

Rice and curry you will find it everywhere, get over it, you will start eating it already on the outbound flight and, once you reach your destination, you will be amazed by the fact that the locals already eat it for breakfast!

  • Recommended to: always
  • Average cost: from € 0,50 the basic version, the price increases if you add meat or fish
  • Main ingredients: rice, curry, meat, fish, vegetables

2 - Deviled sweet and sour fish curry

Spicy (or deviled) dishes are also very popular. These dishes usually come prepared with a thick and spicy sauce, large pieces of onion and chilli, where the main ingredient is then cooked immersed in this sauce.

In the specific case of the Devil sweet and sour fish, the fish is fried, then dipped in a sweet and sour sauce, and then fried again along with red onions, peppers and bananas.

Excellent when accompanied with some fried rice or with a paratha (Indian bread similar to focaccia).

  • Recommended to: Lunch Dinner
  • Average cost: € 7,00
  • Main ingredients: fish, onion, chilli

3 - Lamprais

Many traditional dishes have been influenced by the country's colonial past. An example is this dish of Dutch origin.
It is rice boiled in broth accompanied by frikkadels (meatballs), a mixed meat curry, eggplant curry and sambol.

All these ingredients come therefore wrapped in a banana leaf along with various spices including cardamom and cinnamon and baked in the oven. In some versions, eggs, vegetables and pickles are also added.

Considering its richness and the time it takes to cook it, lamprais generally comes prepared for special occasions when a large gathering of friends and family is expected.

  • Recommended to: Lunch Dinner
  • Average cost: € 12,00
  • Main ingredients: rice, meat, eggs

4 - Dhal curry

It is one of the most commonly eaten dishes (already at breakfast). The main ingredient is lentils (daal) that are cooked with coconut milk and transformed, thanks to the addition of curry, into a rich stew that goes perfectly with rice.
It comes in fact often accompanied with boiled rice, with roti (a kind of flatbread) and with naan (focaccia).

Dhal Curry is a very mild curry and nutritious that everyone likes. It is a dish of Indian origin and can be considered universal. It has a mild flavor, is not spicy, vegetarian, also suitable for children.
It can be a main dish or a side dish, so it is extremely versatile.

  • Recommended to: always
  • Average cost: € 0,80
  • Main ingredients: lentils, curry

5 - Kottu (vegetarian, egg, cheese)

The most popular street food is Kottu. These are shredded pieces of paratha (pieces of unleavened bread) that are first fried and then mixed with vegetables and other ingredients such as bacon, eggs, chicken and spices on the hot plate. There is also a vegetarian version with leeks, onions and cabbage.

It can be called the Sri Lankan burger, it is often served accompanied by a bowl of curry sauce to moisten and add flavor to the fried piadina.
You can buy it in the typical fast food places on the sides of the streets: you can take it away in take-away mode, or you can stop and eat it at the tables set up inside. Seeing it freshly prepared by the cook is an engaging show!

  • Recommended to: snack
  • Average cost: € 0,80
  • Main ingredients: paratha, eggs, meat, vegetables, spices

6 - Brinjal

More than a real dish, it is a side dish. The recipe is practically based on eggplant and generally accompanies curry and rice dishes, but the peculiarity lies in the cooking method with which it is prepared.
First of all, it should be noted that the island's aubergines are very different from ours: decidedly smaller and lighter, with white streaks.

The aubergine is first cut into cubes and fried, and then caramelized with sugar, vinegar, red onions, green chili, mustard seeds, chilli and cloves.
The resulting flavor it's a really delicious sweet-salty contrast.

Despite being one of the most famous dishes in the country, it is clear that every area of ​​the island, but also every house, has its own variant.

  • Recommended to: side dish for lunch and dinner
  • Average cost: € 0,50
  • Main ingredients: aubergines and spices

7 - Hoppers (Appa)

Also known as Appa, they are an iconic food of Sri Lanka.
It is a kind of crepes, very thin and crunchy, made with egg batter, coconut milk and a dash of toddy (palm wine). They have a concave shape, as if they were a kind of bowl, because they are cooked in a small wok rather than on the classic pan for crepes. In this way they remain thick and softer at the bottom and thin and crunchy towards the edges.

They can be ordered simple, but more often they come stuffed with a fried egg, sauces based on chickpeas and various vegetables.
They are found everywhere and are really tasty.

  • Recommended to: breakfast and snack
  • Average cost: € 1,00
  • Main ingredients: eggs, coconut milk, vegetables

8 - Pol roti, coconut roti and chili salt

Roti is a kind of soft piadina, a kind of tortilla that resembles Indian roti (but less fat) and African chapati.
The dough is made with fresh grated coconut, flour, water and salt. Balls of dough are formed which are then flattened and cooked on a hot plate.

It is eaten as a snack dipped in a spicy curry sauce made by mixing grated coconut, chili powder, tomato, lime juice, red onions and salt.
With a little imagination it can be called a Sinhalese mini-pizza.

  • Recommended to: snack
  • Average cost: € 0,50
  • Main ingredients: fresh grated coconut, flour, water

9 - Ulundhu vadai

In addition to the extremely spicy dishes, Sinhalese are crazy for fried snacks.

Everywhere you will find stalls of street vendors selling meatballs and rolls of all shapes and sizes fried, greasy and greasy!
These fried snacks are commonly called "eat shorts" and, in addition to being sold in roadside stalls, are offered by street vendors on trains or on the beach.

The Ulundhu vadai, specifically, they are small pancakes, very similar to flat meatballs, made with dhal (lentils), combined with amazing spices and deep fried until perfectly crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.

  • Recommended to: snack
  • Average cost: € 0,25
  • Main ingredients: lentils

10 - Grilled fish

After visiting the cultural triangle and admiring the views of the plateaus, once you reach the coast of the island, you cannot fail to have a nice meal of fish that is the master here. In fact, fish products make up the bulk of food in the sea areas.
Common fish are tuna, sea bream, sea bass, red snapper, mackerel, but also shrimp, crab, lobster and squid.

Fish is the ideal solution for those who want to be sure not to run into fiery dishes, as the fish is simply cooked on the grill.

In seaside resorts, such as Mirissa and Hikkaduwa and Negombo, at sunset, the classic ritual is to wait for the return of the fishing boats, while the restaurateurs begin to set up the tables on the beach.
The fresh fish of the day is placed on counters sprinkled with ice and, at dinner time, all you have to do is choose what you want to eat directly from the counter. This is cooked on the grill and is paid for by the weight.
Eating fresh fish with your feet in the sand is certainly a very romantic experience and to do at least once in a lifetime!

  • Recommended to: Lunch Dinner
  • Average cost: from € 25,00 per kg
  • Main ingredients: fresh fish

Typical Sri Lankan sweets

It may be that the tropical fruit available is very good, it may be that it is really very hot and you mostly want fresh and thirst-quenching stuff, but there is no particular culture of dessert.

Even in restaurants and hotel buffets, there is mostly a lot of fruit to be accompanied, if necessary, with industrial ice cream.
Even at breakfast, the best dessert you can find are very simple dry biscuits and some soft cake like ciambellone, therefore nothing particular or suggesting something typical.
Here are the relevant pastry specialties.

1 - Buffalo and Kitul yogurt

The custom of consuming curd mixed with other ingredients comes from India.

In Sri Lanka buffalo milk curd is always seasoned with kithul molasses syrup, a syrup made from raw liquid cane sugar. In the absence of this ingredient, this kind of yogurt can be simply mixed with sugar, honey or pieces of fruit.

The taste is so sour that it is impossible to eat it alone!
Sinhalese curd has in fact a flavor very similar to that of natural yogurt, but much more sour.

Creamy and slightly acidic, it is ideal for "sweetening" the mouth without being cloying.

  • Average cost: € 1,50
  • Main ingredients: buffalo yogurt, kithul

2 - Wattalappam

It's a pudding made with coconut milk, is of Malay derivation vaguely reminiscent of crème caramel, but is much denser and less slimy.

The basic ingredients are: coconut milk or condensed milk, jaggery, cashews, eggs, various spices, including cardamom, cloves and nutmeg, and sometimes grated vanilla beans

  • Average cost: € 1,50
  • Main ingredients: coconut milk, eggs, cashews

3 - Kiribath

It is a traditional dessert made from rice and coconut milk. It can be considered a form of rice cake or rice pudding.

Auspicious symbol, it is mainly cooked on special occasions and holidays. Essential for every propitious moment, it is commonly brought to the table for breakfast on the first day of each month. It is an inevitable dish during the celebration of the Sinhalese New Year, when it is cooked and served as the first meal after the dawn of the new year.
It is also the first solid food with which newborns are weaned and is also served at weddings.

Usually it is served with Lunumiris, a mixture of red onions and spices, but also with bananas.
The recipe for replicating this dessert is quite simple: the rice is boiled in boiling water for about 15 minutes, then coconut milk is added and everything is cooked again until the liquid is completely absorbed.

  • Average cost: € 1,00
  • Main ingredients: rice, coconut milk

4 - Pittu

They are gods coconut-based sweets for a change. A combination of flour (or rice or karukan), freshly grated coconut and a handful of dehydrated coconut.

They have the shape of white cylinders and come traditionally steamed in bamboo, but now, sometimes, they are steamed in circular metal tubes.
After baking, these crumbly patties are served with sweetened coconut milk.
Pittu are sometimes spiced with cumin and served with various side dishes including palm sugar, chickpea curry or bananas.

  • Average cost: € 0,20
  • Main ingredients: coconut

5 - Fruit

This country owns one amazing variety of fruit, wonderful, which colors the market stalls, from mango to bananas, from avocado to pineapple, to the strange local fruits such as durian and lemon, mangosteen and jackfruit.
Impossible not to taste these delicacies and fall in love with them. I am perfect snack to refresh and quench your thirst during the hot afternoons.

You can consume both fresh fruit or try it in the form of tasty juices and smoothies, and again, in the form of delicious fruit salads, perhaps with the addition of a scoop of ice cream.
Some fruits are sold on the street as snacks, such as paper cones filled with mango sticks that the locals sprinkle with chilli!

Another mode of consumption, involves frying; one of the most popular snacks are the fried jackfruit seeds, which are salted and served in small paper bags to eat while strolling.

  • Average cost: from € 0,40
  • Main ingredients: fruit

Drinks and liqueurs: what people drink in Sri Lanka

First recommendation: avoid tap water! Always drink only bottled water and also use it to brush your teeth.
Soft drinks are widespread everywhere, both international and local brands.
Coconut milk is omnipresent, just as, on the other hand, it could only be the famous you.
Coffee is also very popular, both in soluble form and in the form of Nescafe.
Finally, there is a deep-rooted culture for alcohol. Sinhalese are crazy about beer, introduced by foreign prisoners under the reign of Kandy.

1 - Ceylon Tea

The country is one of the world's leading tea producers. A trip here wouldn't be the same without tasting several cups a day.

The best place to taste various types of tea are the manufacturing factories where there is a canonical tour (book your tour online).
First the processing process is shown, from harvesting to drying, passing through the fermentation and crumbling of the leaves, and then you are made to sit in the bar where various types of tea are served: more or less light and in different flavors.

Finally, a walk through the plantations watching the harvesters at work and a stop in the shop are inevitable.

  • Average cost: from € 0,80 the small package
  • Main ingredients: you

2 - Coconut water

No ingredient is more vital than coconut. Each family consumes at least 2 nuts a day. Virtually nothing is thrown away from coconut, a bit like pork here.
The water is drunk, the pulp is eaten and grated to obtain coconut milk in which fish and meat are marinated and, finally, with the peel, robust barks are obtained to make ropes and various tools.
In Sri Lanka there are many varieties of this special fruit, the most famous of which is the orange-colored royal coconut.

Very popular and popular on hot afternoons, coconut water should be drunk directly from the fruit.
It is a widely available product as there are vendors' kiosks along the streets ready to smash the coconut with a machete.
Slightly sour, not everyone may like it, but it sure is very refreshing.

It is also said, thanks to the mixture of glucose and potassium, to be a good remedy for hangover and symptoms of dysentery. From the peel a sort of scoop is obtained with which to then scrape the inner wall and taste the delicate fruit, not very tasty and a little slimy.

  • Average cost: € 0,20
  • Main ingredients: coconut

3 - Coffee

In Sri Lanka coffee has always played a secondary role compared to tea, especially since the island's coffee plantations were destroyed in the s.

However, coffee is a drink that is always found. Often it is found in a soluble form, even if locally produced; this explains the light and bitter taste.
However, it is not uncommon to find places that make espresso and cappuccino, of questionable taste.
To be on the safe side, the best choice is to opt for Nescafè, delivered directly from special machines.

  • Average cost: € 0,50
  • Main ingredients: coffee

Tips and trivia: where to eat and what to avoid

Where to eat depends a lot on where you are. Some cities, albeit large, such as Kandy and Sigiryia, do not have tourist restaurants, while in the capital or in the seaside resorts there is a swarm of clubs.

The most comfortable option, if not the obligatory one, is that of dine at the hotel where you are staying.
The best choice is the buffets of the hotels, among other things very cheap (€ 5,00 / 6,00 excluding drinks).
Along the coast and in seaside resorts it is better to eat fish: very fresh and of excellent quality (about € 25,00 per kg).

Stalls and kiosks with fried snacks that line the street are beautiful to look at and unmissable to capture, but stop there. It is not recommended to consume street food products, because there is no certainty about the hygienic conditions or the quality and freshness of the oil used for frying.

The recommendation of drink only bottled water (and also use it to brush your teeth!), eat only cooked vegetables and fruit that can be peeled.

Audio Video What do you eat in Sri Lanka? typical dishes, tips and curiosities on typical cuisine
add a comment of What do you eat in Sri Lanka? typical dishes, tips and curiosities on typical cuisine
Comment sent successfully! We will review it in the next few hours.