Sri Lankan Food

Find out all you need to know about the best Sri Lankan food and drinks before your trip.

Seafood, rice, and coconut are the crowning ingredients of Sri Lankan food. The island cuisine revolves around a characteristic blend of spices, herbs, fish, vegetables, rice, and fruits. The three main influences are Indian, Dutch, and Indonesian, making the cuisine of Sri Lanka versatile and rich. You will find that its main dishes are similar to the Southeast Asian dishes, giving rice and curry the main stage. Still, there is a lot to discover in Sri Lankan food to have the best gastronomic experience. Learn about the best dishes and drinks in Sri Lanka with this food guide. Before you arrive, also keep in mind these Sri Lankan food tips:

  • Try to consume bottled water instead of tap water as much as possible, and approach iced drinks and uncooked meals with caution.
  • Don’t mind the waiting and always go to the busiest street food stalls and shops, as they will have the freshest food.
  • For an authentic experience, try the lunch packets sold at street stalls and local cafes all across Sri Lanka. They include quintessential Sri Lankan dishes like steamed rice, curried meat, and condiments.

Must-Try Sri Lankan Foods

Here are the top dishes of the Sri Lankan food scene that will help you eat like a local:

Sri Lankan food
Malu Ambul Thiyal

There are many curries in Sri Lankan cuisine, but Ambul Thiyal is arguably the most popular. It hails the seafood culture of the island nation with fresh tuna from the Indian ocean. Large chunks of fish come together with an exotic mix of spices including curry leaves, black pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, and pandan leaves. What gives the dish its tangy taste is goraka, which separates it from other local curries. You can enjoy a plentiful plate along with rice or pol roti, Sri Lankan flatbread made with coconut. We recommend eating it after your stomach adjusts to Sri Lankan food, as it can be slightly intense for first-timers.

Sri Lankan food
Kottu

As you wander the streets of Sri Lanka’s bustling cities, you will hear a clash of metal against metal. It is the wonderful diced roti being chopped into the galvanizing dish called kottu. It is the most common and appreciated meal across the country, especially Colombo. The fried dough gets covered in a light mix of spices. Locals serve it with a curry sauce that you can pour over or dip the dough in. Don’t leave without trying at least a few varieties of kottu, including chocolate and masala.

Sri Lankan food
Lamprais

This unusual-looking dish is a Dutch-Burgher influence on Sri Lankan food, bringing together local cooking techniques with western ingredients. Lamprais consists of a large banana leaf packed with rice, a meat stock of different meats, Dutch meatballs, shrimp paste, vegetables, and occasionally an egg. The leaf gets folded and steamed, which means that you need to cook it twice. This delicacy will fill your stomach if you are looking for a hearty lunch or dinner in Sri Lanka’s best cities.

Sri Lankan food
Idiyappam

Also known as string hoppers, idiyappam is extremely thinly cut rice noodles served with curry, dhal, and coconut sambol (the classic version). You can eat it both for breakfast and lunch. It originated in South India, and today it is popular across Sri Lanka with rich varieties. The taste of the noodles is slightly more intense than other noodles you will eat on your trip, since the dough is much thicker in idiyappam.

Sri Lankan food
Polos

If you think you have had enough curries already, you should definitely try polos for a delightful twist. Prepared with young, refreshing green jackfruit grown in Sri Lanka, polos are the most unusual curry you will ever taste. The fact that jackfruit is extremely rare outside Sri Lanka makes the dish even more precious for the Sri Lankan food scene. Locals slice the fruit and season it with local spices like turmeric, chili, curry powder, mustard seeds, and curry leaf sprigs. For a final touch, coconut milk goes into the pot to seal all the different flavors into the jackfruit. You will find this colorful dish in most Sri Lankan curry restaurants.

Sri Lankan food

Aluwa

One of the most popular Sri Lankan desserts, Aluwa is more complicated than it looks and an irresistible sweet treat to complement your meals. Especially if you are traveling during the Sinhalese New Year in April, you will see this diamond-cut pastry almost everywhere from street food stalls to restaurants. Aluwa consists of rice-flour doughs cooked with sugar syrup, cardamom, cloves, and cashew nuts. It has an exotic flavor that is rare in many other local desserts.

Must-Try Sri Lankan Drinks

Ceylon Tea

No visit to Sri Lanka is complete without a visit to its famous tea factories scattered across the world’s finest tea plantations. There, you will have a sip of the Ceylon tea that will mark your trip forever. There is a reason it is the finest tea in the world⁠—the teas are grown in the same traditional methods and handpicked from the fields since 1880. It has several tasteful varieties each grown in different altitudes. Tasting Ceylon tea is a must-do activity on any trip to Sri Lanka.

Ceylon tea
Arrack

The favorite alcoholic drink in Sri Lanka, Arrack is an incredibly delicious coconut whisky fermented from the sap of the coconut flower. The best is Ceylon Arrack, but each brand will deliver the one-of-a-kind flavor of the spirit. You can drink it with some ginger ale or in one of the myriad local cocktails. We recommend trying Aliya, a classic and delish Arrack cocktail made with coconut water.

Sri Lankan food

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