Food and Dishes of Sri Lanka
For westerns’ common living habits, our notion of spicy is what Sri Lankans would call a joke or food for babies! If you think you over-tried spicy food wait until you have Sri Lankan curry or Dahl. This is not to discourage you but to alert you. Some of us were quite afraid of trying a single dish but all ended up saying that it had been OK (at least after several trials and having the “mildest” option).
The food is indeed delicious, a nice mixture between sweet and sour, a rich combination between India and the far east. The variety of curries are outnumbered and the influence from spices and habits these guys got from their invaders such as the Portuguese or the Dutch. However, the British (they say) left the worse on the island: the booze! They keep telling stories that because of westerns they have a high rate of alcoholism.
Meals at local places (not on typical tourist venue with foreign meals) are on an average of €2-3, which makes them super appealing and affordable. You will definitely fall in love for the seafood and fish. Even the ones among us coming from the sea side would agree. Street food is actually delicious, it can look a bit dodgy sometimes but you only live once! We advise you to only drink bottled water as tap water can be contaminated. However, it is mostly used for cooking, so don’t be surprised of having a bit of funny belly in the beginning.
How the title picture of this post already tells, curry is definitely a very popular dish and a must “try-out”! Not only for the fact of this being the traditional dish but also because it is served in a completely different way to what “we westerns” are used to. Ordering a curry in Sri Lanka, means having a huge tray full with small bowls (never less than 4/6 and going up to 10/12) containing different types of curries: mild, spicy, yellow, red, chicken, fish, vegetables,…
It is also served with rice for you to mash it up on your plate. The great thing is that you can “create” your very own curry from the small pots: with more or less veggies, more or less spicy! Also curry (believe it or not) is served around the clock! This means if you’re a curry lover or decide to go “local style” you will be able to eat curry for breakfast, lunch, dinner, in-between snacks, supper again and again! Most traditional curries will include coconut on its base (whether it’s the oil or the actual fruit), but it can also go to a broad range of other additional spices and ingredients such as turmeric, cashew nuts, paprika, cardamom, nutmeg or caramelized onions.
Our Favorite Dishes
Hoppers or Appam are something between a crepe and a pancake, it is made out of batter rice flour. Traditional Hoppers are filled with eggs, yogurt or honey but you can choose what to fill with just like any other pancake. They are popular for breakfast or dinner but also for short-eats or street food.
Kottu Roti is a popular street food comparable to a fried pancake type. It is cut into stripes and served with vegetables, meat or eggs.
Vadai looks like a donut or fish cake but is actually a spicy deep-fried cake made from lentils.
Dhal is a lentil curry and a very popular breakfast often sold by street vendors.
A lot of dishes come with Coconut Sambol, which is a famous and traditional garnish to pretty much every dish in Sri Lanka. It is made out of shredded coconut. Whether you order a curry, a fish platter or hoppers, Sambol regularly comes as a side.
Furthermore, the sea food and fish you get at the coast can’t get any fresher than this. Caught from the sea and straight to your plate! We loved especially the prawns during our travel along the south coast.
With its provenance from the Sri Lankan Malay community, Wattalapan is nothing else than a coconut custard pudding. It can contain nuts as well as spices such as cardamom, cloves or nutmeg. Furthermore, Wattapalan is usually sweetened with palm syrup.
Curd is a buffalo milk yogurt and was our favorite sweet. We know that the title sounds like “ghhrrrrr” but its flavor is yummy. Basically a normal yogurt (but made out of buffalo milk), the desert is served with palm tree syrup. Sri Lankans use palm tree syrup as a sweetener to their foods like Europeans use honey or Canadians use maple syrup.
Kiribath is very similar to western milky rice. The dessert is usually served with Jaggery (boiled palm tree syrup).
Sri Lankans eat with their hands, if you wanna go the “local way” just venture yourself and follow their lead. Locals do not consume alcohol during poya days. However, you will be able to find it in hotels and small shops for sale.