Sri Lankan food is very unique in many ways; street foods, self-serve rice and curry, lunch packs and hole-in-the-wall eateries are incredibly popular and almost everywhere. If you’re lucky, vendors riding bicycles will deliver your short eats and vadias to you, still hot, as they ride around the town.
Servings are massive, rice is a staple – so is roti – and it’s hard to go past a freshly cooked hopper.
1. Rice and Curry – the food that Sri Lankan’s eat every day. It’s sold everywhere – usually for lunch – and is really cheap and packed with spices and flavour (if you eat where the locals do). Sri Lankan curries are unique in the way that they are served like a small banquet; you order a curry and receive a mountain of rice, poppadoms, and usually 4 or 5 (sometimes more!) different types of curries in separate bowls, often with a chutney and dried chillis on the side. Curries are eaten with the right hand: by mixing the different curries all together with rice, it is supposed to enhance and change the flavours as well as let your body “feel” the food. It’s a constant joy to order the same thing over and over, because every time it’s so different1
2. Short Eats – sold everywhere, displayed in every bakery and every glass cabinet at hole-in-the-wall eateries, these are awesome snacks or lunch time options. They consist of a filling (vegetable, chicken, mutton or fish) wrapped in roti bread and grilled on a hot plate.
3. Hoppers – fermented rice flour fried in a small bowl-shaped pan, these are really unique and really delicious. For 10 rupees (about 0.7c), these awesome snacks are good plain, with chilli or onion sambol, and/or with a fried egg.
4. Kotthu Roti – said to be the national dish; not the traditional dish of Sri Lanka. Kotthu consists of finely diced roti bread, vegetables, meat like chicken or fish, and/or egg. It is fried on a hot plate with oil, chilli and a myriad of other spices, before the cooks begin to smash and mash their pastry scrapers at lightening speeds all over the mix. It is served with a vegetable or chicken gravy sauce, which stops it tasting too dry and heavy. You hear kotthu being made before you see it, and it’s a sound all too familiar in Sri Lanka.
5. Pol roti (coconut roti) – This delicious roti is served up as a small, thick, circle-shaped cake – filled with onion, freshly shredded coconut, salt and pepper – fried on a hot plate and served with dahl or onion and/or chilli sambol.
6. Sambol – pol sambol (coconut sambol), onion sambol – sambol goes well with any Sri Lankan food, and indeed it’s served with most things. Every cook creates it differently, with different ingredients and ways of making it. Onion sambol with chilli and sugar goes incredibly well with roti, hoppers and rice, and pol sambol infuses with other curries to enhance the flavor of rice and curry dishes.
7. Kiri Bath – the traditional Sri Lankan dish is a cake-like piece of sticky, coconut milk rice cut into cute squares or diamonds. It’s eaten on really special occasions, such as at weddings or on the first day of a new job, but you can still find it around. It goes incredibly well – and is often eaten with onion sambol and a piece of juggary (palm sugar).
8. Buffalo Curd and Kittul (treacle) – An awesome sweet or treat; Buffalo curd is sold in big ceramic pots at most market corners in Sri Lanka, and is often served with kittul.
9. Wattalappam – a dessert/cake/pudding that is very important in Tamil festivals, and is more easily found in the North of Sri Lanka. Whilst it doesn’t look very appetizing, the combination of egg and coconut milk with kittul, sugar and lots of spices such as cinnamon and cardamom and cloves is wonderfully delicious and rich.
10. Tea! – technically not a food, but we often drank cup after cup in replace of food. The tea here is famous and exported world wide; it is of a high quality, is incredible tasting and is super cheap.