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Top 5 dishes you must try when in Sri Lanka

Top 5 dishes you must try when in Sri Lanka

Last Updated on May 6, 2024

Sri Lanka offers a different food experience with a rich history and diverse folk. From fragrant curries to sweet desserts, Sri Lankan cuisine is a festival of flavors that will leave you wanting more. If you’re planning a trip to Sri Lanka or wish to learn more about the country and its cuisine, Traxplorio can guide you through many different ideas.

A trip to Sri Lanka – what makes it special? 

One unique place in Sri Lanka worth visiting is Ella, a charming hillside town with stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Another must-see destination is Galle, a fortified city on the southwest coast known for its Dutch colonial architecture and beautiful beaches. Both of these locations offer a unique glimpse into Sri Lanka’s rich history and culture and some of the country’s most delicious food. Check out my 2-week Sri Lanka itinerary that covers all of the country’s main sights.

People from Sri Lanka are characterized by their warm hospitality, generosity, and love of food. Sri Lankans take great pride in their culinary traditions and are always eager to share their food and culture with visitors. Whether exploring bustling markets, dining in a local restaurant, or enjoying a home-cooked meal with a Sri Lankan family, you will surely experience the warmth and generosity that defines this beautiful island nation.Sri Lanka

Speaking of food – don’t leave Sri Lanka without trying:

With its unique blend of indigenous ingredients and influences from other countries like India and Malaysia, Sri Lankan cuisine has a distinct identity and is a true delight for foodies. Let’s explore 5 exciting, flavorful dishes.

1 Ambul Thiyal (sour fish curry)

An easy way to describe Ambul Thiyal is a sour fish curry, a rich protein dish every local adores. It is typically made using locally newly caught fish cooked on the same day. This makes the Ambul Thiyal so much fresher. The spices used to cook it turn the dish black in color, and even if it doesn’t look like a Michelin star chef has cooked it, be sure it tastes incredible. 

If we talk real homemade Ambul Thiyal, here is everything you may find in this dish:

  • fish- any firm fish like tuna, sailfish, mackerel, red snapper, etc.
  • goraka/kambodge – a fruit commonly used in Sri Lankan cuisine. It gives a sour flavor to the dish.
  • garlic/ginger/curry leaves
  • chili/black pepper/turmeric/cinnamon

The fish is marinated prior and feels very crispy to taste. For balance, Ambul Thiyal is served with rice. The dish is spicy, savory, and crispy. The combined flavors are so rich and diverse that many companies have even created a spice mix for Ambul Thiyal, which can be bought almost everywhere in the world.

2 Kottu (also, kottu roti)

The sound of the knives hitting the hot griddle as the ingredients are chopped and mixed together is an iconic part of Sri Lankan street food culture. The same way used in the theatrical preparation of Kottu has become so popular that it is now even showcased as a performance in some restaurants and food festivals. Kottu is unique with its vibrant mix of flavors and textures, but it also is the communal experience of sharing a hot plate of Kottu with friends or strangers on a bustling street corner, late at night or early in the morning. 

This popular dish is made by stir-frying a mix of:

  • chopped flatbread
  • vegetables
  • eggs and meat (usually chicken or beef) 
  • range of spices and seasonings, including chili powder, turmeric, and curry leaves.

3 Kukul mas curry (chicken curry)

Kukul mas curry is a delicious and aromatic Sri Lankan chicken curry typical in many households and restaurants nationwide. 

This dish is made by:

  • slow-cooking chicken in a rich and flavorful blend of spices and coconut milk
  • spices include cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, coriander, and turmeric. 
  • curry leaves, pandan leaves, and lemongrass adds a unique fragrance and flavor 
  • freshly grated coconut gives it a creamy and indulgent texture. 

Kukul mas curry is a must-try for anyone looking to explore the rich culinary heritage of Sri Lanka.

4 Lamprais

The term “Lamprais” is believed to be derived from the Dutch word “lomprijst,” which translates to “lump of rice.” It is a unique fusion of Dutch and Sri Lankan culinary traditions and consists of multiple dishes:

  • spiced rice
  • meat (usually beef or chicken) curry
  • eggplant curry
  • ash plantain curry
  • seeni sambol (a sweet and spicy caramelized onion relish)
  • blachan (a fermented shrimp paste)

all wrapped in a banana leaf and baked to perfection. 

Preparing Lamprais is a time-consuming process that requires great skill and attention to detail, but the result is worth the effort. What makes Lamprais special is its intricate combination of flavors and textures and its cultural significance – it is a dish often shared among family and friends during special occasions and celebrations, making it a symbol of togetherness and community in Sri Lankan culture.

5 Parippu (dhal curry)

Parippu in Sinhalese means ‘lentils’ ‘it’s also known as Sri Lankan dhal curry and is a humble yet delicious dish with its unique place in Sri Lankan cuisine. Made with:

  • split red lentils
  • onions
  • garlic
  • a range of aromatic spices, including cumin, mustard seeds, and curry leaves

Parippu is packed with flavor. It is simple to make and can be enjoyed on its own as a soup or paired with rice or roti at any time of the day. Parippu is a true exemplar of Sri Lankan home cooking and is a dish loved and cherished by Sri Lankans worldwide.

As soon as you find your foot standing on Sri Lankan ground, remember a famous quote by Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher: “First we eat, then we do everything else.” Many aspects of Sri Lankan culture can be experienced by eating, so take this advice, eat first and do everything else after.