Sri Lankan food is like no other. The depth of flavour and the layers of spice in the dish is so delicious, it is like an art form cooking a good Sri Lankan curry.
Traditional Sri Lankan food normally consist of rice, curry and vegetables. But you can also try other dishes from Sri Lanka and from around the world. Such as Indian, western food and Asian.
So, as you travel around the capital, you should check out these cheap restaurants in Colombo. You won’t be disappointed, so much so, that you’ll be wanting to return to Sri Lanka for more.
Once you have tasted delicious Sri Lankan food, why not learn to cook authentic Sri Lankan curry back home. That way you can cook some of your favourite dishes as often as you like.
Shams makes traditional Sri Lankan food regularly and I help as often as possible. I have made a Spicy prawn curry and a few traditional desserts such as Watalappam.
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5 Must try cheap restaurants in Colombo
Colombo is our base in Sri Lanka, so each visit means we must eat at a different place each time.
So, we have chosen our favourite spots to eat in Colombo on a budget.
Cheap street food vendors in Colombo
For quick and cheap food on the go, then check out these cheap street food vendors in Colombo:
Galle Face Green
Spending time at Galle Face Green is thought to be one of the unmissable things to do in Colombo. The city’s waterfront is a nice place to go for a late afternoon walk, and the beach below is a pleasant place to cool off after a day of work, and still very much a favorite of locals – so if you have a thing for photography and city life, it’s an excellent spot.
Yet, the best reason to visit Galle Face Green is that you will be able to taste all sorts of local street food – freshly prepared daily, local and with perfect views of the ocean.
You will have plenty of options for food – from basic ice-cream and popcorn or freshly fried potato or cassava chips (which are similar to potato chips but even crunchier) to other more elaborate foods.
Snacks you should look out for include samosas; ulundhu vadai, which looks like a thin bread fritters but it’s actually made of dhal and spices; and – the absolute best – dhal waddae, AKA lentil curry fritters topped with shrimps.
The latter dish is actually typical of the area, so you should definitely try it while there or you may miss your chances!
Contributed by Claudi Tavani, at My Adventures Across The World
Best restaurants in Colombo for traditional Sri Lankan food
On a traditional Sri Lankan table, you’ll normally find a few curries, some with meat and some with vegetables. This is eaten with a good portion of rice.
Although there are other dishes that you may not have heard of but is a traditional dish of Sri Lanka.
We have written an entire post on traditional Sri Lankan food, including how to eat with your fingers and some simple things to avoid.
In your Sri Lankan itinerary, you’ll likely stop in Colombo at the beginning or before flying home. But if you haven’t eaten enough Sri Lankan food around the island, then you must stop at these affordable restaurants in Colombo.
This is our favourite place to eat authentic Sri Lanka dishes and one of the cheap places to eat in Colombo.
We love the food and the atmosphere here so much, that we make a point of visiting each time we are in Colombo.
It started out as a small hut in Maharagama a suburb about 30 minutes from Colombo centre, but well worth getting off the tourist track for the incredible authentic Sri Lankan rice and curry.
We have seen Nelum Kole grow over the years, extending their property to accommodate the growing business.
During peak times, it can get busy, but you won’t be disappointed as you can still guarantee a seat and you don’t need to book in advance.
Very few tourists know about this hidden gem of Nelum Kole, but if you bypass this place without stopping, you will be disappointed.
With a large selection of meat, fish, dried fish and vegetable curries, all packed with flavour and spice, you won’t miss out on trying something different here.
Sri Lankan dishes are known to be very spicy; Shams and I can eat dishes that are mild but anything too spicy we merely can’t eat.
If you are anything like us and can’t eat spicy dishes, there is a small selection of curries that are mild but still flavourful.
Simply ask the staff and they will point you in the right direction.
As this is off the tourist radar, you know that you’ll be paying the local prices for an incredible Sri Lankan foodie experience.
A family friendly restaurant in Colombo offers eat in or take away food.
Get away from the Colombo heat and enjoy tasty Sri Lankan food in an airconditioned restaurant.
Order from a selection of meat, fish and vegetable curries at the counter, before tucking into a satisfying meal.
If you don’t have time for lunch or you’d like a takeaway, you can order from the selection of curries, that will be packed up tightly ready to eat on the go.
Takeaway curries in Sri Lanka are often called a lunch packet, or some may call it a rice packet. Locals often purchase a hot lunch packet to have later in the day. We had a lunch packet, on our trip to Yala National Park. And it was still lovely and hot when we opened it at lunch time.
A lunch packet is great while you’re on the road or heading into the office.
A meal or lunch packet from Ranbath will set you back as little as Rs. 250.00, that is less than $2.00 (£1.00, €2.00) per person and it will fill you up.
Authentic Sri Lanka food at its best, at local prices. You can’t go wrong when Ranbath is one of the budget restaurants in Colombo.
International Cuisines at Affordable Prices
International cuisine is available in Sri Lanka, especially in the large hotels in the capital. But you don’t need to spend international prices just to try something different.
Indian and Chinese food is very popular in Sri Lanka, and you’ll find many low budget restaurants in Colombo.
Check out these cheap places to eat in Colombo:
At first sight you might find it strange to see the name of an international food chain as a recommended place to eat in Colombo. But Sri Lanka adds its own spin to the dishes that you can’t find worldwide. It adapted them to the local taste and culture.
Where else in the world could you find pizzas like Chicken Sausage Meat with Nai Miris, Devilled chicken or beef, Tandoori chicken, Butter Masala Chicken or Spicy Seafood?
Vegetarians will not starve either, as they can choose between a Veggie Pizza, Margherita and Spicy Veggie Pizza.
Pizza Hut has even thought about the days when one doesn’t feel like eating pizza and offers chicken wings with different flavors, from international ones like barbeque to more local ones like peri peri and sriracha. Of course, it wouldn’t be Sri Lanka if you couldn’t accompany them with rice.
Pricing is where Pizza Hut stands out, with a small pizza starting at around Rs500 (£2.00, $2.37, €2.37), which is less than 3 dollars. A large pizza, that can be shared by 4 persons, will only set you back Rs1500 (£6.00, $7.11 €7.11).
The quality and standards are appropriate to what you might expect from any Pizza Hut restaurant.
Orders are usually ready within 15-20 minutes, staff is friendly and service is good. Locals go there on weekends and evenings with their family and friends to have a pleasant time and chat.
Let’s be honest! No matter how much one likes to try local dishes while travelling, sometimes homesickness makes its way in, as well as the desire to eat something familiar.
Next time you are looking for a budget place to eat, take it into consideration. After all, it’s were the locals go and they know the best places.
Contributed By Raluca Silvia from Travel With A Spin
McDonalds and KFC
You might think why would we recommend McDonalds and KFC in our list of budget friendly restaurants in Colombo? BUT it is cheap food, and they have their own spin on it.
How many fast-food restaurants have you visited that offer curry and rice or biriyani? In our local McDonalds and KFC, we don’t find rice and curry on our menu.
If you have eaten rice and curry in your home country from McDonalds or KFC, then let us know, as we would love to hear about your experience.
Many of the dishes have been altered for the local’s tastes, spices and cultures, including vegetarian options. Although, if you do still fancy a burger and fries, then you can still order this here.
If you don’t fancy leaving your accommodation, you can even order your food for delivery.
Prices for a Rice N Curry from McDonalds start at Rs 560.00, less than $3.00 (£2.00, €3.00), or a KFC Biriyani for Rs 470.00, less than $3.00 (£2.00, €3.00).
Fast-food restaurants may not be at the top of your list of budget places to eat in Colombo, but with a takeaway curry and rice on offer, Sri Lankan style, you may wish to try it while you’re in the capital.
Seafood Restaurants in Colombo
An island often has some of the best seafood and Sri Lanka is packed with plenty of fish and shellfish to enjoy. So here are the best seafood restaurants you’ll find in Colombo:
Ministry of Crab – Colombo, Sri Lanka
Ranked amongst the 50 best restaurants in Asia, The Ministry of Crab in Colombo is a haven for crustacean lovers.
The seafood restaurant’s star is the legendary lagoon crab that ranges in size from 500g crab to 2kg and is prepared in the following ways- pepper crab, chilli crab, curry crab, garlic crab, garlic pepper crab, butter crab and baked crab.
You will be delighted by the tender meat, delicious flavour and incredible experience. The servers provide you with the tools and guidance to savour your crab, especially if it’s your first time eating one. Just ask them to help!
In case, you’re not in the mood for crab, you can also order king prawns, oysters, clams, seer or chicken.
Vegetarian options can only be found in the form of sides, bread and beverages.
The restaurant is set up by chef-restaurateur Dharshan Munidasa and cricket legends Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara in a 400-year-old Dutch Hospital, now a commercial complex.
At the restaurant, the beautiful crab-claw plant serves as the only décor. This simplicity gives rise to a sophisticated yet romantic and relaxed ambience.
Since the restaurant has a no freezer policy, the crab is absolutely fresh. However, because of that, you may not find the crab size of your choice as the evening progresses. So if you’re particular, reserve a table for earlier in the evening.
Also, ensure you reserve a table here as early as possible because the restaurant is renowned enough to always be at full occupancy.
You must note that the restaurant is an expensive one with crabs ranging from Rs6100 (£24.40, $28.90, €28.90) for 500g to Rs39,400 (£157.60, $186.65, €186.65) for 2kg. To put things in perspective, we shared an Rs14,600 (£58.40, $69.16, €69.16) priced Kilo Crab (1kg crab) between two people but could have easily eaten one Kilo Crab per person.
That said, eating at the Ministry of Crab is surely a bucket list affair. Though the brand is now also present in Shanghai, Manila, Mumbai, Maldives, and Bangkok, the food is definitely most authentic at its flagship restaurant in Colombo.
It is a once in a lifetime culinary experience that should definitely be included in your Sri Lanka Itinerary.
Contributed by Trisha Agrawal from Try Wandering More
Colombo Food tours
An excellent way to experience the diverse cuisine in Colombo is with a food tour.
Immerse your senses with the flavours and aromas of traditional Sri Lankan food. Learn about the food and its origins with a food tour.
We have selected some of the best food tours, so you can experience the true authenticity of Sri Lankan cuisine.
Cooking classes are an excellent way to immerse yourself in the local culture and learn how to prepare these fantastic dishes.
Once you have mastered the preparation and cooking of these fabulous dishes, on your return home, you can prepare these for friends and family. Or just as a reminder of your incredible trip.
Here are our recommended cooking classes in Colombo.
Tips for Finding other Cheap Eats in Colombo
While the cheapest place to eat might be on the menu, you do need to also consider quality over price.
Subpar food will only discourage you from wanting to try other amazing Sri Lankan dishes and could make you become unwell.
Ensuring a satisfying dining experience without compromising on quality is not only possible but essential for budget-conscious travellers.
We have some savvy ways to find cheap eats in Colombo, so you can still experience the authenticity of Sri Lankan food without overspending:
Explore side streets away from the tourist areas
Go off the beaten path and away from tourist hotspots to find some hidden gems at local prices.
Family run restaurants, local eateries and family run restaurants are often the best for affordability and authenticity.
These places are a true reflection of Colombo’s culinary culture.
Ask locals or hotel staff for recommendations
No one knows the best places to eat in Colombo at an affordable price than locals or hotel staff.
Don’t be afraid to ask someone, strike up a conversation, Sri Lankan’s are the most hospitable people and will make you feel welcome. Ask hotel staff, shopkeepers or friendly passersby. Don’t be surprised if a local recommends you having lunch at their place.
They’ll share some of the best budget friendly places to eat, that’s off the beaten path and it is likely that you’ll want to return for more.
Planning and researching before a trip, is essential when travelling on a budget.
To identify restaurants or eateries that offer a combination of affordability and quality, do some research. Check reviews on pages such as TripAdvisor, google or other experienced travellers like us. We will be honest and would never recommend somewhere that we are not completely satisfied with.
Look for places with consistent positive feedback. Look out for reviews that mention the food quality and service. Then check the restaurant’s menu, for affordability. Check if there’s any special offers, some places may offer 25% off on a Tuesday or Sunday night for example.
Trust your senses
Use your senses to assess if the restaurant will offer good quality food.
Check if it’s clean, if it smells pleasant and if it is busy.
You want to be provided with a satisfying dining experience, not subpar food that could make you unwell.
Finding exceptional yet budget friendly dining options in Colombo is achievable, with these 5 must-try cheap restaurants in this bustling city. And you won’t be compromised on the quality or the flavours.
From street food on Galle Face Green as you watch the sun set, to getting off the beaten path at Nelum Kole. You can even try the Sri Lanka style McDonalds and KFC rice and curry, its unlike what you’ll experience back home.
Your taste buds will be tingling with delight, on your culinary experience of Colombo.
A must try is the fragrant curries, crispy hoppers, our favourite string hoppers, an alternative to rice and delicious kottu.
Prior to any trip, the importance of planning and research is key to staying on a budget. And get the locals knowledge and recommendations too, they are experts just as we are.
The best way to learn about Sri Lanka cuisine and culture is with a cooking class, you can then share that experience with friends and family back home. Our family and friends love it when we both cook authentic Sri Lankan food, which draws them back for more.
We have chosen the 5 must try cheap restaurants in Colombo that represents a balance of budget, authenticity and a unique twist on the classic fast food.
The next time you find yourself in Colombo, don’t forget these culinary gems, that’s full of flavour and won’t drain your wallet.
Continue your Sri Lankan travel planning, with these useful posts:
- Best places to stay in Colombo
- Tamil New Year celebrations
- Best places to visit in Sri Lanka
- Taking a safari through Yala National Park
- Staple food of Sri Lanka
- Temple etiqutte
- Travel guide to Sri Lanka
- Things to do in Colombo
- Things to do in Galle
- Best beaches in Sri Lanka