Have you got a trip planned for Sri Lanka, and want to know what food you will expect to eat while you are there? Would you like to make some of your own Sri Lankan food, but not sure what their staple food is? Are you maybe a vegetarian or have allergies and want to know what you can eat whilst visiting Sri Lanka? We detail the staple food of Sri Lanka, and what else you may find as you travel around the country.
Firstly, we love Sri Lankan food, it has so much flavour, spices, and just all round delicious. There is no other country that in our opinion could compare to Sri Lankan food. Have we you got salivating yet? If not keep reading, and you soon will be!
How to eat in Sri Lanka
When it comes to eating Sri Lankan food, it is customary to eat with your fingers. Yes, this may seem very unusual, especially when coming from a country who uses cutlery whilst eating, but it tastes so much better with your fingers.
Just think of it this way, how does it feel and taste when eating your McDonalds burger and chips with a knife and fork. It’s the same principal with Sri Lankan staple foods, so be ready to ditch the cutlery and start using your fingers.
Rice and Curry
The staple food of Sri Lanka is the rice and curry. Spices are layer through the curry to create a delicious vegetable, meat or fish dish, served with rice. You will normally find it served with a condiment, such as seeni sambol (onion chutney) or pol sambol (coconut and spice).
Many Sri Lankan dishes contain coconut, a curry will consist of spices and coconut milk, whilst the condiment will have scraped coconut. To make the mouthwatering dishes, a combination of spices are added such as, chilli, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, pandanus leaves, curry leaves, and tamarind.
Many small shops and restaurants will sell cheap rice packets (rice with a number of curries packed up to take away), we would recommend trying a rice and curry from Thunapaha in Colombo. You can purchase a rice packet from here for about Rs200. If you don’t want to eat in, then you can order a rice packet from Thunapaha via Ubereats.
Many Sri Lankans are vegetarians, there are plenty of vegetarian dishes in many local food outlets.
Is there anything other than Rice and Curry to eat? Of course, there is, here are some other types of food you can eat in Sri Lanka.
There are so many other Sri Lankan dishes to be eaten, that are just as good as a rice and curry, such as:
Parippu (dhal curry)
Parippu (red Lentils) is a curry made with coconut milk, onions, tomatoes, and chilies. These are mixed with tempered spices such as cumin seeds, turmeric, mustard seeds and pandam leaves.
Dhal curry can be eaten with rice or paan (bread), and is a staple in the southern Asian continent.
Is a finely cut green leaves that comes from the parsley family, it is mixed with chilies, salt and pepper, lemon juice, ginger, shallots, and coconut.
Gotu Kola has all the right health benefits, containing vitamins, carbohydrates, and protein which is a big part of Sri Lankan diet.
Indiappa (string hoppers)
Indiappa, will often be found at the breakfast table, but can be eaten at lunch time with a curry. Depending on the type of flour used to make indiappa will define its red or white colour. Rice flour produces white indiappa whilst wheat flour produces red indiappa.
It is said that red indiappa is better for you and have better health benefits that the white indiappa.
To make indiappa, you start with rice flour, salt and water, before passing the mixture through a string hopper press, to give it the string effect.
This is so different to the western world breakfast, but do what the Sri Lankan’s do and tuck into this deliciously different breakfast meal.
This is a tasty sweet and spicy condiment found at the side of the table, made with onions, Maldivian fish, cardamon, cinnamon, sugar, tamarind, curry leaves, pandam leaves, and chili powder.
This is our favourite condiment, and tend to eat this with all our meals.
Scraped coconut, red onions, chillies/chilli powder, lime juice, salt and Maldivian fish makes the tasty pol sambol. This is a lovely little condiment which goes well with curry, rice and vegetables/gotu kola.
This can be spicy depending on the amount of chili in the sambol, and will tend to accompany a rice and curry dish.
Other Sri Lankan food
There are other Sri Lankan dishes, that are less common on a Sri Lankan table, but you will still find these around the country, namely street food. These tend to be less healthy, but are just as good to have occasionally whilst you travel Sri Lanka:
The loud clanging noise you hear in the distance is a little street food outlet making kottu. Cooking roti (a type of flat bread), shredded vegetables, meat, soya sauce, spices, ginger and garlic on an iron skillet becomes kottu. Two metal cleavers clanking on the skillet is that noise you heard.
Bithara Appa (egg hopper)
Made from rice flour, coconut milk and palm toddy, fried in an hopper pan, makes these bowl-shaped pancakes with the fried egg in the middle.
Seeni sambol or pol sambol pairs well with a bithara appa.
Appa (plain hopper)
Appa is the same as a Bithara Appa, but without the bithara (egg). A must try on your visit to Sri Lanka. The best way to eat an appa is with your fingers.
A Paratha is a flatbread which is pan fried. These go well with a good curry, and condiments. Paratha’s are cheap food either pre made and purchased in the local supermarket, or purchased from a street food vender.
A rotti is similar to a paratha, as it is a flatbread that’s pan fried, but is much thicker.
Our recommendation would have to be seeni sambol, and a curry accompanying the rotti.
A Sri Lankan desert is a must have after a spicy curry, here are our suggestions:
Jaggery (palm sugar), coconut milk, and cinnamon, makes watalapaan which is a sweet dish known in Sri Lanka. It can be oven cooked or steamed.
It is very sweet, but delicious to eat, and cools the mouth after eating a very spicy curry.
This dish is so easy to make, you can either cook this in the oven or steam it.
We love eating real authentic food whilst traveling, the best way to eat authentic food, is at a local family home, if you have the opportunity. We stay with family, and have the luxury of eating authentic Sri Lankan food daily. If you are not staying with a family in, you can eat some of the above food in your hotel. Whilst you are out exploring why not stop at a restaurant for a traditional staple meal, at rock bottom prices.
Places to eat
Here are some of our recommendations, if you want to eat the staple food of Sri Lanka, check out some of these places:
Located in Maharagema which is just outside Colombo. We visit Nelumkole on each of our visits to Sri Lanka, simply because the food here is mouthwatering. You get the choice of rice, with a selection of vegetable curries, meat curries, fish and dried fish.
If you can’t handle your spices, there are a small selection of dishes that are mild in spice, and taste just as good. The price is very reasonable for what you get, the staff are not shy when it comes to putting the food on the plate.
Located in Colombo, and one we have just visited on our recent trip to Sri Lanka. They do rice packets, with a selection of different curries to accompany the rice, such as vegetable, meat and fish. If you are keeping to a budget, then this is the place to come. For a good portion of food, you could pay as little as Rs250 – £1.44 – $2.16
Thunapaha is located in Colombo, with flavourful rice and curry, all at a low cost. A selection of vegetable, meat or fish curry accompanied with rice. If you don’t want to leave the comfort of your room, then Ubereats, will deliver your rice and curry to your address.
We strongly advise against drinking tap water in Sri Lanka, as you may become unwell. The water supply is different to your home country, which is likely to cause you to become unwell. If you need to drink water, either buy bottled water, or boil water and refill a reusable water bottle, as this is more environmentally friendly.
Watch the ice! Ice that’s made from tap water, is likely to cause you to become unwell. You will also need to watch where you buy your food! Water that hasn’t previously been boiled added to food, again will make you unwell. Check with the vendor before purchase!
Sri Lanka food is so delicious that the staple food of Sri Lanka, really cannot be missed. So come out of your comfort zone, scrap western food and embrace eating Sri Lankan food with your fingers.
Have you eaten Sri Lanka food before? What did you think? Did you find the food too spicy, or did you taste that layering of spices in the curry? We would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below.
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