How Similar (Or Different) Are Indian And Sri Lankan Cuisines?
Image Credit: Rice is the staple carb of both Sri Lanka and parts of India | Unsplash

As two nations located in close proximity to each other, it's unsurprising that the cuisines of India and Sri Lanka are more similar than they are different. Both cuisines are renowned the world over for their use of aromatic spices and flavorful ingredients, the result of strong culinary traditions that have been shaped by centuries of cultural exchange and influence.

Sri Lankan cuisine is more similar to South Indian fare as opposed to that from any other part of India. Rice is the staple carb and the base for almost every meal in the country. Most Sri Lankan courses consist of "rice and curry," which is considered a meal in itself. The island boasts nearly 15 endemic varieties of rice, which are used to make a variety of rice-based preparations like boiled rice, hoppers, and dosas. The seafood curries are reminiscent of Keralite preparations, laden with coconut and pungent spices. While both Indian and Sri Lankan cuisines feature a variety of curries, the ones found in Sri Lankan cuisine are distinct in that they use coconut milk rather than the entire fruit and are seasoned with a more potent blend of spices. This gives them a unique texture and palate that sets them apart from their Indian counterparts.

The grated flesh of the coconut is used as an accompaniment to various dishes instead, mixed with spices in a preparation called "pol sambol." Coconut and coconut-based products also serve as a base for the various indigenous sweets that are a part of the island's rich culinary history. This brings us to another major difference between the two cuisines: Sri Lankan desserts are characterized by heavy global influences, stemming from the large volume of trade the country sees annually. The island nation also features European-inspired desserts, similar to the Emerald State of Goa in India. The island nation even has its own version of dodol, similar to those found in Goa, and a bevy of Dutch and Portuguese-inspired pastries, such as the Sri Lankan love cake and the bibikkan (a coconut cookie). Some sweet foods like the kokis are nearly identical to South Indian staples like the achappam, which comes as no surprise given that the island has a large Tamil population.

The typical Sri Lankan breakfast borrows elements from both Tamizh and Keralite fare, with a spread of rice-based preparations such as dosas, puttis, and hoppers, served with various vegetarian and non-vegetarian preparations such as stews and sambals. The tempering used for these gravies is what truly sets them apart from those that feature in Indian fare: Sri Lankan curries use a tempering made with mustard oil and spices, while the tempering used in south Indian cuisine consists of milder spices that are fried in coconut oil and used as garnish. Breakfast may also include unique staples such as buffalo curd, made from the milk of water buffalo that are endemic to the island.

Ceylon tea with a cupcake | Unsplash

Sri Lankan cuisine also features a unique group of foods called "short eats," which are consumed from midday until late evening. The practice of consuming these snacks started with the Portuguese settlers who occupied the coastal regions of the country in the 15th century. The settlers were known to consume light snacks in the late hours of the evening, with a glass or two of sherry to boot. The locals continued the custom long after the colonizers left the island, ditching the sherry and serving endemic fare in place of European pastries. The snacks that are now served as part of the course are similar to those served with chai in India. That said, these too have a distinct Sri Lankan touch: the samosas are crumbed in addition to being wrapped in pastry sheets, and the cutlets feature two coats of bread crumbs, making for a snack that is more reminiscent of a croquette. The vadai served as a part of this meal is far removed from the Indian vada the dish is based on; Sri Lankan vadai features non-vegetarian inclusions such as shrimp and beef and may include bread crumbs for added crunch. The tea served as a replacement for the sherry is worth mentioning as well; the taste of Ceylon tea is substantially different from the cutting chai that is relished across the Indian subcontinent. Ceylon tea has a smoother palate, with citrus and honey notes, which makes it an excellent complement to the mostly non-vegetarian short eats.

Indian and Sri Lankan cuisines are both diverse and flavorful, each with their own unique ingredients and cooking techniques. While they share some similarities, they also have their own distinct flavors and traditions. Be it the spicy curries of India or the tangy sambols of Sri Lanka, there is something for everyone to enjoy in these two delicious and rich culinary traditions.