With Love From Sri Lanka: 7 Dishes You Must Try
Image Credit: Wikimedia Common

Blessed with natural beauty and fertile lands Sri Lanka has a lot to offer the discerning foodie. Its rich and fascinating history also reflects in the cultural influences seen in its food. Look closely and in its dishes you will find influences from South Indian, Dutch, Portuguese, Malay, and British food. So many factors such as the tropical climate, fertile land, and access to abundant seafood have also shaped Sri Lanka’s cuisine

The use of spices is bold and coconut plays a lead role in the menu. It is used in multiple forms. It is either grated or coconut milk, and coconut oil is added to dishes. Just like some parts of India, Sri Lankans love their rice. There are curries to complement it, or versions like fried rice and milk rice called Kiribath. 

There are spicy street foods such as kottu roti and soft hoppers to dunk into the curries. Vegetables and fruits such as eggplant, okra, and green beans, mangoes, papayas, bananas, jackfruit, and pineapples are popular and cooked here often. 

You will also see frequent use of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, mustard seeds, and turmeric. Curry leaves also feature prominently in many dishes. Let’s explore some of the spicy, tangy, sweet and savoury flavours of this cuisine.

Fish Ambul Thiyal (Sour Fish Curry)

A dish that comes from Southern Sri Lanka, the Fish Ambul Thiyal is a dry, tangy fish curry. The tangy flavour comes from the use of goraka, a type of tamarind. Usually a variety of Tuna is used in this dish. The fish is cut into chunks and marinated with spices and goraka. It is then lightly simmered in a clay pot till all the water from the liquid evaporates and the fish has a thick coating of the marinade left on. This dish is usually eaten with rice and other curries.


Just like Appams in India, Hoppers are a type of fermented rice flour pancake. It looks like a white dish with crispy edges and a pillowy soft centre.  Hoppers are usually had for breakfast in Sri Lanka. The Egg hopper where an egg is cracked into the middle of the hopper while it cooks, is perfect for brekkie. The plain hopper is usually dipped in a curry and eaten and then there are string Hoppers or Idiyappam which are thin rice.

Kottu Roti

A very popular street food, Kottu Roti is a stir-fry of chopped roti (flatbread) with vegetables, eggs, and meat which can be either chicken, beef, or mutton. The roti is shredded and stir-fried with vegetables, eggs, and meat, seasoned with spices. There’s a signature way in which the roti is chopped with the griddle. It sounds almost like the way vegetables being mashed on the tava sound when Pav Bhaji is made.  

Photo Credit: Satyam's Kitchen


This is a Dutch-influenced Sri Lankan dish made with rice boiled in stock, mixed with meat curries, and baked in a banana leaf. It is usually made only on special occasions owing to the fact that the preparation is long and tedious. All the components of the dish are first  cooked separately and then assembled and wrapped in banana leaves. This is then baked.

Kiribath (Milk Rice)

Kiribath is a traditional Sri Lankan dish made from rice cooked in coconut milk.Like a payasam it is also made during special occasions and religious or other festivities. The rice is cooked with coconut milk and a pinch of salt until the whole mixture is creamy. It is then pressed into a flat dish and cut into diamond shapes. Kiribath is typically served with lunu miris (a spicy onion sambol) or jaggery.

Pol Sambol (Coconut Sambol)

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Another Sri Lankan favourite is the Pol Sambol, a spicy coconut relish. Its a staple in Sri Lankan cuisine. It is served as an accompaniment to rice, hoppers, string hoppers, and some other dishes as well. All the ingredients including grated coconut, red chili powder, lime juice, salt, onion and sometimes even fish are mixed together with finely chopped green chilies and tomatoes. The result is a vibrant, spicy condiment or dry chutney


Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A traditional dessert, the Watalappam is a rich, steamed coconut custard dessert that is popular among Sri Lankan Muslims. It is made and served during festivals such as Eid. Jaggery is melted and mixed with beaten eggs, coconut milk, and spices. The mixture is poured into a dish, sprinkled with cashew nuts, and steamed until set. It’s like a caramel custard but different.