By Juhi Bansal
So, before I really delve into all the Sri Lankan goodies you can eat, let me get two questions I got asked the most out of the way.
Q1 Is Sri Lankan food largely seafood?
Well, it is a small island country so yeah there is a lot of seafood. Also, as our very polite driver Joseph told us, inflation on vegetables has been so high in the last couple of years in SL, it is cheaper to buy fish than to buy veggies! Go figure! Having said that, there is so much to explore in terms of vegetarian food items as well.
Q2 Is it like Indian food?
Well, if you mean like Kerala, sure. To some extent. If you mean like North Indian food, maybe not.
Ok now that we these out of way, lets move on to the food! So, apart from seafood, there are two more things found in abundance in SL. Coconut and rice (did you know they have more than 20 varieties of rice in SL!). And frankly, I didn’t know so much can be done with these two! Almost everything you eat in SL will have one or both of these items. Anyway, here is me listing my favourite local food items from SL. You will find these everywhere you go- on roadsides, restaurants and in breakfast buffets.
- Hoppers and string hoppers
My absolute favourite was the egg hoppers eaten as is. No sambal (relishes or chutneys) or pickles (the usual accompaniments). There are also plain hoppers which are equally good. Egg Hoppers are nothing but what we call appam in India with an half fried egg in the middle. Or served plain as we are used to having in India. K liked his hoppers with coconut curry as he eats them in India.
String hoppers are vermicelli pancakes (idiyappam in India) eaten with sambal or coconut chutney. The sweet version is called “asmi”.
- Kiribhat or milk rice
Rice cooked in coconut milk and then the savoury cake is cut into squares. Served with sambal, chutneys and curries.
Strips of roti cooked with spices. We loved the egg version but the plain one tastes great as well!
- Curries, dhal and mallum
Assortment of vegetables (carrots, shallots, egg plant, drumsticks)- vegetable curry or lentils- dhal curry. Greens are shredded and made into mallum. All of these make for great accompaniments with rotis and hoppers.
Chutneys or relishes made with chilli paste and lots of other spices. Some versions have coconut and palm sugar in them.
- Coconut roti
Small coin sized thick rotis served with sambals and curries.
- Buffalo curd
Another hot favourite! Curd made from the water buffaloes milk, it was a meal in itself! I never needed the treacle with it. However, it also tasted great when mixed with sambal and then had with milk rice.
Some other amazing vegetarian accompaniments and snacks:
Samosas, fritters or pakoras, poori with bhajji, fried rice, poppadum, thosai (dosas) etc.
Almost all varieties of fruit are available in SL but our favourite had to be the “Kartha Kolomban” mangoes a lot of which we brought back home with us.
Most Sri Lankan food is spiced with black pepper, cinnamon (the good stuff), curry leaves, lemongrass, cardamom and cloves.
What to drink?
- Coconut water! So much and so cheap!
- Arrack: liquor made from palm. Reminded me a little bit of coconut feni in Goa so I had lots and lots of it! Best to have with water- still or sparkling.
- We also tried the ginger beer that Joseph insisted we should- its nothing but carbonated water with ginger flavor. Didn’t like it, don’t recommend it.
- Ceylon tea. Must try! All flavours!
What are some other cuisines you can find in Sri Lanka?
Pizzas and pastas are ubiquitous these days. So is Indian food. But in smaller towns, you do not get a lot of variety. Galle Fort Area is great for international food and so is Colombo. But, apart from that we didn’t really find a lot of vegetarian options in other cuisines. We loved the pizzas at Aqua Pizzas in the Galle Fort. If you crave some real Neapolitan magic while you’re there, don’t forget to visit them!
Prices, Service and Tipping
The currency difference does give us an advantage. We ate at a lot of places- some fancy some not so much. By the end of the trip we were craving Indian spices so badly, we made a stopover in Betota just to eat at Taj. And what a meal it was! We ordered and ate so much and still our bill was less than 12k LKR- and this was the most expensive meal of our trip. Which is less than 5k INR! So you do the Math. Also, please tip 10-15% while in SL. It will translate to almost nothing in INR but will mean a lot to the serving staff. You will have to always tip in cash.
The service at most places in SL left us wanting a little more. People were generally laid back and not quick on their feet. It could just be the training standards at some places though so will not generalize.
All in all, Sri Lanka was as fun gastronomically as it was in wander-lusting.