It is led to think that Sinhalese cuisine is similar to Indian cuisine. In fact, Sri Lanka has developed its own national cuisine as its heritage and culinary traditions derive from the mixing of local products with recipes and products brought to the island over the centuries by Indians, Arabs, Portuguese, Dutch and British. .

The basic dish is curry rice , almost omnipresent, which accompanies meat, fish and vegetables. The basic ingredients are also fish, coconut and fruit. A mix of contrasting flavors, testimony to the fact that, par excellence, this is the island of spices .

Sinhalese cuisine is extremely spicy. If you do not like it, it is good to notify the restaurant staff when ordering, or opt for the convenient buffets where there is always something neutral (white rice, grilled chicken).

Street food is an essential part of local cuisine and, traveling around the country, you often come across stalls selling samosas and vadai.

Here are the typical dishes of Sri Lanka .

10 Typical Sri Lankan dishes

1 – Curry and mixed rice Curry rice is

omnipresent , a bit like bread here. It is available in any cafe or restaurant, and is affordable and nutritious.
By curry we mean a set of spices and fresh aromatic herbs mixed together, to which an inordinate amount of chilli is added.
The combination of rice + curry and the base; then there are many variations . The simplest form involves a mound of rice with a few spoonfuls of vegetable curry, dhal, a piece of chicken or fish on top.
The more sophisticated version instead includes a portion of rice accompanied by at least 7 side dishes, an important meal inspired by the Dutch rijsttafe.
Rice and curry you will find it everywhere, make up your mind, you will start eating it already on the outbound flight and, once at your destination, you will be amazed by the fact that the locals already eat it for breakfast!

  • Recommended for : always
  • Average cost : from € 0.50 the basic version, the price increases if you add meat or fish
  • Main ingredients : rice, curry, meat, fish, vegetables

2 – Deviled sweet and sour fish curry
Spicy (or deviled) dishes are also very popular. These dishes are usually prepared with a thick and spicy sauce , large pieces of onion and chilli, where the main ingredient is then cooked immersed in this sauce.
In the specific case of the Devil sweet and sour fish, the fish is fried, then dipped in a sweet and sour sauce, and then sautéed again along with red onions, peppers and bananas.
Excellent when accompanied with some fried rice or with a paratha (Indian bread similar to focaccia).

  • Recommended for : lunch, dinner
  • Average cost : €7.00
  • Main ingredients : fish, onion, chilli

3 – Lamprais Many
traditional dishes have been influenced by the country’s colonial past. An example is this dish of Dutch origin .
It is rice boiled in broth accompanied by frikkadels (meatballs), a mixed curry of meat, eggplant curry and sambol .
All of these ingredients are then wrapped in a banana leaf along with various spices including cardamom and cinnamon and baked in the oven . In some versions, eggs, vegetables and pickles are also added.
Considering its richness and the time it takes to cook it, lamprais is generally prepared for special occasionswhen a large gathering of friends and family is expected.

  • Recommended for : lunch, dinner
  • Average cost : €12.00
  • Main ingredients : rice, meat, eggs

4 – Dhal curry
Photo of Southofindia It is one of the most commonly eaten dishes (already for breakfast). The main ingredient is lentils (daal) which are cooked with coconut milk and transformed, thanks to the addition of curry, into a rich stew that goes perfectly with rice.
In fact, it is often accompanied with boiled rice , roti (a kind of flatbread) and naan (focaccia).

Dhal Curry is a very delicate and nutritious curry that everyone likes. It is a dish of Indian derivation and can be considered universal. It has a mild flavor, not spicy, vegetarian, also suitable for children.
It can be a main dish or a side dish, and therefore extremely versatile.

  • Recommended for : always
  • Average cost : €0.80
  • Main ingredients : lentils, curry

5 – Kottu (vegetarian, egg, cheese)
Photo by KARTY JazZ The most popular street food is Kottu . These are shredded pieces of paratha (pieces of unleavened bread) that are first fried and then mixed with vegetables and other ingredients such as bacon, eggs, chicken and spices on the hot plate. There is also a vegetarian version with leeks, onions and cabbage.

It can be called the Sri Lankan burger , often served with a bowl of curry sauce to moisten and add flavor to the fried flatbread.
You can buy it in the typical fast food places on the sides of the streets: you can take it away in take-away mode, or you can stop and eat it at the tables set up inside. Seeing it freshly prepared by the chef and an engaging show!

  • Recommended for : snack
  • Average cost : €0.80
  • Main ingredients : paratha, eggs, meat, vegetables, spices

6 – Brinjal
Photo by Kanchana Bose More than a real dish, it is a side dish . The recipe is practically based on aubergines and generally accompanies curry and rice dishes, but the peculiarity lies in the cooking method with which it is prepared.
First of all it should be noted that the island’s aubergines are very different from ours: decidedly smaller and lighter, with white streaks.
The aubergine is first cut into cubes and fried, and then caramelized with sugar, vinegar, red onions, green chili, mustard seeds, chilli and cloves.
The resulting flavor is a truly exquisite sweet-salty contrast .
Despite being one of the most famous dishes in the country, it is clear that every area of ​​the island, but also every house, has its own variant.

  • Recommended for : side dish for lunch and dinner
  • Average cost : €0.50
  • Main ingredients : eggplant and spices

7 – Hoppers (Appa)
Photo by Ji-Elle Also known as Appa, they are an iconic food of Sri Lanka .
It is a kind of crepes, very thin and crunchy , prepared with an egg-based batter, coconut milk and a dash of toddy (palm wine). They have a concave shape, as if they were a kind of bowl, because they are cooked in a small wok rather than on the classic pan for crepes. In this way they remain thick and softer at the bottom and thin and crunchy towards the edges.
They can be ordered simple, but more often they are stuffed with a fried egg , chickpea-based sauces and various vegetables.
They are found everywhere and are really tasty.

  • Recommended for : breakfast and snack
  • Average cost : €1.00
  • Main ingredients : eggs, coconut milk, vegetables

8 – Pol roti, coconut roti and chili salt
Photo by Federica Ermete The Roti is a kind of soft flatbread , a kind of tortilla that resembles Indian roti (but less fat) and African chapati.
The dough is prepared with fresh grated coconut, flour, water and salt. Balls of dough are formed which are then flattened and cooked on a hot plate.

It is eaten as a snack dipped in a spicy curry sauce made by mixing grated coconut, chili powder, tomato, lime juice, red onions and salt.
With a little imagination it can be called a Sinhalese mini-pizza.

  • Recommended for : snack
  • Average cost : €0.50
  • Main ingredients : fresh grated coconut, flour, water

9 – Ulundhu vadai
In addition to extremely spicy dishes, Sinhalese are crazy about fried snacks .
Everywhere you will find street vendors stalls selling fried, greasy and greasy meatballs and rolls of all shapes and sizes!
These fried snacks are commonly called “eat shorts” and, in addition to being sold in roadside stalls, are offered by street vendors on trains or on the beach.
Specifically, Ulundhu vadai are small pancakes , very similar to flat meatballs, made with dhal (lentils), combined with incredible spices and fried until they are perfectly crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.

  • Recommended for : snack
  • Average cost : €0.25
  • Main ingredients : lentils

10 – Grilled fish
Photo by Federica Ermete After visiting the cultural triangle and admiring the views of the plateaus, once you reach the coast of the island, you cannot fail to have a nice meal of fish which is the master here. In fact, fish products make up the bulk of the food in the sea areas.
Common fish are tuna, sea bream, sea bass, red snapper, mackerel, but also shrimp, crab, lobster and squid .
Fish is the ideal solution for those who want to be sure not to run into fiery dishes, as the fish is simply cooked on the grill .
In the seaside resorts, such as Mirissa and Hikkaduwa and Negombo, at sunset time,the classic ritual is to wait for the return of the fishermen’s boats , while the restaurateurs begin to set up the tables on the beach.
The fresh fish of the day is placed on counters sprinkled with ice and, at dinner time, all you have to do is choose what you want to eat directly from the counter . This is cooked on the grill and is paid for by the weight.
Eating fresh fish with your feet in the sand is certainly a very romantic and once in a lifetime experience!

  • Recommended for : lunch, dinner
  • Average cost : from € 25.00 per kg
  • Main ingredients : fresh fish

Typical Sri Lankan sweets
It will be that the tropical fruit available is very good, it will be that it is really very hot and you mostly want fresh and thirst-quenching stuff, but there is no particular culture of sweets .
Even in restaurants and hotel buffets, there is more than anything else a large quantity of fruit to accompany, possibly, industrial ice cream.
Even at breakfast, the best dessert you can find are very simple dry biscuits and some soft cake such as donut, so nothing special or suggesting something typical.

Here are the relevant pastry specialties .

1 – Buffalo and Kitul yogurt
The custom of consuming curd mixed with other ingredients comes from India.
In Sri Lanka , buffalo milk curd is always seasoned with kithul molasses syrup , a syrup made from liquid raw cane sugar. In the absence of this ingredient, this kind of yogurt can be simply mixed with sugar, honey or pieces of fruit.
The taste is so sour that it is impossible to eat it alone!
In fact, Sinhalese curd tastes very similar to that of natural yogurt , but much more sour.
Creamy and slightly acidic and ideal for “sweetening” the mouth without being cloying.

  • Average cost : €1.50
  • Main ingredients : buffalo yogurt, kithul

2 – Wattalappam

It is a pudding made with coconut milk , and of Malaysian derivation that vaguely recalls the creme caramel, but it is much thicker and less slimy.
The basic ingredients are: coconut milk or condensed milk, jaggery, cashews, eggs, various spices, including cardamom, cloves and nutmeg, and sometimes grated vanilla beans

  • Average cost : €1.50
  • Main ingredients : coconut milk, eggs, cashews

3 – Kiribath

It is a traditional dessert made with rice and coconut milk . It can be considered a form of rice cake or rice pudding.

A symbol of good luck , it is mainly cooked on special occasions and holidays. Essential for every propitious moment, and commonly brought to the table for breakfast on the first day of each month. It is an unmissable dish during the celebration of the Sinhalese New Year, when it is cooked and served as the first meal after the dawn of the new year.
It is also the first solid food with which babies are weaned and it is also served at weddings.
It is usually served with Lunumiris , a blend of red onions and spices, but also with bananas.
The recipe for replicating this dessert is quite simple: the rice is boiled in boiling water for about 15 minutes, then coconut milk is added and everything is cooked again until the liquid is completely absorbed.

  • Average cost : €1.00
  • Main ingredients : rice, coconut milk

4 – Pittu
Photo by BHARATHESHA ALASANDEMAJALUS They are coconut-based sweets, just for a change . A combination of flour (or rice or karukan), grated fresh coconut and a handful of dehydrated coconut.
They are shaped like white cylinders and are traditionally steamed in bamboo , but now they are sometimes steamed in circular metal tubes.
After baking, these flaky patties are served with sweetened coconut milk .
Pittu are sometimes spiced with cumin and served with various side dishes including palm sugar, chickpea curry or bananas.

  • Average cost : €0.20
  • Main ingredients : coconut

5 – Fruit
Photo by Federica Ermete This town has an incredible variety of fruit , wonderful, which colors the market stalls, from mango to bananas, from avocado to pineapple, up to strange local fruits such as durian and lemon, mangosteen and the jackfruit.
Impossible not to taste these delicacies and fall in love with them. They are the perfect snack to cool off and quench your thirst during hot afternoons.
You can consume both fresh fruit or try it in the form of tasty juices and smoothies, and again, in the form of delicious fruit salads perhaps with the addition of a scoop of ice cream.
Some fruits are sold on the street as snacks, and the case of paper cones filled with mango sticks that locals sprinkle with chili!
Another mode of consumption, involves frying; one of the most popular snacks are fried jackfruit seeds , which are salted and served in small paper bags to eat while strolling.

  • Average cost : from € 0.40
  • Main ingredients : fruit

Drinks and spirits: what you drink in Sri Lanka
First recommendation: avoid tap water! Always drink bottled water only and also use it to brush your teeth .
Soft drinks are widespread everywhere, both international and local brands.

Coconut milk is omnipresent , as well as, on the other hand, so it could only be, the famous tea.

Coffee is also very popular , both in soluble form and in the form of Nescafe.
Finally, there is an ingrained culture for alcohol. Sinhalese are crazy about beer , which was introduced by foreign prisoners under the reign of Kandy.

1 – Ceylon Tea
Photo by Patrick KolencherryThe country is one of the world’s leading producers of you . A trip here wouldn’t be the same without tasting several cups a day.

The best place to taste various types of tea are the production factories where a canonical tour is planned (book your tour online).
First the working process is shown, from harvesting to drying, passing through the fermentation and crumbling of the leaves, and then you are made to sit in the bar where various types of tea are served: more or less light and in different flavors.
Finally, a walk through the plantations watching the harvesters at work and a stop in the shop are inevitable.

  • Average cost : from € 0.80 the small package
  • Main ingredients : you

2 – Coconut water
No ingredient is more vital than coconut. Each family consumes at least 2 nuts a day. Virtually nothing is thrown away from coconut , a bit like pork here.
The water is drunk, the pulp is eaten and grated to obtain coconut milk in which fish and meat are marinated and, finally, with the peel, robust barks are obtained to make ropes and various tools.
In Sri Lanka there are many varieties of this special fruit, the most famous being the orange-colored royal coconut.
Very popular and appreciated on hot afternoons, coconut water should be drunk directly from the fruit .
It is a widely available product as there are vendors’ kiosks all over the streets ready to smash the coconut with a machete.
Slightly acidic, not everyone can like it, but it is certainly very thirst-quenching .
It is also said, thanks to the mixture of glucose and potassium, to be a good remedy for hangover and symptoms of dysentery. From the peel you get a sort of scoop with which to then scrape the inner wall and taste the delicate fruit, not very tasty and a little slimy.

  • Average cost : €0.20
  • Main ingredients : coconut

3 – Coffee
In Sri Lanka , coffee has always played a secondary role compared to tea , especially since the island’s coffee plantations were destroyed in the 1870s.
In any case, coffee is a drink that is always available. It is often found in a soluble form , even if locally produced; this explains the light and bitter taste.
However, it is not uncommon to find places that make espresso and cappuccino, of questionable taste.
To be on the safe side, the best choice is to opt for Nescafe, dispensed directly from special machines.

  • Average cost : €0.50
  • Main ingredients : coffee

Tips and curiosities: where to eat and what to avoid

Where to eat depends a lot on where you are . Some cities, albeit large, such as Kandy and Sigiryia, do not have tourist restaurants, while in the capital or in the seaside resorts there is a swarm of clubs.
The most comfortable option, if not the obligatory one, is to have dinner at the hotel where you are staying .

The best choice are hotel buffets, which are also very cheap (€ 5.00 / 6.00 excluding drinks).
Along the coast and in the seaside resorts it is advisable to eat fish : very fresh and of excellent quality (about € 25.00 per kg).
Stalls and kiosks with fried snacks that line the road are beautiful to look at and unmissable to capture, but stop there. It is not advisable to consume street food products , because there is no certainty about the hygienic conditions or the quality and freshness of the oil used for frying.
The recommendation is to drink only bottled water (and also use it to brush your teeth!), Eat only cooked vegetables and fruit that can be peeled.

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