Top 10 foods to try in Sri Lanka

A trip to the island of Sri Lanka is an opportunity to feast on its rich, melting-pot cuisine, which is influenced by its geography. Positioned in the Indian Ocean between Eastern and Western culture, expect an abundance of flavours...

Sri Lanka beach with palm trees

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Sri Lanka is emerging as an Asian hotspot with its stellar combination of World Heritage sites, wildlife, history, rich culture, pristine beaches and friendly people. For travelers it's a feast for all the senses.

Don’t leave Sri Lanka without trying…

Kottu roti

It’s common to hear the rhythmic clank of the kottu maker on the streets - it’s the ultimate Sri Lankan street food. It’s basically a stir-fry which originated as a simple way of dealing with leftovers. Featuring pieces of roti (bread) mixed together with finely shredded vegetables or pieces of meat, soya sauce, spices, ginger and garlic, on a flat iron skillet using two metal cleavers with wooden handles. You can usually find it in the evenings on the many street stalls, which make use of the leftover ingredients of the day!


Originating from a Dutch word that translates as ‘a packet of food’, this is a dish usually made by the Burgher community, who are descendents of colonial Europeans. It consists of boiled eggs, eggplant, frikkadels (Dutch-style beef balls), mixed meats (soya for vegetarians) and sambol. Infused with cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and rice the mix is then wrapped in a banana leaf and baked in the oven at a low temperature for several hours.

Dhal curry

Lime and coconut dhal in a small bowl with charred naan pieces

Rice and curry is Sri Lankan comfort food. Dhal curry is made from red lentils (masoor dhal) cooked in coconut milk. Onions, tomatoes and fresh green chilies, are sautéed and mixed with tempered spices like cumin seeds, turmeric, fenugreek, mustard seeds and pandan leaves. This is even more delicious when made in an earthen pot.

Try making your own lime & coconut dhal

Gotu kola mallung (salad)

Mallung is very much a part of the Sri Lankan diet. They deliver a dose of vitamins to a meal loaded with carbs and protein while adding colourful aesthetic appeal.  Mallum or mallung is made with chopped greens and chilies then seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon juice as well as ginger, shallots and a sprinkling of fresh grated coconut. Gotu kola leaves (Asiatic pennywort) are used to make a tangy, salad-like taboulleh.

Eggplant (wambatu) moju.

One of the most celebrated classic Sri Lankan dishes with plenty of regional variations. It tastes like a caramelised pickle and is usually served with rice. The eggplant slices are deep-fried until brown and then combined with, chili powder, ground mustard seeds, cloves, salt, sugar and vinegar to create a piquant dark saucy moju. This is then added to fried shallots, crushed garlic and shredded ginger and served with plain rice.

Egg hoppers with sambol (appa)

Hopper pancake bowl topped with egg, served with fried chicken and sambol

Hoppers are basically the Sri Lankan version of thin pancakes with crispy edges. These crepe-like bowls are made from fermented rice flour, coconut milk, coconut water and a little sugar. A ladle of batter is fried in a small wok and swirled around to even it out. An egg is cracked into the bowl-shaped pancake as it cooks. Traditionally, hoppers were cooked at home over coconut-shell embers. Egg hoppers are garnished with lunu miris - a sambol of onions, chilies, lemon juice and salt. Pol sambol, which might also be called fresh coconut relish, is a simple blend of finely grated coconut, red onions, dried whole chilies, lime juice, salt and a little fish. It is sprinkled over almost everything! Research tells us it may have originated in Indonesia, but it is found all over Sri Lanka.

Try our Sri Lankan fried chicken & hoppers recipe

Wood apple juice

If you walk through a market in Sri Lanka, your nose will lead you to the wood apple stall - it’s a South Asian fruit with a brown paste inside the hard shell. The fruit has many health benefits and aids digestion. A favourite with the locals is a wood apple smoothie, a blend with jaggery and water.

Green jackfruit curry (polos)

Jackfruit, both the unripe and ripe fruit is very popular in the country. The young green jackfruit called polos is sliced into small chunks and boiled until soft. It's then cooked with onions, garlic, ginger and spices such as mustard seeds, turmeric, chili powder, curry powder and pandan leaves. Coconut milk has to be added towards the end and simmered to reduce most of the liquid, leaving all the beautiful flavors within the cubes of jackfruit!

Fish ambul thiyal (sour fish curry)

This peppery fish dish originated in Southern Sri Lanka as a method to preserve fish.  Cubed fish (usually tuna) is sautéed in a blend of spices including black pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, garlic, pandan leaves and curry leaves. The most significant ingredient is dried goraka, a tamarind-like fruit that gives the fish its distinctive, tart flavour. All the ingredients are simmered with a small amount of water and cooked until the liquid reduces. This allows the spice mixture to coat each cube of fish and makes a dry curry.


Malay-influenced Watalappan, which is very popular with Sri Lankan Muslims, is a must for their religious festivals. It’s a rich steamed egg custard made with Kitul jaggery, coconut milk and spices like cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. Air bubbles keep the thick dessert from getting too heavy.

Have you sampled authentic Sri Lankan cuisine? We’d love to hear your foodie experiences. We have lots more for gourmet globetrotters in our travel section

Comments, questions and tips

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21st Feb, 2016
This is a great article to introduce different types of Sri Lankan food. One correction though. The photo displayed as Dhal Curry is actually a bowl of chickpeas. Here is what Dhall Curry looks like. And I eat this curry at least 3 days a week.
17th Jun, 2015
Sri lanka is one of the locations that is never regarded in cultural terms of almost anything. Food, music, holiday destinations, only cricket gets a mention. But their foods are among the most unique in the world. How do I know this ? There was a cultural food festival at London’s Gibson hall last year and here they had a whole day featuring their foods and other things, quite a revelation (how many of you even can name the countries capital ?? . . . . “columbo”. I went and can recommend these food events as they are really entertaining and enlightening. There is another one being held in August (again at Gibson hall) about Bar B Q foods (presumably show casing their versatility- hopefully they have a garden room to do all this in – but it would be interesting to gather some cool tips from. That aside; from my last visit you quickly learn that Sir Lanka is an amazing county of surprises in terms of food, check out the pictures ( to see what they did.
13th Apr, 2015
Lovely to see a spotlight on Sri Lankan food! My mother is Sri Lankan and although she didn't cook this cuisine much as I was growing up, it was a real treat when she did. For healthy foodies the mallung salad is to be recommended, packed with vitamins and iron (much like kale is) and the coconut gives the dish a real lift. As a child wood apple juice was my favourite drink when we visited my relatives in SL but the all time star of the show for children are hoppers. Egg hoppers are listed here (and indeed they are delicious) but they can also be made without the egg. This renders them a simple coconut milk 'pancake' with a beautiful lacy outer rim and light, fluffy inner section which melts in the mouth. For children they are often made with a honey equivalent or coconut syrup which sweetens the batter, but not overly so. Finally, and just to cause a bit of confusion, there is another type of hopper - the string hopper. Essentially made of coconut milk and rice flour, the string hopper is a steamed 'patty' of noodles served with a mild curry sauce (kiri hodi) and sambol, usually for breakfast. I would say that the food in SL is as flavourful as Thai food, just with more of a focus on curries and less on noodles. A beautiful country with outstanding cuisine...worth a visit!
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