Ohh, I just returned from a wonderful vacation, from the island country down south – Sri Lanka. If you’ve been following me on social media, you’ve been witness to all the wonderful sights, sounds, and food Sri Lanka has to offer.
My holiday was beautiful in so many ways. Beaches that are pristine, with clear water and blue skies. Mountains that provide peace, tranquil and helped me re-connect with myself. Locals that are warm, smiling, and ever helpful. Sri Lanka is raw, natural, and untapped – and I sincerely hope it remains that way.
And don’t even get me started on the food. I emptied half of the Lanka seas with the amount of seafood that I ate. Sri Lanka is a paradise for the pescetarian and the meat lover. Vegetarians may have a difficult time finding local food. I made it a point to eat authentic Lankan food on the trip, may it be from a restaurant, street side stall or a beach shack. This post is a tribute to the many meals I had while on vacation in Sri Lanka. And in no way does it encompass everything. There’s only so many meals you can have in a day.
Also known to us as appams, if you’re acquainted with South Indian cuisine, you’ve definitely eaten this rice flour and coconut milk preparation shaped like a bowl. You may not have eaten it the way the Sri Lankans do – as a breakfast dish with eggs, or even meat. We ate loads of hoppers on our trip, my personal favorite being the runny egg version topped with green chillies. Or else paired with a spicy fish curry, to help mop up the gravy. Hoppers are available at every restaurant, but the best hoppers we ate came from the tiny street side stalls.
2. Kothu Roti
A dish made up of bits of chopped up roti, vegetables, spices, and minced chicken or egg – you’ll find a ‘Rotty/ Rotti/ Roti’ stall on every second street in this country. If I may draw comparisons, it comes close to the Indian bhurjee. It was our unanimous favourite street food on the trip. Get the chicken Kothu with some hoppers on the side, and make a meal of it!
3. Sri Lankan Curry
I was taken aback to see curry on the breakfast menu during my first morning in the country, only to realize later how much the locals love their curry. Our driver claimed to eat curry three meals a day pairing it with rice, hoppers and bread alternately. I ate some delicious curry with jumbo prawns as big as my face, at a beautiful sea facing restaurant in Galle called ‘A Minute by Tuk Tuk’, and it was a curry whose taste I’d never forget. Another delicious red snapper curry comes to mind that we ate on the beach, with the sea breeze in our hair.
4. Seafood, seafood, and more seafood
While you’re living in the Southern coastal province of the country, be rest assured you will be dining on the freshest catch that they pick right out of the waters, and onto your plate. And uff! Don’t get me started on the variety even.
5. Devilled Prawns / Chicken / Beef / Pork
You’re going to find a ‘devilled’ dish on every menu in the country, and we couldn’t leave without trying it. Our devilled prawns were large chunky prawns in a spicy-tangy gravy with diced vegetables. We paired this with rice, at Refresh restaurant in Hikkaduwa, a beautiful eatery on the beach. We even found ‘devilled’ flavoured instant noodles in a supermarket, such is the popularity of this dish here.
6. Sri Lankan Thali
The best way to sample Sri Lankan cuisine in one go, is to simply get a thali which is easily available. We had a spectacular thali at an unassuming little restaurant called Tree Top in the Southern Province, which was absolutely value for money at 950 Lankan rupees (approx 425 INR). Fish curry, coconut sambhal, beans curry, potato sabzi, and dhal curry – a creamy, coconutty version of our Indian dal was devoured, and this remained one of the best meals we had on the trip. DO NOT leave Lanka without trying the dhal curry, and coconut sambhal – common accompaniments to every meal. Another place you can go try local food is Raja Bojun, Colombo which serves up delicious Sri Lankan buffet meals.
7. Fried Rice
Don’t roll your eyes at this entrant on my list. The Sri Lankan fried rice is slightly different from the version we eat in India. The fried rice here is less spicy and far more bland only because it is eaten with a devilled gravy or curry, and comes with papad and chutney on the side. Quite an interesting fusion dish, this!
8. Black Pork
The Lankans love their meat. I ate some delicious seafood, beef, and pork on my trip. Even a chicken dish was hard to find. My stand out meat dish on the entire trip was this Black Pork which we had again at ‘A Minute by Tuk Tuk’ restaurant in Galle. Chunks of succulent pork; cooked well in a spicy, black, pepper sauce. The surprise element in the dish was pineapple, that helped provide sweetness to this otherwise spicy dish. This came with the most delicious dhal curry on the side.
9. Sri Lankan Omelette
Onions, pepper, curry leaves, tons of green chilli goes into the making of the local omelette. It tastes very similar to our Indian masala omelette, barring the inclusion of tomatoes. A lot of my breakfasts included the local omelette with a spectacular view to match. I could not try the omelette curry on this trip, unfortunately. Something to look forward to on the next trip.
10. Coconut Roti
A thick roti made by adding shredded coconut in the batter, the ‘pol roti’ or the coconut roti is a fairly common breakfast dish in the country, and can be eaten with curry, coconut sambhal or just as it is. We were served pieces of coconut roti with an interesting garlic oil, and ended up licking our fingers clean.
11. Savoury Pancakes
We were intrigued to find chicken/ beef/ pork pancakes on the menu at a couple of restaurants. These pancakes are nothing but a thick egg roti, stuffed with meat of your choice. Our beef pancake was polished off in three minutes flat, and we were left wishing we had discovered this earlier.
12. Fish / Egg / Chicken Buns
I was amazed at the number of bakeries I spotted in the larger cities of Sri Lanka. We tried some interesting cookies, biscuits and buns – but Pune bakeries have spoilt me for good. The only exciting bakery item I discovered was on a train from Hikkaduwa to Colombo. We bought some fish buns and egg buns from a local vendor, and believe me, breakfast has never tasted so good!
Sri Lanka is the world’s fourth largest producer of tea. I had good ol’ ‘Ceylon Tea’ everywhere I could get my hands on a cuppa. The variants of tea will blow your mind – I even sampled some silver and golden tea. The flavours of tea will dazzle you – peach apricot, vanilla, and even chilli. I bought packets and packets of flavored green tea back home, even last minute at the Dilmah duty free store at the airport. I sip on some Apple tea as I write this post, and I am immediately transported to this hills of Kandy, inhaling fresh mountain air and looking over intoxicatingly green hills.
2. Lion Beer
Lion Beer emerged from Sri Lanka’s first brewery in 1860, and still dominates the country’s beer market. We were served Lion Beer everywhere we went – right from a local beach shack to the lounge of a five star hotel. One of my favorite memories of Sri Lanka involves sharing a Lion Beer can with our driver who took us around the country on the last day of our trip.
A distilled alcohol made from coconut flowers, the Arrack is very similar to Goa’s Feni in taste. Sri Lankan liquor shops advertise the availability of Arrack, and all locals seem to be drinking this. We even found Arrack cocktails on the menu of some restaurants. I personally did not enjoy the taste one bit, it’s far too strong for me. But it is definitely worth trying once on your visit to Lanka.
4. King Coconut Water
In Sri Lanka our green, tender coconuts are replaced by yellow-orange King coconuts. The King Coconut is native to Sri Lanka, and kiosks selling the fruit are a common sight across the country. It was sad that only on the last day of our trip we decided to detox from all the alcohol and drink coconut water instead. The King Coconut is a sweeter version of the tender coconut water we are so used to drinking. And it is so damn delicious!
There are so many more places I wanted to try, but time was a major constraint. Ministry of Crab in Colombo was top on my list, but budget and time were limited on the last day. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka, you amazed me with the amount of food you had to offer. (The vegetarians travelling with me will clearly disagree). Hopefully, the second trip around I’d be able to eat my way through a lot more.
Coming Next is ‘Lanka Diaries: Must Do’. All what I did on my week long trip in the country, and recommendations if you should follow suit too. Till then, happy reading, and happy eating!