We, Bengalis, are generally most pleased and happy right after having a meal and that has to be a rice meal! Any dal or curry goes well with that steamed rice as long as it is pleasing to our taste buds and maybe a bit familiar. When I came to Sri Lanka in December 2017, I was all geared up to taste their local food and mainly their curry and rice dishes for my heavy meals! Sri Lankan food has got several similarities with South Indian food that includes cuisines from Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Now it does not guarantee that if you have dined at these Indian places you know everything about the Sri Lankan food, cuisines and delicacies.
So, today I will let you know my favourite three dishes that I had tasted at this place which is also called the Pearl of the Indian Ocean! Anyway, these three dishes happen to constitute my list of TOP 3 dishes which you definitely can’t miss if you are in Sri Lanka! It’ll really be a crime if you miss them. These food items can be termed as genuine Sri Lankan local dishes that the locals are consuming day in and day out! And yes, still they are not getting bored of those dishes; it’s like the Roti Subzi for an Indian, Sushi for Japanese or Hainanese Chicken Rice for a Singaporean!
So, here goes the list:
- Rice and Curry
I almost ate my way through Sri Lanka! 🙂 And Curry-n-Rice was a major part of it. You can refer this dish as the national meal of the Sri Lankans. The curry generally has a thin broth with the choice of protein like fish, beef, chicken, goat, prawns, etc cut into big chunks. The rice is also very typical; it’s well-steamed, pretty soft with roundish grains (pearl shaped), something absolutely opposite to the Basmati Rice.
Along with this, at most places they offer an array of side dishes that primarily includes dhal (thick yellow lentil curry), pumpkin curry, dry okra curry, radish curry, dry sautéed cabbage with shredded coconut, mallungs or mallums (shredded green veggies with shredded coconut), tossed beans, and many more. The proteins are generally cooked in a curry which is tad spicy but extremely flavorful, often you get a tangy mango pickle, coconut sambal and chilly sambal to go with it.
I had tried a humble roadside eatery in Dambulla (near the Dambulla Cave Temple), called Athula Restaurant. The Rice-and-Curry buffet at this place was just amazing and extremely pocket-friendly! The food is basically home-cooked since the owner’s house is somewhat attached to the eatery, hence the food is as authentic and homely as it can get. All the above-mentioned side dishes were present in this buffet. Here, there was chicken curry or Kukul mas curry in the buffet, which tasted amazing! In this Rice and Curry buffet, they offered brown rice besides white steamed rice, but I felt the brown rice was a tad hard for me to digest 🙂 But anyway, apart from Athula, I had tried Rice and Curry in Sri Lanka at various restaurants, roadside joints and at the Hotels where I stayed. It is definitely a meal which you can rely upon. You can have this every day, two times a day!
- Idiyappam with Fish Ambul Thiyal
I tried this at Giritale and was extremely impressed. This is perfected to be consumed for breakfast but remember the sour Fish curry is pretty spicy, hard-hitting and unapologetic!! I had already had Idiyappam in India, so I was familiar with that. These are basically string hoppers consisting of rice flour pressed into noodle form and then steamed, it forms a sticky noodle cake which you tear, dip in that curry (which comes along with it) and have.
Here, in this case, the curry which I loved was Fish Ambul Thiyal or the sour fish curry. The fish is basically firm and pretty large and cut roughly into cubes. It is then sautéed with spices like black pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, pandan leaves, garlic, dried goraka and curry leaves. The dish has very little curry and it is a tad dry but very well cooked and spiced, the dominance of black pepper is pretty evident in the end. You should really try idiyappam with some curry if you are in Sri Lanka, surely a must-try item!
Kottu or Kotthu roti is the most popular fast food in Sri Lanka, nothing comes close to it. It is like Sri Lanka’s hamburger! Everyone has it when they are up for some delicious meal keeping health and diet in the backseat. I came to know about kottu from a localite, he was our guide for the tour and an amazing human being. He took me to a humble eatery called ‘Midland Deli’ in Kandy where I tasted some amazing Kottu with spicy gravy. Kottu actually means ‘chopped bread’ and consists of shredded Godhamba roti (a type of Sri Lankan flat bread), vegetables, egg, beef or chicken and stir-fried together!
To me, I felt it is pretty close to fried rice but made with small pieces of roti instead of rice. Generally, the veggies, proteins and Godhamba rotis are shredded into pieces on a metal bed using two metal spatulas/plates; it’s like the preparation of ice cream rolls (at least the beating part)! As already mentioned, Kottu is served with a very spicy curry, which you can use as a dip or pour over the kottu, but I found it is very spicy so I tried to avoid it 🙂
Well, this bonus item on this list is not a cooked food item, but a fruit which is Sri Lankan to its core. This is a kind of coconut which you won’t find in India. It is the king coconut that is cultivated in Sri Lanka and it is called Thambili.
It is orange coloured and much sweeter than regular coconuts! They generally have loads of water in them and act as a perfect healthy thirst quencher. I had Thambili at various spots in Sri Lanka but I felt this lady at her stall near the Polonnaruwa ruins has got some of the sweetest Thambilis!! If you are here, definitely try them out, these are priced at LKR 100 each. And yes, besides this, I must mention that you also typically get fresh fruits after almost every meal in this island country.
Apart from these, I had also tasted a lot more varieties of dishes in Sri Lanka in several buffet joints and roadside places. I was really fascinated by their Parippu or dhal curry which you can consume with rice or roti; they are so flavorful for that splash of coconut milk which makes this dish extremely rich and creamy! You can also try pittu for breakfast and watallapan and buffalo curd for desserts. Besides this, I also loved the Black Pork Curry (thin black pepper curry) with some Nasi Goreng Rice which I tried at Kandy. There I had also had roasted pork, spaghetti, noodles, etc but those can’t be termed as Sri Lankan local dishes, so I am cutting short the discussion on all these dishes here. Overall, my food exploration in Sri Lanka was quite successful keeping some constraints and a tight schedule in mind. Hope this article has given you some insight and gastronomical goals about the food available in Sri Lanka. You can surely come to this country for their food alone, the tastes are unique and you will love them for sure.