From creamy coconut to exotic spices, those heading to the far-flung shores of Sri Lanka are in for a tasty treat. Lying in the Indian Ocean, less than 20 miles, at its narrowest point, off the southern coast of India, Sri Lanka’s location has made it important over the centuries. A port on the Silk Route, it provided a connection between East and West. Portuguese explorers founded the country’s largest city, Colombo. And the Dutch and the British also colonised the country for a time.
And whilst it might be relatively small in comparison to its neighbours, Sri Lankan cuisine is super-sized; a veritable culinary melting pot of lip smacking dishes and treats where spices feature heavily and Indian influences are evident. Curry and rice are both prominent in Sri Lankan food. And with the sea on its doorstep, fish is another culinary staple.
Curries can be made with different meats, fish and seafood. But vegetarians aren’t left out. Jackfruit is common to the country, and the bumpy green-coloured skin hides a yellow interior which, when cooked is used to make curries.
Wandering along Sri Lankan streets at dinner time, you might see stalls and eateries splicing up Kottu. It’s a gastronomic delight made from torn pieces of Paratha flat bread cooked with spices, egg and vegetables. There are also versions including beef and chicken for meat-eaters. And Cheese Kottu is a relatively recent invention and is made with cheese similar to cottage milk cheese. Pol Sambola is another traditional Sri Lankan food. Made mainly from coconut and spices, it’s easy to make and delicious.
Don't go home without trying hoppers
Hoppers, also known as Aappa, are the norm at breakfast time in Sri Lanka although can also appear at dinner too. And when a dish is as delicious as this, it’s no surprise. Looking a bit like pancakes, it begins with the same batter, before coconut milk and some Sri Lankan palm wine are added. Cooked in a small pan, the outside rises up, resulting in a thin and crispy edge that gives way to a plumper, softer interior. And eggs can be cooked and placed in the middle.
To go alongside these delicious dishes are various types of bread. Pittu cakes, also known as funnel cakes, tend to be served at breakfast time and are made with flour, fresh shredded coconut and some desiccated coconut. Traditionally they were streamed in bamboo but now can be made in circular metal tubes. Flat breads called Paratha, the same used in Kottu, or Roti are also served in Sri Lanka. They can be stuffed with vegetables or even fish then cooked or coconut added: delicious either eaten on their own or with a variety of condiments.
And what to drink?
And wash this all down with some fresh thambili. It’s made from the orange-skinned king coconut and is the perfect tonic to spicy food, plus it’s cheap and healthy. Wood Apples are another fruit native to Sri Lanka and the juice made from the berries and sweetened with sugar is worth sampling. And since Sri Lanka is major global tea producer, sample a cup of one of the local brews.
It’s also worth mentioning how to eat in Sri Lanka. Aside from helping hygiene out with always washing your hands before eating, custom dictates eating should be done with the right hand. If you don’t fancy using your hand to eat, then ask for cutlery. And whilst eating ought to be done with only the right hand, it’s fine to hold a glass in your left hand. It’s also worth bearing in mind that traditionally footwear is removed before entering someone’s home. But wherever you dine, eating in Sri Lanka is sure to be a treat.