Eat Like A Local – Sri Lanka
Do you want to know how to eat like a local in Sri Lanka?
I spent 2 weeks travelling around Sri Lanka discovering the best traditional dishes as well as the local surfing, diving, tea plantations and temples.
What to expect
With a tropical climate of wet, dry, and cooler tea-coated highlands zones, almost anything can grow and live here. This is what gives Sri Lanka a great variety of vegetables, fruits, fish and spices.
The staple diet here is rice and curry with endless choice of flavours from this beautiful small island. All local eat with their hands so don’t be put off by this and get involved! You will look like a right punter eating with a knife a fork.
Relax and don’t rush it. Unlike the western fast pace lifestyle, microwave meals and processed food. Sri Lankan cuisine and lifestyle mirror the slow pace of life, to take their time and careful planning.
Expect to wait for the buses, trains or when ordering your food. If you live in London and you want to experience the relaxed pace and amazingly cheap Sri Lankan food, head down to the Apollo Banana Leaf in Tooting. Don’t let the appearance put you off, the beauty is within!
TIP: Learn to enjoy spice before you get out here so you can appreciate more variety of food. I am not talking about eating a vindaloo for the next 2 weeks but a curry that offers a gentle kick. They LOVE their spices out here and when you first order, as for very little spice… it will still be beautifully spiced!
Here is my map of my 2 weeks of travelling around Sri Lanka
My favourite: hoppers -in a simple term, it’s a bowl-shaped pancake of rice flour and coconut
milk with sweet and savoury variations. Eaten at any time of the day and found in most towns in Sri Lanka.
My first experience was in Kandy at the Airbnb I stayed in. Normally I had it with pineapple jam or cheese but you could also have it with vegetables, sambal, egg or just as it is.
What is a Hopper?
Like I said, it is a bowl-shaped pancake made from fermented rice flour and coconut milk. When cooked in their rounded pans, they consist of lovely crispy edges and a thicker at the bottom.
If you get an egg hopper, they add the hopper mix to the rounded pan and crack the egg at the bottom… YUM! To eat the hopper, break off pieces with your fingers and add to your topping choice.
Dahl is another popular dish to start the day with. I guess you could say this is their version of our porridge but with a lot more flavour!
Curry. Yes, you read correctly. You can have a fish, meat or vegetable curry in the morning to get you on your way. My favourite was the egg curry, hard-boiled eggs in a mild coconut sauce.
Pol (coconut) sambol is freshly shredded coconuts with hot red chillies, lime, tamarind, salt and chopped onion. It’s more of an accompaniment really with your hoppers but I happily had it on its own.
My favourite: Beef Samosas – whenever I knew I was going on a long journey, I would stock up on beef and vegetable samosas. Why? Because they were cheap, filling and incredibly tasty. I found the smaller they were the tastier they are because of the filling to pastry ratio (obviously I just purchased more when they were really small).
My first encounter was on a little stall just outside Colombo station, this is where the addition
King Coconut- refreshing and hydrating treat to have on a Sri Lankan summers day. Also, because coconut water is high in electrolytes, it is great to rehydrate the body in case of dehydration (hangovers too) and fluid loss when ill.
Short eats – made by frying up vegetables stuffed flat bread anflatbreade into a tightly shaped triangle. Perfect for popping into your bag for later (I normally got two, one for now, one for later).
Hoppers – found on many street food stalls and a great snack to munch on while exploring the town.
My Favourite: Young Jackfruit Curry (Polos)
This is a unripe jackfruit, cut into chunks and simmered in a blend of rich spices. A ripe jackfruit is sweet and often eaten as a snack or dessert. The tender pieces of jackfruit can be passed as chunks of slow cooked beef. Keep your eye out for this dish on the menu.
Fish ambul thiyal
Originated in Southern Sri Lanka as a method to preserve fish and is mixed with a range of spices to create a dry curry texture. Each cubed
fish, which is usually tuna is sautéed in a blend of spices such as black pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, garlic, curry leaves and dried goraka (a tamarind-like fruit). The Goraka is what give the fish a tart flavour.
Brinjal Eggplant (Wambatu Moju)
This was another dish I couldn’t get enough of. Although it was used more for a pickle, I would happily have it on its own. The eggplant smothered with salt, oil, soy sauce, and sugar. Itis then cooked until tender and the sugar begins to caramelise. This goes well with many spicy curries as a cheeky sweet flavour to your dish.
Vegetarian or chicken Kottu Roti
You will hear it before you can smell it. An extremely popular Sri Lankan street food dish that I found In Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Arugam Bay.
It is a very simple but yet tasty dish made from shredded pieces of Sri Lankan roti, fried with an assortment of spices and a choice of meat (or vegetarian) ingredients. I called it the cheeseburger of Sri Lanka, fast, tasty and stodgy food.
You can easily make them at home with my recipe but just keep the noise down…
? Chicken Roti for dinner tonight with curry chickpeas and a vegetable roti to share tonight. ? Arrived in Nuwara Eliya today via bus with many stunning views of the tea plantations and mountain side views! ??? Beautiful town with a real old English colonial touch to it. ?? @hopperslondon #biffenskitchen #roti #chicken #srilanka #srilankanfood #travellingfood #travelling #NuwaraEliya #chickpeas #vegetables
My Favourite: Nutella and banana stuffed roti – Now I know this isn’t the most traditional of Sri Lankan desserts but combining stodgy roti bread with banana and Nutella… it was a match made in heaven. I had my first one in the surf capital Arugam Bay after eating a beautiful fish curry at the Food Garden on the main road out towards Potuvill.
Kalu Dodol – This was a little too sweet for me but was very popular with the locals. It’s made from boiling coconut milk and Kitul Juggery (sugar substance) in a big pan and then add rice flour, cashew nut and spices. It is worth a try in one of the many bakeries found in Kandy… but I cannot remember what it was called!
Watalappan was more up my street. It’s a coconut custard pudding made from coconut milk, jaggery (solid sugar palm), cashew nuts, eggs, many different local spices. You can really taste the cardamom pods and cloves. It’s perfect to have a heavy curry dish as it is quite light in density.
Looking for more information on Sri Lanka for your big trip?
It’s Not Just The Food!
The tea plantation I discovered was in the central province of Sri Lanka, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya. This is one of the main sources of foreign exchange for Sri Lanka and is the ideal growing climate with the humidity, cool temperatures, and rainfall of the country’s central highlands.
The main types of Ceylon tea sold are:
Black tea – This is one of the countries specialities which provides a crisp aroma reminiscent of citrus.
Green tea – I purchase 300g of the gunpowder green tea at Blue Field Tea Gardens.
- White tea – I didn’t even know this existed until I arrived. I found out that white tea was the most highly priced per kilogramme, making it significantly more expensive than the other teas.
During my staying In Nuwara Eliya I spend a day travelling around in my personal tuk-tuk, swimming in the Aberdeen Falls, taking in the stunning views of lake Gregory and discovering the tea production at Blue Field Tea Gardens. It’s worth a visit to get a better insight of how tea it produced and the colonial plantation.
Sri Lanka is one of my favourite places in the world to visit! I found the people are friendly and helpful on your travels in the smaller towns and villages, the food is just incredible, the surfing was clean and relaxing and the scenery is simply breathtaking! With just 2 weeks you can see a lot of Sri Lanka.
This was a quick overview of my experience of traditional Sri Lankan cuisine if you feel I missed something important, comment below. I would love to hear your experiences too.
If you loved this post then please share it on for me to help others discover their love for Sri Lanka.
A big thanks to Lonely planet for their incredible local tips and great places to stay.