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Sri Lankan Cuisine

Hoppers (appa) are native to Sri Lanka.
Spicy Sri Lankan preparations are believed to be among the worlds hottest.
A popular Sri Lankan sweet is kavum, a cake made with rice flour.
Sri Lankan food is has a distinctive taste.
Sri Lankan Cuisine

Sri Lanka’s cuisine mainly consists of boiled or steamed rice served with curry or “rice and curry” as it is commonly referred to. A well-known rice dish served at breakfast is kiribath, meaning “milk rice.” Curries in Sri Lanka are not just limited to meat or fish-based dishes – there are also a vast range of vegetable and even fruit curries. A typical Sri Lankan meal consists of a “main curry” (fish or meat), as well as several other curries of vegetable, lentils and potato. Side-dishes include pickles, chutneys and “sambols” which can sometimes be fiery hot. The most popular of these is the coconut sambol, made of ground coconut mixed with chillies, Maldive fish, lime juice and salt. This is minced into a fluffy combination and eaten with rice, as it gives zest to the meal and is believed to increase the appetite. Sambol is also an excellent accompaniment for hoppers, string hoppers, roti or milk rice. Some people enjoy eating red rice with sambol for breakfast.


Sri Lankans also eat mallung – chopped leaves mixed with red onions and sometimes with grated coconut. Coconut milk is found in most Sri Lankan dishes, giving the cuisine its unique flavor and adding body to the gravy.


Sri Lanka has long been renowned for its spices. In the 15th and 16th centuries, traders from all over the world who came to Sri Lanka also brought their native cuisine to the island, resulting in a rich diversity of cooking styles and techniques. Lamprais – rice boiled in stock with a special curry, accompanied by “frikkadels” (meatballs), all of which is then wrapped in a banana leaf and baked – is a Dutch-influenced Sri Lankan dish. Dutch and Portuguese sweets also continue to be popular. British influences include roast beef and roast chicken.


Sri Lankans use spices liberally in their dishes and typically do not follow an exact recipe: thus, every cook’s curry will taste slightly different. People from different regions of the island (for instance, hill-country versus coastal) traditionally cook in different ways, while people of different ethnic and religious groups prepare dishes according to their customs. Although Sri Lankan food is similar to south Indian cuisine in its use of chilli, cardamom, cumin, coriander and other spices, it has a distinctive taste, and uses ingredients like dried Maldive fish which are not commonly used in India.


Sri Lankan food is generally much spicier than most South Indian cuisine, and many spicy Sri Lankan preparations are believed to be among the worlds hottest in terms of chilli content. There is a liberal use of different varieties of scorching hot chillies such as amu miris, kochchi, and maalu miris (capsicum) among others. While native Sri Lankans are born into this cuisine and develop a healthy tolerance for spicy food, many visitors and tourists to the country often find it too hot. Many local restaurants in tourist areas offer special low-spice versions of local food to cater to foreign palates, or have an alternative Western menu for tourists. It is generally acceptable for tourists to request that the food be cooked with a lower chilli content, to cater for the milder Western palette.


Hoppers (appa) are another food native to Sri Lanka, served mainly for breakfast or dinner and often accompanied by lunu miris, a fiery hot mix of red onions, chilli, salt and sometimes Maldive fish. Hoppers are made from a fermented batter of rice flour, coconut milk and a dash of palm toddy, which lends a sour flavour and helps fermentation. If toddy is not available, yeast is often used. The batter is left to rise over several hours and then cooked in a small hemispherical wok-like pan. There are many types of hoppers including egg hoppers, milk hoppers, and sweeter varieties like vandu appa and pani appa.




A popular Sri Lankan sweet is kavum, a cake made with rice flour and treacle and deep-fried to a golden brown. A variety of kavum, called moong kavum is made from green gram – a type of pulse – which is then ground to a paste and shaped like diamonds before frying. Many traditional sweets are served during the Sinhala and Hindu New Year with kiribath. Wattalapan – a steamed pudding made with coconut milk, eggs, and brown sugar has become a staple Sri Lankan dessert, although first introduced by the Malays.


“Short eats” refers to a variety of snacks that are bought and eaten by the dozen from shops and restaurants. Short eats include pastries, Chinese rolls and patties. The most popular short eat is the Roll, which is tender pieces of fish or meat with potato and seasoned with spices.


Short Eats are the equivalent of starters, and served at parties or to guests when they visit a home. Fast food such as hot dogs and hamburgers have arrived in Sri Lanka, with the globalisation of McDonalds and KFC Fast-Food Chains, but these are not usually considered to be short eats. Hot dogs and hamburgers have also been modified to fit local tastes. Pizza has also become popular in Sri Lanka with the arrival of American brands like Pizza Hut and Dominos.

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