10 essential dishes to try in Sri Lanka
1. Rice and curryNo meal in Sri Lanka is complete without a hearty plate of rice and curry. Red, yellow, and green curries, usually made with meat or seafood, coconut milk and spices like chilli, cinnamon, and curry leaves, are presented in a spread—much like Korean banchan—along with an array of vegetable sides like okra, jackfruit, and eggplant. The curries are then ladled over mounds of fluffy rice, with the diner able to mix and match to their heart’s desire.
2. Egg hoppersThese bowl-shaped pancakes (also known as appam) made from rice flour and coconut milk are a staple of Sri Lankan breakfasts and dinners. Cooked in a special pan with a rounded bottom, hoppers can be plain but are best when cooked with an egg in the middle—and are always eaten with curry. The lace-like edges soak up sauce, while the eggy centres remain fluffy.
3. Kottu rotiThis popular street food consists of chopped roti flatbread stir-fried on a griddle with spices, meat, eggs and vegetables. The ingredients are vigorously chopped and tossed together, creating a riot of textures, flavours and aromas. Kottu roti is usually eaten as a late-night snack, but it is too delicious to miss at any hour.
4. Pol sambolThis Sri Lankan version of shredded coconut salad is spicy, tangy, and deeply nutty. Grated coconut is mixed with chilli, lime, and often tomato, onion and Maldivian fish. Pol sambol is usually served as a condiment, but it’s also delicious on its own with rice.
5. Crab currySri Lanka is an island, so seafood like the famous lagoon crab is abundant and a highlight of the cuisine. Crab curry, where chunks of crab meat are simmered in a spicy coconut-based curry sauce, is a signature dish. The sweet crab meat, which falls off the shell, pairs perfectly with the rich and fiery curry.
6. Ambul thiyal
Ambul thiyal, also known as sour fish curry, is a popular Sri Lankan dish made with tuna, spices, and dried goraka fruit. The dish is typically prepared by marinating chunks of tuna in a mixture of spices and then cooking it in a tangy sauce made with dried goraka fruit, which gives it its distinctive sour flavour. A staple in Sri Lankan cuisine, ambul thiyal and is often served with rice and other traditional sides.
7. String hoppersA popular dish across Sri Lanka and South India, string hoppers (also known as idiyappam) are made from a steamed mixture of rice flour pressed into thin noodles or “strings”. The noodles are typically served with a variety of curries, chutneys, and sambols, and are a staple in Sri Lankan cuisine. Whether eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, string hoppers are loved for their soft, delicate texture and versatility, as it can be paired with a wide range of flavourful curries and condiments.
8. Ceylon teaWhile not exactly a dish, Ceylon tea is absolutely essential to try while in Sri Lanka. A type of black tea that is grown and produced in Sri Lanka, Ceylon tea is known for its distinct flavor and aroma, which is influenced by the island’s unique climate and soil conditions. The tea is typically brewed strong and served with milk and sugar, although it can also be enjoyed plain or with a slice of lemon. Ceylon tea is a staple in Sri Lankan culture and is often served to guests as a symbol of hospitality. It is also exported around the world and is a popular choice among tea lovers for its bold and robust flavour.
9. Milk riceFor a sweet ending to a Sri Lankan meal, milk rice is ideal. Essentially a milky rice pudding infused with coconut milk, sugar and spices like cardamom, nutmeg and saffron, it’s often garnished with more coconut milk, fruit like mangoes or bananas and pistachios for a comforting dessert that packs a punch.
10. WatalappanA sweet and creamy pudding made with coconut milk, jaggery (a type of unrefined cane sugar), cashews, and spices, watalappan is typically steamed in small bowls or cups and has a smooth and silky texture. It’s often flavoured with a combination of cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg, which gives it a warm and aromatic taste. The dessert is often served during special occasions and festivals, such as weddings and New Year celebrations, and is a beloved ending to any Sri Lankan meal. Source: Tatler Asia
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