Traveling with a food blogger means getting to try all the weird and wonderful dishes a country’s cuisine has to offer. Sometimes I may be hesitant, but Cody is pretty much game for tasting anything once; From deep fried scorpions in China, alcoholic yak’s milk in Mongolia, to maggot cheese in Italy. Of course, when we decided to visit Sri Lanka for two weeks, Cody immediately started researching the must try foods in Sri Lanka.
This list of must try foods in Sri Lanka is in no way comprehensive. It is just a collection of dishes we had and enjoyed, and felt are an important cultural dish. The best part is, many of these entries come with a link to the recipe!
Egg Hoppers are an iconic Sri Lankan breakfast dish. They are essentially a coconut crepe that is fried in a small wok style pan. Into the middle and egg is dropped and when the egg is cooked, the hopper can be plated. They retain their bowl shape even after being removed from the hopper pan and are eaten like a taco. You can add a variety of seasonings, but my favorite is a bit of chili sambal to really wake up those senses in the morning.
If you are a fan of Indian food, surely you’ve heard of roti before. However Sri Lankan roti is quite different in that it is always made with grated coconut. The dough is stretchy and can be fried small and thick, or spread thin and stuffed with a filling. I like my breakfast roti with a pat of good butter, but if I’m feeling like a stuffed roti, Cody made a chicken and cheese filled roti while we were in Mirissa that was quite delicious (even though it isn’t so pretty looking).
In almost every city/town center in Sri Lanka you can hear the clickety-clack of vendors making Kottu. They are chopping away at a mix of roti, veggies, egg/meat, and spices with large iron spatulas which can be heard from far away. This is the most popular street food in Sri Lanka so of course it is a must try food.
While being chopped, the food is also being cooked on a griddle so it is perfect if you want a quick hot meal for cheap. The best kottu we had was from Big Belly Roti Hut in Mirissa. While a bit overpriced due to the popular beachside location, they give you a ton of food and an assortment of varying spicy sauces. If you are in a small town ordering from a street cart, you can get a veggie or egg kottu for as little as 100 rupees ($0.60)
Most Sri Lankan people eat rice and curry every day, but Ambul Thiyal is a special type. Called Sour Fish Curry in English, this dish is made by ‘cooking’ large chunks of fresh tuna in the acid of garcinia fruit paste. In a way it is kind of like how ceviche is fish cooked in the acid of lime juice.
Cody learned how to make this dish from the host of our home stay in Ella, Sri Lanka and I have to say it was one of my favorite curries. Because you do not want to ruin the flavor of the tuna, the spices are used subtly and meant to elevate the flavor of the fish; Not to mask the protein like with Indian curries.
Quite possibly the most popular curry in Sri Lanka, the simple mixed vegetable curry is 100% one of the must try foods in Sri Lanka. While everyone will have their own way of making it, as long as you use endemic vegetables, proper spices, and fresh coconut milk you’re bound to make an authentic mixed vegetable curry.
The mixed vegetable curry pictured here is another one Cody and Winston made during our stay in Ella. The recipe actually comes from Winston’s 84 year old mother, so I’m really happy it is now forever immortalized in the annals of the interwebs. I even helped grate the coconut for this recipe!
As every restaurant/family has their own recipe, chances are you’ll taste different flavors every time you order a mixed vegetable curry, but you’ll probably enjoy it anyways.
A devilled dish, for example a Chicken Devel (I don’t know why they use different spellings, this is just what we were taught) is a Sri Lankan dish of Chinese origin. Over a hundred years ago, many Chinese moved to Sri Lanka and of course brought their cuisine with them. Over time they started to fuse the original dishes with Sri Lankan ingredients and thus a devilled dish was born.
These dishes are usually wok fried, and tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce. A bit similar to the American-Chinese Sweet-Sour food you can find, except these focus more on the chili than the tartness. I actually find some of these dishes better than the actual Chinese stir-fry meals I would get back when I lived in China.
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You can find devilled dishes all over Sri Lanka, but the best place would be to go to Chinatown in Colombo and order it from actual Chi Lankans!
Jaffna is the northernmost city in Sri Lanka, but you don’t need to go all the way over there to get a delicious Jaffna Crab Curry. In fact, the best crabs come from the Negombo Lagoon anyways, which are shipped all over the island. This is my absolute favorite Sri Lankan dish bar none, maybe because I feel its such a good value. Ordering crab in most countries costs an arm and a leg, but here in Sri Lanka a lagoon crab is only a couple dollars.
The best Jaffna Crab Curry we had in Sri Lanka was at Nautilus in Unawatuna. The chef, who also runs a Sri Lankan cooking school during the day, was happy to give us the recipe. It was the daily special so we paid 550 rupees for a Jaffna crab curry, rice, and salad. I was impressed that the curry had an entire crab and they didn’t cheap out and just toss some crab meat scraps in there.
Sri Lankan Dhal (sometimes called Dal or Dahl) is a spiced lentil stew that is perfect with some poppadum chips. I treat it as a substitute for guacamole and am going to have Cody make it when we have get togethers at our home.
You can find this dish all over Sri Lanka, and people will make it with all different recipes, as well as different types of lentils.
While it has a similar name to Egg Hoppers, these two dishes could not be more different. Whereas egg hoppers are a coconut crepe with egg, bowl shaped fried dish, string hoppers are a rice paste put thru what looks like a play-doh extruder, and steamed. This is a breakfast dish, and goes well with a light, sweet curry. Actually string hoppers remind me of something you would get in South East Asia for some reason.
String Hoppers are wildly popular with the locals and for that reason I’m putting them on the list of must try foods in Sri Lanka!
Is there a dish I missed that absolutely needs to be here? Let me know in the comments down below!
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