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How and where to taste sri Lankan cuisine


Rice and Curry

Sri Lankans eat rice and curry at least two times a day. Should you dine at any small restaurant, you are sure to become very familiar with this ubiquitous dish. There are no fewer than fifteen kinds of rice (short grain, long, round and big, white, red, pink, yellow, to name a few), but none match up to the delicious Indian Basmati.


The curries will surely impress the visitor to the island. If you want to guess if your dish is spicy or not, take a careful look at the colour of the gravy! Any shade of pale is safe and not spicy, a brownish tinge is sure to excite (or annoy) your papillae and any resemblance to gradations of red indicates liberal use of chillies. Curries are often flavoured with a mix of saffron, cumin, pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, etc. They and also cooked in coconut milk. Curries can include chicken, meat, fish or just vegetables.


Other Local Dishes

The basic rice and curry is accompanied by the mallung (a mixture of spiced vegetables) and the omnipresent coconut. A spoon of “paruppu” or red lentil is also a must. Deep-fried patties (papadam), pickles (spiced condiments) and chutneys (often made from mangoes and often quite spicy) can enliven your meal. The omnipresent specialty of the island however is sambol. The most popular “pol sambol” is made with chilli, coconut, onion, salt, lemon and sometimes, dried fish. The only way to eat this and not set your tongue on fire is to add a big spoon of rice and maybe some yogurt.


Although most Sri Lankans are used to having rice and curry for all meals, you can try “appa” for a change. Appas are crepes made of rice flour and coconut served with curry and sambol. If you are wary of the spices, you can stick to the roti, egg hoppers (make sure you ask them NOT to put any pepper on this), and the less-spicy fried rice.


Fish and Seafood

Sri Lanka is a seafood lover’s paradise! All restaurants along the coast have delicious fish and seafood preparations on the menu, but the quality of the meal varies. In some places, you can even ask to see your fish before it is cooked and served to you. As fish and lobsters are sold by weight, do pay attention to the quantity you order.




Rice is included even in desserts. Kiribath is rice cooked in sweetened coconut milk. If you are looking for something sweeter, try the honey cake (panivalalu), or dried fruits (bibikan). Tourists generally love the deliciously sweet watalappam, a milk pudding garnished with coconut, cashew, cinnamon and nutmeg.