Like many of the world’s greatest cuisines, Sri Lankan food reflects its history and culture as well as its natural resources. In Sri Lanka it’s the cuisine of Southern India and the influence of Dutch colonialists and foreign traders that made the cuisine what it is today. Locally grown rice, coconut and spices form the base of the cuisine, with fish caught off the coast, yellow king coconuts sold by the roadside, and the island’s bounty of tropical fruit and fresh vegetables. We take a culinary journey through the country to see how to experience the best of Sri Lankan cuisine.
Throughout Sri Lanka, curries are a staple of the country’s cuisine, often accompanied by pickles and sambols made from ground coconut, chili, dried Maldivian fish and lime juice. Noodles are served in the form of string hoppers, and the local rice-flour and coconut milk are used to make the bowl-shaped pancakes known as hoppers, which come served with an egg and a side of sambol.
The country’s capital, Colombo, has a long history as a port town on the trade routes, as well as Portuguese, Dutch and British rule, which has all contributed to defining the city’s culinary identity. Naturally, seafood is in abundance here, with seafood restaurants scattered across the city. And then of course there are the street food snacks – which in Sri Lanka are known as short eats – like vegetable samosas, the coconut flat bread roti, and sweets incorporating palm sugar and coconut.
From Colombo many people travel to Kandy, which lies within Sri Lanka’s highlands. Here, both tea plantations and rainforest span the surrounding land, and dishes incorporate herbs and vegetables from the verdant hills. Meat takes the place of seafood and fish in curries and dishes such as biriyani, and the region is home to local specialties like lamprais, for which rice and curry is baked in a banana leaf. As a major city, Kandy abounds with restaurants and street food, but the city’s setting also makes it the ideal base for exploring the country’s tea plantations.
From the highlands, the next port of call is the southwest coast where one of the most popular spots to stay is the historic port city of Galle. Within the city’s surroundings, stilted fishermen can be seen off the sandy shores, and tea fields create a backdrop for the coast. Vendors sell the fresh fish that’s been caught earlier in the day within Galle, alongside aromatic spices and tropical fruit. And to try all of these ingredients, visitors can step into the restaurants clustered around the old town Galle Fort.
Of course, the best way to taste authentic Sri Lankan cuisine is to dine in a local home. Trafalgar guests who visit Sri Lanka have the opportunity to have lunch with a local family in the village of Katugastota, which is close to Kandy. In this typical Sri Lankan home and within the garden of spice trees, guests can listen to the stories the family has to tell and tuck into home-cooked fare.
Wherever you are in Sri Lanka, these delicious local dishes can be washed down with fresh tropical fruit juice, locally made tea, or Faluda, a rose and vanilla milkshake with basil seeds, jelly and vermicelli; as one of Sri Lanka’s local favourites, this is a sweet way to end an authentic Sri Lankan food journey.
Discover Sri Lankan cuisine on the Wonders of Sri Lanka trip with Trafalgar.
Image credits: Cover photo © iStock / helovi. A fruit vendor in Sri Lanka © iStock. A Sri Lankan meal © iStock / helovi. Sri Lanka’s tea terraces © iStock / fmajor. Negombo fish market © iStock / fmajor.