The 10 dishes you must eat in Sri Lanka

Wed, 24/02/2016 - 11:00am
Read Time: 3.3 mins

Sri Lanka is emerging as a must-go destination – with its white sand beaches, lush tea plantations, world heritage sites and vast game reserves, it's easy to see why.

A downtown street in Colombo, Sri Lanka A downtown street in Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital. Credit:


And then there's the food. Sri Lanka's history of Dutch, Portuguese and English colonisation has left it with a varied cuisine with similarities to Southern India, but still uniquely Sri Lankan. While you're in this beautiful country, make sure you try these 10 delicious dishes

Brinjal Moju. Credit: Brinjal Moju. Credit:


  1. Brinjal Moju (eggplant pickle)

This rich, slow-cooked combination of eggplant, onions and spices is possibly not for the waistline-conscious, but it's utterly delicious. Long chunks of eggplant are wok or deep fried, then cooked until silky soft with red onion, tamarind and spices.

2. Buffalo curd and treacle

Delicate and creamy, buffalo curd with treacle for breakfast is nursery food at its best. The curd is creamy with a slight yoghurt tang that contrasts beautifully with a drizzle of what is known as treacle, but is actually sap from the kithul palm. If you head into the country, you'll see roadside stalls stacked high with earthenware pots of curd dotted along rural lanes

Chilli crab at the Ministry of Crab, Colombo. Credit: Chilli crab at the Ministry of Crab, Colombo. Credit:


  1. Chilli Crab

Chilli crab is often thought of a Singaporean dish, but the crabs they use there come from Sri Lanka. Now Sri Lanka is beginning to reclaim its delicious mud crabs and offer its own version famous dish of crab swimming in a robust chilli tomato based sauce. The place to eat chilli crab is at Colombo's Ministry of Crab, in the sympathetically renovated Dutch Hospital.

The trio of owners include former Sri Lankan cricket captains Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, making this a must for cricket fans. If you do visit, forget cutlery: to really appreciate these often gigantic crustaceans, you need to delve in with your hands and be prepared to get messy.

4. Pol Sambal (Coconut Relish)

Coconut is a staple ingredient in Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankans spoon pol sambal alongside everything and anything. A carefully balanced mix of shredded fresh coconut, finely chopped red onion, lime juice, chilli and salt, pol sambal is good enough to just scoop up and eat with roti.

Hoppers stacked at a Sri Lankan stall. Credit: Hoppers stacked at a Sri Lankan stall. Credit:


  1. Hoppers and String Hoppers

Hoppers are Sri Lanka’s version of pancakes. The rice flour and coconut milk batter is made a day in advance, then cooked in a small wok-type pan. The result: a thin, slightly crisp, bowl-shaped crepe that can be filled with curries, stir fries or – at breakfast time – a fried egg.

String hoppers are noodles made with a rice flour dough which have been pushed through a pasta maker type press.

  1. Dhal

In the land of intense chilli heat, the bowl of dhal - a staple at every meal - can be a soothing relief to those still adjusting to the often fiercely spicy cuisine. Pretty much always made with coconut milk, Sri Lanka dhal also makes use of local cinnamon and sometimes includes Maldive fish for flavour balance.

Kottu Roti, Sri Lanka. Credit: Isuru Senevi/ Kottu Roti, Sri Lanka. Credit: Isuru Senevi/


  1. Kottu Roti

Quintessential Sri Lankan street food, kottu roti is Sri Lanka’s favourite go-to fried dish. It looks like fried rice, except instead of rice it is chopped up strips of cooked roti (or paratha) that are stir-fried with vegetables, spices, egg, sometimes meat and definitely a good drizzle of chilli gravy.

  1. Pani Pol Pancake

These morsels of sweetness are very difficult to resist. Fresh grated coconut is mixed with treacle and spices then deftly wrapped in a delicate crepe and rolled into a cigar shape. Best enjoyed with a cup of strong black leaf Sri Lankan tea.

Banana-leaf wrapped lamprais. Credit: Indi Samarajiva/ Banana-leaf wrapped lamprais. Credit: Indi Samarajiva/


  1. Lamprais

Originating in the 1600s when the Dutch were heavily involved in Sri Lanka spice trading, lamprais is a dish of many components including rice, meatballs, curry and vegetables. These are packaged up in a banana leaf and steamed in individual servings.

  1. Seeni Sambal

Both a condiment and side dish, Seeni Sambal is composed of meltingly tender slow-cooked caramelised onion simmered with sugar, fragrant spices such as cardamom and cinnamon, a generous sprinkle of chilli and also dried Maldives fish. The latter is optional but adds a balance to the dish, as anchovy can do in Italian recipes.

And to wash it all down?. You'll find plenty to drink in Sri Lanka, both local and imported, but sometimes a bottle of Elephant Ginger Beer (commonly known as EGB) – made from local ginger to a 110 year old recipe – is best things on a steamy tropical day. Oh and don’t forget to try the local cashew nuts, almost as big as your little finger!

Helen Jackson

Helen Jackson is a freelance food writer and founder of She co-hosts Radio Live's Home & Garden show writes regularly for Food magazine. While she lives to travel, Helen resides in Auckland with her husband and three children.