Different spices and herbs, great varieties of vegetarian dishes and unusual breakfasts such as Kottu Roti or Egg Hoppers. A refreshing virgin coconut from street markets or an Arrack mixed with Cola to enjoy the sunset at a beach bar. Sri Lanka’s kitchen offers a wide spectrum of light and healthy food as well as sweet treat’s or deep-fried snacks. The following blogpost describes the best food and specialities you will get to know while backpacking through Sri Lanka.
We will share our experiences of the best restaurants for Sri Lankan and Western food we have come across. Be ready to enjoy: The best Food in Sri Lanka :)
Rice & Curry
Sri Lanka is famous for the wide variety of spices used in almost every dish. Meals often contain: Caraway, coriander, cardamon, cinnamon or chili which transform every cooked meal into something special. While ordering food you mostly have the option to choose whether it should be “spicy” or spicy (!). Most of the time, locals prefer the last option :) In case you do not like to eat spicy, you need to make that clear when you order. Most of the restaurants we have been to asked us at least twice whether we wanted to eat spicy or not, as they got used to our Western tastes. When you see Curry on the menu, you can expect a mix of spices with vegetable, meat or fish. If you order Rice & Curry you receive one plate with rice and one with a stew and a couple of Papadam (Chips made of lentil flour). The stew can either be vegetarian or it comes with meat or seafood. Rice & Curry is not only part of your daily diet but also definitely part of the best food in Sri Lanka.
Our personal top Curries:
1. Dhal-Curry in Neelas Guesthouse (Hikkaduwa)
2. Chef Akila Kitchen (Weligama)
Papadam is a famous, small snack made out of lentil flour that is mostly served with Rice and Curry. The deep fried chips are cooked in hot oil and thus the dough is crunchy and normally has bubbles on it. The lentil flour dough contains spices such as garlic, chili, cardamom, coriander, pepper or cumin. Papadam is normally served with other main dishes or is ordered as little snack.
Roti is a Sri Lankan pancake that is made of flour, fat, salt and coconut flakes. You can order Roti either sweet or savory, so it can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. You can have sweet Rotis with marmelade for breakfast or savory with vegetables (careful: it might be really spicy). As dessert Roti can also be ordered with banana, pineapple, chocolate or peanut butter. Our personal favorite was Roti filled with peanut butter – delicious!
Once Roti gets chopped it is called Kottu Roti which is probably the most famous dish in Sri Lanka. Walking on Sri Lanka’s streets you will hear the chopping sound here and there. Almost every small snack shop offers Kottu Roti at a fair price. Important to note here is that the dough should be fresh, otherwise it can cause problems in our Western, sensible stomachs.
Our personal top 3 Kottu Roti in Sri Lanka:
1. The Surfer (Hostel in Weligama)
2. Pilawoods (Colombo, Galle Road)
3. No. 1 Dewmini Roti Shop (Weligama)
Hoppers are very thin, different looking pancakes. They are done in a small pan and the edges arch up and get crunchy, whereas the rest of the pancake is fluffy and soft. You can fill these little pancakes with whatever you wish. For breakfast we had the so called Egg Hoppers. For these savory pancakes the cook adds an egg sunny side up on top of the almost ready pancake. First, we needed to get used to the different combinations of sweet and savory but in the end we really enjoyed all varieties of Hoppers.
Sri Lankan String Hoppers / Idiyappam
Even though the name is very similar to the described Hoppers, String Hoppers or Idiyappam are totally different. Idiyappam are neutral tasting steam-cooked noodles that are shaped into a disc Usually they are served with coconut sambal together. The coconut makes the noodles fruity and the sambal adds a little spicy taste. Especially for breakfast, String Hoppers offer something new and unfamiliar.
Jaggery is a palm sugar made fromthe juice of the date tree. This kind of sugar is popular in all of South- East-Asia and is mainly used as sweetener for desserts. We tried pancakes that were filled with Jaggery. Very very sweet but still (or because of that) pretty nice.
Curd is a kind of yoghurt which is originally made of buffalo milk. In Sri Lanka’s inland the fatty yoghurt is famous, and now gets made of cow milk. It takes a few times to get used to the taste of Curd but combined with honey or jaggery it’s delicious.
Tingeling passion fruit, red bananas, mangos you have never had before and refreshing coconut – you can only dream of that in Germany. In Asian countries and also in Sri Lanka exotic fruits are affordable, unbelievably delicious and thus part of the everyday life. For a handful of Rupees you will receive many different varieties of fruits and vegetables. This cheap and obviously very healthy snack allows you to save money while traveling through Sri Lanka.
We have been in many different shops and booths but every seller let us try so many different things for free that we were full already. Here we were always happy to give a good tip, considering the insanely cheap fruits and the great hospitality. Have a look how proud the locals are when they notice the surprise in your face.
This tea plays a crucial role in Sri Lanka. The tear-drop island in the Indian ocean is named after this tea, as Ceylon was transplanted into Sri Lanka in 1972. Sri Lanka is one of the biggest tea exporting countries worldwide. As a result the tea is really cheap to get in a lot of places, especially in Sri Lanka’s highlands. Here you can visit tea plantations and see how the tea is grown, picked and processed. In comparison to India, where the tea gets served with milk and sugar, locals in Sri Lanka enjoy their tea pure.
Sri Lanka without its “king” coconut wouldn’t be Sri Lanka. It is refreshing, healthy and you can buy it almost anywhere. This young coconut is normally opened with a machete just after you bought it, and thus you do not need to worry about refrigeration or anything else. It is not just opened but locals sometimes decorate it as a little mouse or fish. Both actually look exactly the same :) Enjoying the Thambili is definitely part of the adventure of backpacking in Sri Lanka.
Arrack is the favorite alcohol of most Sri Lankans. It is a distilled alcoholic drink either made of the fermented sap of coconut flowers, sugar cane, grain (e.g. red rice) or fruit, depending on the country where it is served. In its different formats it comes with 35-70% alcohol. The liqueur, which is often mixed with cola tastes quite similar to a dark rum. It can be, especially in combination with a lime, a good drink to enjoy the sunset at the beach.