This will be the final installment of my posts on my travels in Sri Lanka. Head on to check out my other Sri Lanka travel posts via the following links if you have not: Cultural triangle, Kandy and Hill Country, Galle and Bentota, My visit to the tea factory.
I decided to dedicate the final post to my food experiences in Sri Lanka.
To be honest, I did not have high expectations of the food in Sri Lanka before I went after chatting with a few people. In fact, I was so worried that I wouldn’t like the food or that I would not be able to get used to their flavours that I packed along a couple of muesli bars (something that I almost never do when I travel).
Yes, I’m a worrier by nature. Thankfully, my worries were unfounded; there wasn’t any need for those muesli bars after all.
In general, we enjoyed the food we had there; some more so than others. I was excited by the ingredients they used, the dishes they had and basically the food culture because Sri Lankan cuisine is one that I’m unfamiliar with.
Oh and another thing: I didn’t get sick of rice and curry as I had anticipated; in fact, I loved it! In the entire duration of our travels, we only had two meals where we had something non-local – pizza and burger.
Here are some of the foods of the traditional food/dishes that we tried in Sri Lanka and found interesting:
1. King coconut
The locals will tell you that this is simply the best and you have to try it. It is sweet and refreshing especially on a hot day in the Cultural triangle. It became our default choice of drink during the trip as it is really thirst quenching. What is great is you can scrape the bits of sweet coconut flesh and eat it after you have finished drinking.
2. Rice and curry
Sri Lankans like their rice and curry. They have it for lunch and dinner. Seems boring? But with a large variety of curries and sides, no rice and curry meal is exactly the same.
Basmati rice is usually served with papadum, a chutney, pickles, various vegetables in curry form, yellow daal and a meat/seafood curry. It is usually a huge spread and you would be spoilt for choice.
One of my favourites is the wanbatu curry (eggplant curry). Even though it is called a ‘curry’, it is more like a ‘dry curry’. The eggplant is first deep-fried then being cooked in caramelised sugar, curry leaves, spices, aromatics and balanced off with vinegar. I love how it is so well balanced with sweetness, spice, and I just love the texture of it.
I also enjoyed the black pork curry (see picture below) we had in Bentota. The version I had used fatty pork pieces so they were really tender and melt-in-the mouth. It isn’t a coconut milk based curry and had the right amount of spices and I gathered that they use rampe leaves /pandan leaves which gave it a very lovely aroma.
3. Egg hopper
Egg hoppers are usually eaten for breakfast and evenings. I love this one. A good egg hopper is paper thin, slightly crispy near the edges.
It is made from rice flour, coconut milk, yeast, and a lightly seasoned egg is cracked into the centre just before it is cooked in a specialised round bottom pan over fire. A light but really delicious breakfast if you ask me. It is also eaten for tea as a light snack.
Rotis are Sri Lanka’s version of the flatbread. It is similar to the South Indian roti prata that we are used to in Singapore. For those who are unfamiliar, rotis are made from wheat flour to form a dough, they are tossed by hand to get its light, ‘flaky’ layers when cooked over an oiled flat grill.
It is eaten for breakfast and sometimes dinner. The locals would use their hands to dip the roti in curries like the red fish curry and pol sambol. They saw that we were tourists so they brought out the utensils for us.
Pol Sambol is a very interesting dish, I have yet to see dessicated coconut used like this; it combines grated/desiccated coconut, dry red chillis, dried Maldive fish. It is savoury, spicy and is the perfect match with the roti.
You are more likely ‘hear’ kottu before you spot it.
I was looking for this legendary street food for quite a long time. Just when I thought I would go home disappointed, I heard the sounds of metal scrappers clanking in an almost rhythmic fashion. It was then I knew I found my kottu.
True enough, I found the Kottu man at his grill plate, frying up the shredded roti, roughly chopped up vegetables like carrots, spring onions, cabbage, egg and red onions with two metal scrappers.
We ordered a plate of kottu to share, one with chicken pieces, you can also have it with beef or seafood. The kottu was like a festival on a plate -a huge heap of confetti like colours. It was certainly a delight to eat – certainly a must-try street food if you are ever in Sri Lanka.
Oh, and they eat it with chilli sauce. And boy is that good. Wash it down with some ginger tea or local Lion Lager if you can get your hands on some!
6. Deep fried Sri Lankan Sweets
We were in Sri Lanka over the Sinhalese and Tamil New year so we were privileged enough to try some of their deep fried sweets on top of witnessing families lighting up firecrackers. These sweets are usually eaten during new year or celebrations.
These were interesting and not overly sweet as I thought it would be when I heard what they were made of. I love the fact that they still maintain the tradition of making them and sharing with their family and friends.
Kokis( the wheel shaped ones): Made from rice flour, coconut milk, and eggs.
Konda kavum (the round ones): Made with rice flour, coconut treacle, fennel seeds
Moong kavum (the crescent shaped ones): Made from mung bean flour, rice flour, coconut milk, coconut treacle
7. Kiribath (Milk rice)
Kiribath or milk rice is made with four basic ingredients – rice, coconut milk, water and salt. It symbolizes good luck and prosperity. Every Sri Lankan household would make and eat this on the first of every month and during the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year.
This dish can be eaten plain (like what we did), with a savoury sambal or with jaggery (somewhat like treacle). I think I would prefer to eat it sweet, personally preference though.
That’s my shortlist of the foods to try/look out for if you ever head over to Sri Lanka. Please promise to at least give them a shot and not head straight for the sandwiches and pasta.
If you have a low tolerance for spiciness, do remember to inform the restaurant servers, most places would willingly accommodate your requests. Happy eating!