While many refer to Sri Lanka as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, a more foodie description of the beautiful nation would be the Island of Rice and Curry! With strong flavors of coconut and local spices, Sri Lanka food offers an abundance of incredible dishes!

1. Chicken Curry

Starting off with the much spoken about rice and curry, the chicken curry is a common dish in Sri Lankan households, with numerous variations influenced by region and individual taste preferences.

It is fairly easy to prepare and involves a temper of spices such as fennel seeds, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon sticks in hot oil. This flavorful mixture is then combined with chicken, along with additional spices like chili powder, curry powder, turmeric, pandan leaves, lemongrass, and curry leaves.

The curry’s rich base is enhanced by the addition of coconut milk, while variations of the recipe may incorporate a tomato puree. The chicken is simmered for about an hour, allowing the essence of the spices to infuse into the meat. It is most satisfying when served alongside hot rice and roti.

2. Dhal Curry

Parippu, also known as dhal curry, stands out as the most prevalent curry in Sri Lankan cuisine, serving as a fundamental dish in both restaurants and households alike. To prepare this dish, masoor dhal (split red lentils) is initially rinsed and boiled until it achieves a soft texture.

In a separate pan, a variety of fresh ingredients, including onions, tomatoes, and fresh green chilies, are sautéed and combined with tempered spices like cumin seeds, turmeric, fenugreek, mustard seeds, and curry leaves. The amalgamation of these elements is then typically enriched with a touch of fresh coconut milk, providing the dhal with a luscious flavor and creamy consistency.

While versatile enough to complement various dishes, dhal curry is particularly delightful as a dipping gravy for freshly made roti or paratha.

3. Milk Rice


Milk Rice, or Kiribath, is a distinctive variety of rice, prepared by cooking with thick coconut milk and is typically served on special or auspicious occasions, such as the Sinhalese New Year.

While there are several versions of kiribath, the basic procedure involves initiating the cooking process by boiling a pot of rice. As the rice approaches completion, coconut milk and a pinch of salt are added. The coconut milk not only imparts a creamy richness to the rice but also contributes to its sticky consistency. Once fully cooked, the rice is sliced into wedges resembling cake slices for serving.

Milk Rice can be enjoyed in combination with various Sri Lanka food, either sweetened with jaggery or savored in a savory manner with chili sauce or curry. A popular garnish for kiribath is lunu miris, a sambol chili sauce made from red chilies, onions, lemon juice, salt, and occasionally dry Maldive fish. These ingredients are ground into a paste using a stone mortar and pestle.

4. Kottu Rotti

Over the traffic and noise at a Sri Lankan market, you’ll likely hear the clanking of metal on metal and know kottu isn’t far away. Kottu rotti is Sri Lanka’s hamburger – everybody’s favorite go-to fast food when craving something tasty and greasy.

It resembles fried rice, except instead of rice, it’s made with a type of roti known as godamba roti (a flat, crispy bread).

The roti is normally fried at the beginning of the day, piled into stacks and served as it’s ordered. When you place an order, the kottu chef will fry and chop the roti with a selection of ingredients you choose. The result is a tasty mixture of salty pieces of fried dough, lightly spiced and extremely comforting.

Kottu is served with spicy curry sauce, which you can either use as a dip or pour over your entire plate.

5. Lamprais

Sri Lanka’s cultural tapestry reflects a myriad of influences, and one notable community that has left its mark is the Dutch Burgher community.

Lamprais, a term derived from the Dutch words for “lump” and “rice,” is a culinary creation that blends meat, rice, and sambol chili sauce, wrapped in a banana leaf packet and then steamed. The rice is prepared by cooking it in a broth infused with cardamom, clove, and cinnamon, often incorporating various meats such as beef, pork, or lamb. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, lamprais is one of the “world’s greatest box lunches”!

To assemble lamprais, a portion of rice is placed at the center of a banana leaf, accompanied by a blend of meat curry, two frikkadels (Dutch-style beef balls), blachan (shrimp paste), and a starch or vegetable, typically ash plantain or brinjals.

The package is meticulously folded into a parcel and subjected to steaming. As lamprais represents a distinctive contribution from the Burgher community to Sri Lankan cuisine, the meat is typically seasoned with sweet spices like clove and cinnamon, recreating the favored flavor profile of the Dutch Burgher community.

While original recipes specified beef, pork, and lamb, contemporary versions of lamprais often include chicken and eggs in the packet.

6. Jackfruit Curry (Polos)

Jackfruit is utilized at various stages of ripeness, ranging from fully ripe and sweet to green and starchy. In Sri Lanka food, young green jackfruit is commonly used to prepare a dish known as Polos curry.

The green jackfruit is cut into bite-sized chunks and boiled until it reaches a tender consistency. Following this, it is cooked with ingredients such as onions, garlic, ginger, and an array of spices including mustard seeds, turmeric, chili powder, roasted curry powder, pandan leaves, and curry leaf sprigs. The final touch involves adding coconut milk and allowing it to simmer until most of the liquid is reduced, ensuring that the delightful flavors are absorbed by the jackfruit cubes.

With a starchy texture reminiscent of cassava or potato, jackfruit becomes a delicious component of Polos curry. This dish is a staple available in many Sri Lankan curry restaurants.

7. Woodapple

This Southeast Asian fruit, comparable in size to a de-husked coconut, is encased in an equally tough shell and exudes a potent, almost blue cheese-like aroma.

When strolling through a market during your holiday in Sri Lanka, the scent of the wood apple is likely to reach your nose before the fruit catches your eye. Inside the shell lies a dark brown paste with a resemblance to something between tamarind pulp and fermented raisins.

While the wood apple can be consumed directly from the shell, one of the most popular ways to enjoy it in Sri Lanka food is in the form of a thick smoothie known as wood apple juice. Blended with jaggery (or sugar) and water to achieve a smooth consistency, the resulting beverage boasts a distinctive blend of sour and sweet flavors. Expressing your fondness for wood apple to any Sri Lankan you encounter might elicit a knowing smile from them.

8. Hoppers and String Hoppers (Appam and Indi Appam)

Hoppers serve as Sri Lanka’s equivalent to pancakes, crafted from a batter featuring a slightly fermented blend of rice flour, coconut milk, and occasionally coconut water, complemented by a touch of sugar.

A ladle of this batter is poured into a small wok and swirled to achieve an even consistency. Hoppers come in both sweet and savory variations, with egg hoppers being a local favorite. In this rendition, an egg is cracked into the bowl-shaped pancake, presenting Sri Lanka’s take on the classic “egg in the hole.”

Egg hoppers are adorned with lunu miris, a sambol concoction comprising onions, chilies, lemon juice, and salt.

In contrast to the more fluid batter used for hoppers, string hoppers employ a denser dough. This dough is extruded through a string hopper maker, similar to a pasta press, producing delicate strands of noodles that are subsequently steamed.

Typically consumed for breakfast or dinner alongside curries, string hoppers offer a distinct culinary experience in Sri Lanka.

9. Coconut Salad (Pol Sambol)

In a nation where the coconut holds paramount importance, there exists a Sri Lankan side dish that pays a fitting tribute.

Known as pol sambol, or fresh coconut relish, this uncomplicated blend comprises finely grated coconut, red onions, dried whole chilies or chili powder, lime juice, salt, and, if available, Maldive fish. The ingredients are either diced or ground and then harmoniously combined in a bowl.

Pol sambol, in Sri Lanka, serves as a versatile garnish or side dish, complementing a myriad of dishes. Whether paired with rice and curry, pol roti (coconut roti), a piping-hot paratha, string hoppers, or simply scooped up with slices of bread, it stands out as an ideal accompaniment. For those with a penchant for coconut, there’s arguably no better garnish in the world.

10. Sour Fish Curry (Fish Ambul Thiyal)

As anticipated from an island nestled in the Indian Ocean, seafood holds a significant role in Sri Lanka food traditions. Among the myriad fish curries, fish ambul thiyal (sour fish curry) stands out as a cherished variety.

Typically featuring a sizable and robust fish like tuna, the fish is cut into cubes and then sautéed with a medley of spices, including black pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, garlic, pandan leaves, and curry leaves. An indispensable ingredient is dried goraka, a petite fruit that imparts a distinctive sour flavor to the fish.

Ambul thiyal is a dry curry, wherein all the components are simmered with a modest amount of water until the liquid reduces. This method ensures that the spice amalgamation thoroughly coats each fish cube.

Having originated in southern Sri Lanka, ambul thiyal is available across the country in curry-serving restaurants and is best enjoyed when paired with rice.