Sri Lankan Food on a Budget

September 11, 2016

The food in Sri Lanka is a highlight for all travellers that visit. Sri Lankan food is spicy, but well-balanced, with some obvious similarities to Indian cuisine. However non native ingredients play a larger role in the food here than in India. Sri Lanka also boasts completely unique dishes like the kottu roti and egg hoppers. Chicken and cheese kottu roti was a personal favourite of mine.

Where are all the restaurants? All I see are hotels!

This confuses all who visit Sri Lanka. Cheap local restaurants here are called hotels. If it looks like a small restaurant with a kitchen facing the street and plastic chairs and tables inside, ignore the fact that it calls itself a hotel. It is in fact a restaurant. These small eateries are by far the best places to get great food in Sri Lanka and at very good prices.

Rice and Curry

The omnipresent Sri Lankan curry. As a staple of Sri Lankan cuisine it is nearly impossible to last a day without enjoying a plate of rice covered in various types of curry. While the rice is essential, clearly the varied, aromatic and spicy curries are the highlight. Due to the extreme variety of Sri Lankan curries, no two plates of rice and curry are ever the same. Which means it’s a dish you won’t ever get bored with. High quality plates of rice and curry can be found in local restaurants for less then 200 LKR.

Rice and Curry

Beetroot Curry

The deep red colour of the stewed strips of beetroot makes this a dish that stands out on any plate of rice and curry. Plates of Sri Lankan curry are always vibrantly coloured but never more so than when this dish is included.

Dhal Curry

The main ingredient in a dhal curry is lentils. The lentils are cooked into an aromatic and medium spiciness kind of stew with a bit of coconut milk added. The lentils are not over-cooked and maintain their texture. This is a staple of almost every rice and curry served in Sri Lanka. It is also very common to eat for breakfast along side egg hoppers or string hoppers.

Fish Curry

Seafood is aplenty in the island nation of Sri Lanka and its rare to go more than a couple of plates of rice and curry before you encounter a fish curry. Fish curries can be in a variety of styles and it seems no two are the same. Curry leaves, garlic, coriander, turmeric, cumin and tamarin paste are popular ingredients.

Gotu Kola Sambol (Pennywort Salad)

This fresh salad could maybe considered a Sri Lankan version of tabouleh. Gotu kola looks and tastes like parsley. This dish adds a lot of colour and freshness to a rice and curry meal and complements other curries well.

Pol Sambol (Spicy Coconut Relish)

One of my favourite curries and one of the most common to see served up along side a dhal curry. It is a very simple curry consisting of scraped coconut, diced onion, some chilli, lime juice and salt to taste.

Polos (Jackfruit Curry)

The jackfruit is a tasty fruit that has a sweet and fruity aroma. It tastes like a combination of apple, pineapple, mango, and banana. Sounds delicious right? However it is the un-ripened jackfruit that is often used in curries. The fruit is simmered in a blend of spices not dissimilar to many other curries. When presented on a plate, the jackfruit is very easily mistaken for chunks of slow cooked meat.

Kottu Roti

The sound of the kottu roti chop reverberates around the streets of Colombo and indeed the whole country every evening. This unique Sri Lankan street food is essentially a stir fried mix of chopped roti, spices and vegetables. It is then combined with either egg, meat (commonly chicken) and if you are feeling up to it, cheese as well. The chicken and cheese kottu is particularly decadent, but not something that can be eaten every day. Ok maybe it can. But only once per day. Really good kottu roti can be found in local restaurants for less than 200 LKR. It will go up in price the more ingredients that are added and the more touristy the area is.
Kottu Roti

Samosas and Rotis

The ultimate snack food when your travelling through Sri Lanka and don’t have the time or appetite for a full meal. The samosas are deep-fried while the filled rotis are briefly cooked on a hot plate. It’s hard to pin down the flavours involved but I suspect it can vary based on whatever curries are left over from the morning. The vegetable rotis are my favourite. They can be really spicy and quite addictive. Three roti’s make a great lunch.

Vegetable rotis

Egg Hoppers

Referred to as simply ‘hoppers’. This breakfast dish is found throughout Sri Lanka. They are kind of like a pancake cooked into the shape of a bowl and an egg cooked into the base of the bowl. The egg hopper is then eaten with small portions of various curries and hot sauces. The serving size ends up being quite small but they are cheap so buy a few of them.

Egg Hopper

String Hoppers

The string hopper is a fantastic breakfast dish in Sri Lanka. It consists of rice flour noodles stacked into little mounds and then combined with a range of curries. The curries available to combine with string hoppers are just as varied as with a rice and curry dish. However normally only one or two curries are combined with string hoppers, compared to the 5 or 6 on a plate of rice and curry. The most common condiments are a dhal curry and pol sambol.

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