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Get the Spice and Aroma of Sri Lankan Cuisine

Updated on September 26, 2015
Sri Lankan flag
Sri Lankan flag
Sri Lanka in South Asia
Sri Lanka in South Asia

History of Sri Lankan Cuisine

Sri Lanka (earlier known as Ceylon, native name being Sinhal) - the small island country in the southern part of Asia has a rich culinary heritage. The indigenous spices, herbs and distinctive cooking styles of Sri Lanka have attributed to its recognition as one of the finest cuisines in the world. Just as in any other place, Sri Lanka's geographical location, history, economy, culture and social traditions are reflected on the food habits of these islanders.

Being a historical land of rich spices, it had always attracted foreign traders and conquerers such as Moors, Malays, Indians, Arabs, Dutch, Portuguese and British and all these various cultures have left their impressions on the gastronomic heritage of Sri Lanka.

I am very fond of spicy food from Sri Lanka, hence thought of dedicating this hub writing about Sri Lanka's unique cuisine.

Sri Lanka grows a lot of spices
Sri Lanka grows a lot of spices
Coconut tree
Coconut tree
Banana or plantain tree
Banana or plantain tree
passion fruit
passion fruit

Indigenous spices and common ingredients of Sri Lanka


The fertile land of Sri Lanka is blessed with a wide variety of aromatic spices such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, black pepper, turmeric, curry leaf, nutmeg and mace.

Coconut, palm and plantain:

The tropical beaches of Sri Lanka are fringed with:

  • slender coconut trees,
  • palm trees and
  • banana (also called plantain) trees,

which is why the islanders extensively use these in their culinary delicacies. The curries and many other dishes are mainly based on coconut milk or grated coconut. The endospermic liquid inside a fresh green coconut is highly recommended for drinking. In some of their famous rice dishes, they cook rice in banana leaves to give a unique flavour and two of their local drinks (toddy and arrack) comprise of fermented palm sap.


Sri Lanka's climate and soil favours the growth of a wide variety of fruits some of them are rare and only found in this country. TSome of the fruits that are available are

  • mangoes,
  • bananas
  • mangosteens,
  • passion fruit,
  • rambutans,
  • woodapple,
  • cashewapple,
  • pineapple,
  • durians.

Hence fruits form a very important part of Sri Lankan cuisine. The islanders make curried fruits, eat ripe fruits after meal and also consume fresh fruit juices.

Sri Lankan rice with curry, pickles, sambol and mallung
Sri Lankan rice with curry, pickles, sambol and mallung
Parripu curry (red lentils curry)
Parripu curry (red lentils curry)
Green beans mallung
Green beans mallung
coconut sambol
coconut sambol
Fruits of Sri Lanka
Fruits of Sri Lanka

A typical Sri Lankan meal

Main course:

The staple food of Sri Lanka is rice, which is always accompanied by hot and spicy curries. The curries are made of vegetables, fish, meat and eggs and are of a wide range of varieties. In lunch and dinner they usually serve red, white or black curries, the colour being the reflection of the prime ingredients.

Red curries are fiery hot with a lot of red chilli powder or ground red chillies, white curries are mild in taste being cooked in coconut milk base and black curries owe their colour due to coriander, fennel and cumin seeds.

Rice is served with 2-3 different types of curries, usually one fish/meat/egg curry, a vegetable or fruit curry and lentils curry and everything is served at the same time. One of the most popular lentils curry is parripu curry, which is made of red lentils cooked in coconut milk and spices.

Side dishes:

Sri Lankans enjoy a variety of side dishes with their meal such as wafers (pappadam), pickles, chutneys, "mallung" and "sambol".

Mallung (also spelled as mallum) is a popular accompaniment which is made of finely shredded green leafy vegetables cooked with coconut milk and spices.

Sambol is a traditional hot and spicy mixture of grated coconut, onions, garlic, salt and pepper, dried Maldivian fish, red chili powder and lime juice, all ground to paste. There are variants of Sambol and it is believed to add zest to the meal and increase appetite.

Fruit Platter:

Being a tropical country, Sri Lanka grows a variety of fruits and every meal is ended with a fruit platter. The fruit platter usually consist of an assortment of seasonal fruits, such as mangoes, papayas, pineapples, jackfruits, bananas, durians, woodapple, cashewapple, passion fruit, guavas, melons, "rambutans" and mangosteens.

Gourmet lunch or dinner of Sri Lanka
Gourmet lunch or dinner of Sri Lanka

Typical breakfast of Sri Lanka

The most popular breakfast dishes are different kinds of hoppers (native name appa). These are thin like wafers, cup shaped pancakes, made from a fermented batter of rice flour, coconut and a dash of fermented palm drink (called toddy). Hoppers have crispy exterior whereas soft and spongy in the centre and has a sour flavour. They are best served steaming hot with curries and sambols (mixture of grated coconut and spices). There are different types of hoppers such as plain hoppers, egg hoppers, milk hoppers and sweeter varieties of hoppers.

Hoppers in breakfast
Hoppers in breakfast
Snacks of Sri Lanka
Snacks of Sri Lanka

Popular Snacks of Sri Lanka

There are a variety of snacks and shorteats. The most popular ones are:

  • Vada
  • Kesari
  • Fish cutlets (fried mashed tuna dashed with a lot of spices or fried squids on a bed of onions)
  • Chinese rolls (pancakes with beef, chicken, fish or vegetable filling and fried)
  • Patties

These are often served with hot and spicy sambol.

Ceylon tea
Ceylon tea
Coconut water
Coconut water
Toddy palm
Toddy palm

Beverages and Drinks of Sri Lanka

The main drinks and beverages of Sri Lanka are:

  • The hill country and cool climate has made Sri Lanka one of the largest producers of black tea, famous as "Ceylon tea". This drink is enjoyed in every household with or without milk and sometimes with crushed ginger.


  • Don't forget to ask for a freshly cut young coconut's water. It is an extremely relaxing and therapeutic drink.


  • Sri Lanka growing a wide variety of fruits offer fresh fruit juices


  • Two local alcoholic drinks are made from fermented palm tree sap, "toddy" and the further refined form is called "arrack"

Lamprais when served
Lamprais when served
Ambul Thiyal curry
Ambul Thiyal curry
Puttu or Pittu
Puttu or Pittu

Other popular Dishes of Sri Lanka

Some famous traditional dishes of Sri Lanka are:

  • Lamprais (a Dutch descendent): This is made by boiling rice in meat stock, then mixed with meat and vegetables, wrapped in banana leaves and baked over low heat. The banana leaves give a special appetizing aroma and taste to the dish.
  • Ambul Thiyal Curry (sour fish curry, more common in the coastal southern part): People living near the sea shores love this fish recipe. Tuna or any red fish are mixed with ginger, garlic, red chiilies, cloves, salt and pepper, tamarind pulp and cooked in a clay pot.
  • Puttu (cylindrical shaped rice cake mixed with grated coconut and steamed in bamboo mould to give it an unique aroma). It has a crumbly texture, usually eaten with fresh coconut milk and red chilli sambol.


Popular Desserts of Sri Lanka

The most popular desserts of Sri Lanka are:

  • Kiribath (made of rice cooked in coconut milk, usually served on special occasions like weddings and festivals)
  • Kiripani (made of curd and honey)
  • Wattalappam (egg pudding)
  • Kevum (battercake made of ground rice and treacle)
  • Halape (blending of coconut, jaggery and flour)
  • Thalaguli (a confectionary ball)


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    • mvillecat profile image

      Catherine Dean 

      8 years ago from Milledgeville, Georgia

      My husband and I have a best friend who is Sri Lankan and he cooks for us all the time. We love the food so much. The smells, the tastes, everything. I voted up.

    • UhOhChongo profile image


      10 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Think I'm on the next plane to Sri Lanka! All that food looks great! :)

    • chamilj profile image


      10 years ago from Sri Lanka

      sriparna thanks for writing about Sri Lankan Foods. Voted up!

    • profile image

      Wall spice rack 

      10 years ago

      I love those dishes! nice hub

    • sriparna profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from New Delhi

      @Loren's Gem, Money Glitch and prettydarkhorse: Thanks for visiting this hub and leaving your comments. I am really glad that my hub was nominated as a finalist.

    • prettydarkhorse profile image


      10 years ago from US

      Congrats for being nominated this week, I learned a lot from your hub about Sri Lankan cuisine, Maita

    • Money Glitch profile image

      Money Glitch 

      10 years ago from Texas

      Wow, Sri Lanka is definitely on my travel wishlist. Everything is so colorful, it makes you want to try eating a little bit of everything. Congrats on being a contender for this week's contest. :)

    • Loren's Gem profile image

      Loren's Gem 

      10 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

      Great! I've just learned so much about Sri Lankan cuisine through this hub. You did a good job on this and congrats on the nomination! Rated it up! :-)

    • sriparna profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from New Delhi

      Thanks oceansnsunsets and habee for visiting my hub and your comments.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Interesting! I'm ready to try some of this! Congratulations on your nomination!

    • oceansnsunsets profile image


      10 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello Sriparna, I enjoy learning about other cuisines, and this has been informative. I enjoyed your pictures as well. Thank you for sharing!

    • sriparna profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from New Delhi

      Thanks khristal23 for visiting my hub and showing interest. Actually curries can be both, thickened gravy like or watery but due to presence of spices and herbs, they are very tasty. Actually I belong to India, but so much of Sri Lankan cuisine is similar to our South Indian food, but with a subtle distinction that I love Sri Lankan food. You must give it a try!

    • khristal23 profile image


      10 years ago from GA

      Well, I have to admit that I'd never considered trying food from Sri Lanka, but after reading your hub I would consider it. Are curries kind of like gravy? Looks delicious!

    • sriparna profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from New Delhi

      Thanks Peggy for your appreciation and for visiting my hub. I really liked the way you blended warmth of old family remembrances in your sweet recipes hub, that made the sweets even more sweeter.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      10 years ago from Houston, Texas

      You put so much time and effort into this hub and it shows. I would love to be able to taste some of those foods and certainly would were I to travel to Sri Lanka. Thanks for sharing this information!


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