A Critical Overview of Must-Try Sri Lankan Dishes
Introduction Sri Lankan cuisine is renowned for its unique and complex flavors that reflect the country’s history and multicultural influences. The following are some of the must-try dishes in Sri Lanka, offering a range of ingredients, cooking styles, and flavors.
Kottu Roti Kottu roti is a popular street food in Sri Lanka, typically made by stir-frying chopped roti bread, finely shredded vegetables or meat, soya sauce, spices, ginger, and garlic on a flat iron skillet. Originally a way to use up leftovers, it is now a staple evening meal found in many street stalls. Its rhythmic clanking sound is ubiquitous in Sri Lankan streets.
Lamprais Lamprais, a word derived from the Dutch, refers to a packet of food. It is a dish usually prepared by the Burgher community, descendants of colonial Europeans, by wrapping a mixture of boiled eggs, eggplant, Dutch-style beef balls (frikkadels), mixed meats (or soya for vegetarians), sambol, and rice infused with cardamom, cloves, cinnamon in a banana leaf and baking it at low temperatures for several hours.
Dhal Curry Dhal curry, made from red lentils cooked in coconut milk, is a ubiquitous comfort food in Sri Lanka. This dish is prepared by sautéing onions, tomatoes, and fresh green chilies, and then mixing them with tempered spices like cumin seeds, turmeric, fenugreek, mustard seeds, and pandan leaves. The flavor of dhal curry is enhanced when cooked in an earthen pot.
Gotu Kola Mallung Mallung, a salad-like dish made with chopped greens and chilies, seasoned with salt, pepper, and lemon juice, is an integral part of the Sri Lankan diet. Gotu kola leaves, or Asiatic pennywort, are used to make a tangy and colorful tabbouleh that delivers a dose of vitamins to the carb- and protein-loaded meal.
Eggplant Moju Eggplant moju, one of the most celebrated classic Sri Lankan dishes, is usually served with rice. It tastes like a caramelized pickle, and its flavor comes from the combination of deep-fried eggplant slices, chili powder, ground mustard seeds, cloves, salt, sugar, and vinegar. This mixture is then added to fried shallots, crushed garlic, and shredded ginger and served with plain rice.
Egg Hoppers with Sambol (Appa) Hoppers, the Sri Lankan version of thin pancakes with crispy edges, are made by frying a ladle of batter made from fermented rice flour, coconut milk, coconut water, and sugar in a small wok and swirling it around to even it out. An egg is then cracked into the bowl-shaped pancake as it cooks. Egg hoppers are garnished with lunu miris, a sambol made from onions, chilies, lemon juice, and salt, and Pol sambol, a fresh coconut relish made with finely grated coconut, red onions, dried whole chilies, lime juice, salt, and a little fish.
Wood Apple Juice: Wood apple is a South Asian fruit with a brown paste inside a hard shell. In Sri Lanka, it is a popular fruit that aids digestion and has many health benefits. A favorite local way of enjoying wood apple is in a smoothie, blended with jaggery and water.
Polos (Green jackfruit) Curry: Jackfruit is a beloved fruit in Sri Lanka, enjoyed both ripe and unripe. The young green jackfruit, also known as polos, is sliced into small chunks and boiled until tender. It’s then cooked with a fragrant blend of onions, garlic, ginger, and spices such as mustard seeds, turmeric, chili powder, curry powder, and pandan leaves. To finish, creamy coconut milk is added and simmered until most of the liquid has reduced, leaving behind a flavorful curry with tender cubes of jackfruit.
Sour Fish Curry (Fish Ambul Thiyal): Originating from southern Sri Lanka, this dish was created as a method of preserving fish. Cubed fish, usually tuna, is sautéed with a blend of spices including black pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, garlic, pandan leaves, and curry leaves. The star ingredient is dried goraka, a fruit with a tamarind-like flavor that gives the dish its distinctive sour taste. All the ingredients are simmered with a small amount of water until the liquid has reduced, resulting in a dry curry that coats each piece of fish with the flavorful spice blend.
Watalappan: Watalappan is a rich steamed egg custard that’s a popular dessert among Sri Lankan Muslims during religious festivals. This Malay-influenced treat is made with Kitul jaggery, coconut milk, and spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. Air bubbles in the custard keep it light and fluffy, despite its rich and indulgent flavor.