Sri Lanka Food and Drink
Whether it's a home-cooked curry or a gourmet resort dinner, Sri Lankan cuisine is a treat for the taste buds. Flavours are exactly what you would expect from a nation at the historic trade junction between India and Southeast Asia, with abundant use of Indian spices and seasonings from China and other parts of Asia.
Fish and seafood feature heavily on menus, and coconut and coconut milk crop up prominently in many dishes. Rice is the centre of most meals. Roti (flatbread, like Indian naan) and appam (hoppers) – pancakes made from a rice and coconut milk batter – are also a staple. Curries typically have more chilli than in India, and often include coconut. Maldive fish – sun dried tuna – is another popular local ingredient.
Locals generally have richly spiced dishes for breakfast, but Western breakfasts are widely available. Street food is delicious, but to avoid stomach upsets, use your judgement wisely and only eat well-cooked dishes. Steer clear of unpeeled fruit and salads, ice and ice cream if necessary.
While you can ask for cutlery, it's fun to join the locals and eat with the fingertips of your right hand. Avoid eating with your left hand as it is considered unclean.
Appam (hoppers): Bowl-shaped rice-flour and coconut milk pancakes, often served with a soft-baked egg on top.
Idi Appa (stringhoppers): Squashed nests of fine rice noodles.
Roti: Sri Lankan flatbread, often made with coconut, which accompanies most meals.
Kottu roti: A stir-fried dish made from vegetables, egg and pieces of roti, chopped on the hotplate with special knives.
Lamprais: Rice, curry and meatballs wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed or baked.
Koola'ya: Leftover curries, mixed together with rice and served in blended balls; often found at Hindu temples.
Polos: Green jackfruit curry.
Kool: A seafood stew made with flour from roots of the palmyra palm, with prawns, squid, crab and vegetables, originally from Jaffna in the north.
Pol sambol: A Sri Lankan condiment, made from ground coconut, salt, fish, chillies and onions.
Pittu: Cylinders of ground rice layered with grated coconut and steamed.
Short eats: Sri Lankan savoury snacks, including small pastries and egg rolls.
Tē (tea): The national drink, said to be among the best in the world.
Toddy: Mildly alcoholic fermented drink that is tapped from palm trees – often illegally – and drunk across Sri Lanka.
Arrack: A potent liquor made from the sap of palm trees.
Fresh coconut water: Served straight from the shell all over the country.
Lion: The country's national beer.
Things to know
Alcohol cannot be sold on poya holidays (which occur each lunar month on the day of the full moon).
Most hotels include a 10% service charge. Elsewhere tipping is optional, but appreciated; around 10% is appropriate.
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