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10 food and drinks to try in Sri Lanka

10 food and drinks to try in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan food was a complete surprise for us. We knew nothing about it before arriving, yet discovered a new cuisine full of culinary delights.

We did however quickly learn that you should ask for mild, otherwise you're in for a spicy surprise!

Careful - Sri Lankan food is very spicy!
Greedy Stefan learnt an important lesson about the spiciness of Sri Lankan food!

#1 RICE AND CURRY

Rice and curry is the traditional staple dish in Sri Lanka. It's eaten everywhere, usually twice a day by almost everyone.

Rice and curry refers to a several small plates of curry yummies varying from chicken and fish to vegetarian dishes like dal, garlic curry, aubergine curry, pumpkin curry, green bean curry… always served with rice and a few small plates of pickled vegetables.

Learning to make rice and curry in Ella
Stefan about to go face down in these plates of delicious freshly made curries

There is no uniform way of making these curries, so each one tastes different, just like a Nepalese daal bhat or an Indian thali. Each ‘rice and curry' is a culinary foodgasm, which caused many fights between the two of us…

Another Nomadic Boys food fight
Another Nomadic Boys food fight about to break out over this delicious rice and curry

We were impressed by the variety of curry dishes available in Sri Lanka. Other interesting ones we encountered were jackfruit curry, beetroot curry and pineapple curry. All extremely tasty!

Another innovative use of vegetables (well, technically a fruit!) was a pumpkin soup served in a pumpkin:

Pumpkin soup served in a pumpkin!
Pumpkin soup served in a pumpkin during our safari at Yala and Udawalawe National Parks

#2 DEVILED PRAWNS

‘Deviled' refers to spicy dishes in Sri Lankan cuisine. Anything with ‘deviled' in the title means you're in for a fiery meal ahead of you…!

The most popular deviled dish we encountered was deviled prawns, which we learnt to make in Ella.

Learning to cook deviled prawns at our home stay in Ella
Stefan learning to cook deviled prawns at our home stay in Ella
Sri Lankan devilled prawns
Sri Lankan devilled prawns recipe

#3 EGG HOPPERS (BITTARA APPA)

Hoppers (appa) are pancake batter, mixed with coconut milk and cooked in a small wok like pan so that the dough cooks thick and soft on the bottom and thin and crunchy around the edges.

A fried egg is added in the middle to create the iconic egg hopper:

Egg hoppers for breakfast
Freshly made egg hoppers for breakfast

#4 STRING HOPPERS

String hoppers are made from a rice flour batter base, which is squeezed into thin noodles and steamed. String hoppers are usually served with a curry and are also popular for breakfast.

In Nuwara Eliya we ordered this tasty plate of various snacks to accompany our curry, which included string hoppers on the left:

A plate of string hoppers, vegetable rotis and various vadai (lentils based) snacks
A plate of tasty Sri Lankan snacks including string hoppers, vegetable rotis and various vadai (lentils based) snacks

#5 VEGETABLE ROTIS

The triangle snacks in the middle of the plate above are the delicious vegetable rotis.

Rotis are popular in south Asia and are flat breads made from wholemeal flour. Vegetable rotis are rotis stuffed with cooked vegetables inside.

There are meat and fish variants of rotis, but we found the vegetable ones the tastiest (and the ones that sold out first at the Sri Lankan bakeries!)

Vegetable rotis made these two greedy boys very happy throughout our travels in Sri Lanka.

Tucking into delicious vegetable rotis
Vegetable rotis are a cheap, delicious and filling snack, which kept us very happy!

#6 KOTHU ROTI

Kothu roti is a Sri Lankan Tamil dish, which is literally a plate of chopped up roti mixed with curry sauce and served with vegetables and meat or eggs. It originated in Jaffna, north Sri Lanka in the 1960s as a cheap, takeaway meal for lower socioeconomic classes.

But it's a food that has since transcended social boundaries in Sri Lanka and has now become a staple for everyone. It is particularly popular among the young who have it as a midnight snack after a night out.

Stefan tucking into a plate of kothu roti
Tucking into a plate of kothu roti with friends after a night our in Colombo.

#7 THE SRI LANKAN DESERT: WATALAPPAM

Watalappam is a heavenly Sri Lankan desert introduced by the Malay immigrants.

It is made from coconut milk, cashew nuts, egg, jaggery (a sweet brown like product from sugar cane) and various spices, particularly, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg.

It's a popular desert for religious festivals and large celebrations. We LOVED this!

Watalappam Sri Lankan desert
Watalappam was our favourite Sri Lankan treat

#8 COCONUT ARRACK

Coconut arrack is a distilled strong alcoholic drink made from the fermented sap of unopened flowers of a coconut palm.

Due to its high concentration of sugar and yeast content, the captured liquid naturally ferments into a mildly alcoholic drink. This is then distilled again to reach a high alcohol content of 33-50%.

Arrack tastes like whiskey or rum and is usually made into a cocktail mixed with coke or lemonade, or it's just flavoured, like “Green Apple”:

Stefan with green apple flavoured arrack
Stefan with green apple flavoured arrack: very high alcohol content alert!!

#9 THAMBILI THE KING COCONUT

Our favourite beverage in Sri Lanka (well throughout Asia really) is coconut juice and fruit. Sri Lanka is particularly famous for its king coconuts, called thambili, which are slightly sweeter than normal coconuts.

The thambili king coconut is also a source of Vitamin E, iron, calcium, phosphorous and high dietary soluble fibre. It's also very tasty and was another popular treaty for us:

Our king coconut selfie
Our king coconut selfie: every morning was defined by a fresh thambili coconut throughout our travels in Sri Lanka

#10 CEYLON TEA

Ceylon is the colonial name of Sri Lanka during the British occupation pre 1972. The British influence also led to large industry of tea export. Tea plantations were built in large numbers, particularly in the hill country around Nuwara Eliya.

Sri Lanka is one of the world's largest exporters of tea, popularly known as Ceylon Tea. It's up there with China, India and Kenya and accounts for over 19% of the world's exports – pretty impressive for such a small country.

Sebastien at the Pedro Tea Factory in Nuwara Eliya
Sebastien at the Pedro Tea Factory in Nuwara Eliya with a variety of freshly dried tea leaves

We visited the Pedro Tea Factory in Nuwara Eliya and learnt about the varieties of different teas (green, white and black) and also enjoyed (several) freshly brewed cuppas:

Our tea selfie
Trying a freshly brewed cup of tea at the Pedro Tea Factory in Nuwara Eliya

OUR FAVORITE TRAVEL RECOMMENDATIONS

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⭐️ SAFETY & SECURITY — All travelers can sometimes encounter danger when traveling. CloseCircle is your “virtual body guard” mobile app which provides security alerts and support wherever you are in the world. They have a 24/7 emergency response team monitoring their users who will contact you immediately if the SOS swipe button is activated. Support can include anything from practical advice, to free evacuation from areas with extreme weather or security risks. You can read more about CloseCircle in our article about how to stay safe whilst traveling.

⭐️ ONLINE ANONYMITY — A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a must in many countries: it allows you to surf anonymously and maintain your privacy whilst traveling. You'll particularly need it in countries where dating apps are blocked by the government. We recommend ExpressVPN, a reliable and cost effective service which we used and loved during our travels.

⭐️ HOTELS or APARTMENTS — When we plan a trip, we always look for the best hotel deals. We love Booking.com because not only do they have a comprehensive listing of accommodation options, they also offer the best prices. Added bonus: they provide 24/7 support and free cancellation for most listings.

⭐️ SIGHTSEEING and ADVENTURES — When we travel somewhere, we like to seek out the best experiences, whether it is cooking with locals in Bangkok, hiking on a glacier in Patagonia, or going on a wildlife safari in Sri Lanka. Our favorite place to look is GetYourGuide because they have over 30,000 highly rated activities, a user-friendly booking process with free cancellation and a 24 hour customer support.

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Watch our travel video diary of our adventures through Sri Lanka as we ate our way through this tropical island, took some beautiful train journeys and enjoyed excellent safaris spotting leopards at Udawalawe and blue whales at Mirissa.

10 Comments

  1. Haha, just love your faces in those photos! Sri Lankan food is awesome and you’ve done a great round up of it in this post…
    We ate so much during our 2 month trip there, those stuffed rotis were too good to resist, plus all the fried snacks too. Hoppers (both varieties) are just one of the best foods and I wish that you get get them everywhere on the planet! So good for vegan travelers like us, must admit we got a bit far from all the eating!

    Reply
    • Hi Caryl, thanks a lot for your message and kind words 🙂

      OMG- the food awesome right? We were just impressed by the massive variety of curries they make from basically any fruit or veg… Jack fruit and pineapple curry FFS- who would have thought!! One of our favourite cuisines on pur travels to date by far.

      Reply
      • As a sri lankan, I am happy to know that you’ve enjoyed your stay in our country, and best of all, you’ve embraced our cuisine. From rotis to string hoppers to just plain hoppers, you’ve encountered the diversity of the srilankan cuisine. If any of you think of holidaying in sri lanka again, try these delicious sri lankan staples too- pittu, Katta sambol, wadé, prawn wadé, ( the ones at the galle face beach are the best ) milk rice and pol sambol. Hope I have not made you envious me eating all these delicious food on a daily basis though

        Reply
        • Thanks for this Ama 🙂

          Reply
          • Yup no prob. Be sure to come again. What’s your nationality ?

          • British/Greek

  2. Stumbled upon your blog fom Raja & Whale Facebook page and what a nice prep read to my trip that’s happening on 19 Feb 🙂

    Nice to e-meet you guys on this blog and will be checking out for more great travel stories!

    Cheers,
    Mingyi / F
    Singapore

    Reply
    • Hi Mingyi, thanks for dropping by and for your comment.

      You’re in for a great time with Raja and the Whales- they take good care of you and are so friendly.

      Lovely to e-meet you too. Are we stalking each other yet on FB?

      Reply
  3. What a wonderful and nostalgic posting you both did! BRAVO !!! I love Nuwara Eliya and went up there each time I came to Sri Lanka. ( there is a beautiful mansion all made of teak high up in the village and I stayed there with my friends over night for free! It was being watched over by a Buddhist monk. we were treated like royalty!)

    We would travel around the whole southern part of the island on motorbike. wonderful!!

    Reply
    • Thanks Jim. How long ago were you there?

      Reply

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