Instead of starting this article by explaining to you what Sri Lankan food is, let me tell you what Sri Lankan food is definitely not.

First of all, it is not Indian food and not “almost like Indian food”, which is what a lot of people tend to believe when they first arrive to the island (myself included, I have to shamefully admit). The concept of eating rice with several different curries is similar, but everything else from main ingredients to cooking techniques to spices vary. There’s definitely South Indian influence in Lankan cuisine, especially when it comes to short eats (street snacks), but the two have distinctly different flavors. 

Second, traditional Sri Lankan food is not all about rice and curry. Don’t get me wrong, Sri Lankans do eat more rice in one sitting than most other nationalities in a month. But rice and curry is not all Sri Lankan cuisine has to offer. With so many ethnicities living in this small country you can’t forget about Tamil, Burgher, and Muslim dishes that are also a part of the local food scene. 

food-tour-colobo-sri-lanka

Sri Lankan Food: Ingredients 

Coconuts are the lifeline of Sri Lankan cuisine. I would go as far as to say that without coconuts Sri Lankan cuisine is impossible. Coconut oil is the oil of choice for grilling, deep frying, and tempering. Coconut milk is added to majority of curries to create creamy gravy. Coconut flesh is grated to make spicy pol sambol used as an accompaniment for rice and bread. Grated coconut is also the base for many Sri Lankan sweets like pol toffee. 

Sri Lankan food includes a lot of naturally vegan options thanks to the use of coconut oil and coconut milk. Following a vegetarian or vegan diet is fairly easy on the island as long as you choose traditional Sri Lankan dishes. If you are on a gluten-free diet, it also shouldn’t be a problem. Not only is rice the most popular choice of carbs, but rice flour is actively used in baking and making sweets. 

Spices are another essential ingredient in any Sri Lankan kitchen. Some of the most popular spices are chili powder, turmeric, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. Curries are usually prepared with one of the two curry blends: roasted curry powder (for meat and fish) and raw curry powder (vegetables and lentils). Fresh karapincha (curry leaves) gives Sri Lankan curries their distinct aroma. 

sri lankan food must try

50 Must Try Sri Lankan Dishes

Why fifty? Because with ten or fifteen foods we won’t even scratch the surface. Fifty dishes seem like a reasonable amount to give you a good idea of Sri Lankan cuisine. Besides, you can always pick and choose the dishes that look most interesting to you. Fifty is not the limit, but I had to stop somewhere since I didn’t want you to fall asleep reading this guide.

For my own nerdy reasons and for your convenience, I have separated all the dishes into categories: breakfast, lunch (rice and curry), condiments, lunch (non-rice-and-curry options), dinner, sweets, and drinks. Now let’s get to it!

Breakfast

sri Lankan cuisine

1. Roast Paan (Roasted Bread)

If I had to choose one breakfast meal to eat for the rest of my life, it would be Sri Lankan roast paan with pol sambol and dhal curry (more about pol sambol and dhal curry below). Just so you know, “roast” is pronounced “ros”. For the longest time I thought “ros” is a Sinhalese word until somebody explained that it’s “roast” meaning that paan (bread) has been roasted. Roast paan is very thin and looks like a slice of bread rather than a bread loaf, but that’s what makes it so crispy when baked. It is sold in street shops and bakeries and best enjoyed fresh and hot out of the oven along with dhal curry and pol sambol. 

kiribath

2. Kiribath (Milk Rice)

Kiribath, or Sri Lankan milk rice, is one of the most traditional foods, usually prepared for special occasions like New Year, weddings, or a birth of a child. Rice is boiled until soft, then coconut milk is added to make it creamy and sticky. Afterwards, kiribath is arranged on a plate and shaped like a cake to be cut into diamond-shaped pieces. You can have kiribath with lunu miris (spicy onion relish) or seeni sambol (sweet onion relish). Both will make it savory. If you have a sweet tooth pour some kithul treacle over your piece of kiribath.

pol roti

3. Pol Roti (Coconut Flat Bread)

Another one of my favorites, pol roti, are round flat breads made with wheat flour and scraped coconut. Just like roast paan, pol roti go well with coconut sambol and lentil curry. Yes, that means you are eating coconut bread with scraped coconut flesh and a curry made with coconut milk gravy. Told ya, coconut is big here. Pol roti are really easy to make and I shared my recipe here. 

boiled manioc

4. Boiled Manioc

You might also know it as mandioca or caasava. Manioc is a root vegetable that slightly resembles potato in taste, but feels more starchy. For breakfast it is simply cut into pieces and boiled. Then served with, you guessed it, pol sambol! A very filling and satisfying meal.

kadala tel dala

5. Kadala Tel Dala (Stir-fried Chickpeas)

I know it doesn’t make sense to start describing every item on this list with “one of my favorites”, but damn you Sri Lankan breakfast, you are too good! I love this preparation of chickpeas which are boiled in pressure cooker first to achieve very soft texture, then stir-fried with onions, pieces of coconut flesh, and spices. Eat it on its own, it’s delicious!

sri lankan omelet

6. Sri Lankan Omelet

I have a suspicion that Sri Lankan omelet was created by local hotels in hope of attracting tourists and raising sales. In my family, for example, we rarely have omelet for breakfast. It is more commonly served along with rice and curries for lunch. But you’ll find it on the breakfast menus of many restaurants in touristy areas. What makes this omelet Sri Lankan is addition of onion, green chilis, and spices. Delicious, but so hot!

kola kenda

7. Kola Kenda (Herbal Porridge)

Here you go! The one Sri Lankan dish I am not fond of. But this article is not about my favorite dishes, it is about traditional Sri Lankan foods you should try. Kola kenda is a green-colored herbal porridge that looks like a magic potion (I am reading Harry Potter at the moment, so maybe it’s just me). Prepared with green leaves like gotukola and mukunuwenna that are packed with nutrients, this porridge is believed to be very healthy. Cooked mashed rice and coconut milk are also added to create the right texture. Have it with a piece of jaggery on side to make it sweeter.

Lunch (Rice and Curry)

Rice and curry and lunch are synonymous in Sri Lanka. While it may seem, when you first arrive to the island, that Sri Lankans eat rice and curry three times a day, it is not so. I am guilty of thinking that myself. It is not impossible for someone to eat rice and curry for breakfast or (in rare cases) for dinner, but that’s not common. 

You should also keep in mind that there are dozens of curries in Sri Lankan cuisine. It’s easy to fall under impression that people are eating the same thing for lunch every day. But while you do indeed eat rice and curry, curries almost never repeat day in and day out. Pretty much any kind of meat, fish, vegetable, fruit, leaf, or nut can be cooked into a curry. Now imagine how many options you have. 

Another thing to consider is that curries that are served together should be balanced and complement each other. Your regular lunch will consist of at least four-five curries, all of which should be of different taste, texture, and cooking method. For example, one of the curries should have a spicy gravy, one of them should have a creamy gravy and no spices (so called “yellow curry”), one should be fried, one should be crunchy, one should be fresh and leafy.

The list of curries below is far from being complete. When deciding which curries to recommend to you I tried to include either very popular curries that you’ll find in any home (like chicken curry, lentil curry, etc.) or unusual curries that you likely haven’t seen before (lotus root curry, jackfruit seed curry).

kukulmas mirisata

8. Kukulmas Mirisata (Spicy Chicken Curry)

One of the most popular curries of all is spicy chicken curry. Although vegetarian diet is not very widespread, many Sri Lankans prefer not to eat beef and pork, so chicken is the meat of choice. I would go as far as to say that chicken is even more popular than fish. Many Sri Lankans will fight me on this, but I stand my ground. Chicken is always cooked on a bone and without adding coconut milk. 

sri lankan shrimp curry

9. Prawn Curry

Prawns in Sri Lanka can be cooked in a few different ways: fried with onion, garlic, and chili or cooked in a gravy. Sri Lankans almost never peel prawns before cooking. You can get your hands dirty and peel them yourself or just eat the shell like locals do, especially if the prawns are small. 

crab curry

10. Jaffna Crab Curry 

A specialty of the city of Jaffna, located on the northern tip of the island, this crab curry is a great example of traditional Tamil cuisine. The best place to eat it is obviously Jaffna. Unfortunately, very few people choose to visit it because of the long journey. You can find Jaffna curry in Tamil restaurants in other cities across Sri Lanka.

ambul thiyal

11. Ambul Thiyal (Fish Curry)

Ambul Thiyal is only one of the many Sri Lankan fish curries, but I want to make sure you try this one in particular because it’s different. Tuna that is used for ambul thiyal is cooked in a special mix of spices that includes goraka, black sticky paste. Goraka helps preserve fish so you can leave the curry at room temperature for a week, and it will not spoil. Ambul thiyal is slightly dry in comparison with other fish curries.  

wattaka curry - pumpkin

12. Kalupol Wattaka (Pumpkin Curry)   

There are very few pumpkin dishes that make me excited, and Sri Lankan kalupol wattaka is one of them. Possibly, my all time favorite pumpkin dish. Creamy and flavorful, this is one of the so called “yellow curries” that don’t include chili and therefore are not spicy. There’s another reason why I love this curry, and it’s a little crazy. Rice, roasted and blended into grainy powder, is added to kalupol wattaka to thicken gravy. Not only you eat curries with rice, but rice is inside the curry itself too. Only in Sri Lanka!

batu moju eggplant

13. Batu Moju (Eggplant Curry)

It’s best not to see how this curry is made if you are into healthy eating. Slices of eggplant are deep fried in coconut oil, then stir-fried with onion, green chili, and spices. Sugar is added to caramelize eggplant and give it a sweet aftertaste. Not healthy, but crazy delicious!

must try Sri Lanka

14. Polos Curry (Young Jackfruit Curry)

Jackfruit in Sri Lanka has different names depending on different stages of its ripeness. I have written a big, extremely detailed post about the use of jackfruit in Sri Lanka which I recommend to read if you love this amazing versatile fruit. At its first stage, when it’s still a baby, jackfruit is called “polos” and can be used to make a curry. Cooked pieces of polos remind pulled pork in consistency.

I have written a big, extremely detailed post about the use of jackfruit in Sri Lanka which I recommend to read if you love this amazing versatile fruit (or vegetable?).

15. Kir Kos (Matured Jackfruit Curry)

If polos is baby jackfruit, then kos is a fully grown mature jackfruit that can reach up to 50-60 lb in weight. The curry made of kos is very different in texture and taste in comparison to polos. Just like pumpkin curry,  kos curry is usually made without using chili, making it a perfect choice for those who don’t tolerate spicy food. 

kos atta curry

16. Kos Atta Curry (Jackfruit Seed Curry)

While we are on the topic of jackfruit, I couldn’t skip a curry made of jackfruit seeds, one of the most unique and delicious curries I have ever tried. The seeds are boiled first in a pressure cooker until they are soft like potato, then cooked with spices and coconut milk. Jackfruit is probably the most versatile and amazing fruit I know. 

cashew curry

17. Cadju Curry (Cashew Curry)

Didn’t I mention that curry in Sri Lanka can be made literally of anything? Meat and fish, fruits and vegetables, seeds and nuts? While in the western world we regard cashews as a snack, Sri Lankans cook a curry out of it. Cashews grow in abundance in Sri Lanka, but as the process of extracting them is difficult and time consuming, the price for local cashews is pretty steep. If you order cashew curry in a restaurant, expect it to be more expensive than other items on the menu, nevertheless, it’s a must try in Sri Lanka.

parippu

18. Parippu (Lentil Curry)

If finding jackfruit seed curry or polos curry can prove to be a challenge, parrippu is one of the most widespread and easy to find Sri Lankan curries. Once you are on the island, you are bound to try parippu sooner or later. Another one of “yellow curries”, parippu (or as it’s also called dhal curry) is creamy and mild. Funny enough, the lentils used for this dish are red in color, but turn yellow once cooked. It can be watery or very thick depending on the amount of coconut milk added. Apart from being served with rice for lunch, it can be also a great accompaniment for roast paan (Sri Lankan bread), pol roti (coconut flat bread), and string hoppers.

green beans

19. Green Bean Curry

Many Sri Lankan people (my family included) grow long green beans in their back yard or garden, making it one of the most easily available veggies to cook. Green beans are usually prepared with turmeric, no (or very little) chili powder, and, although, simmered in coconut milk, they remain their firm texture. 

gotukola sambola

20. Gotukola Sambola (Leafy Green Salad)

Gotukola is one of the most popular leafy greens in Sri Lanka, packed with nutrients and vitamins. Gotukola sambol is more of a salad than curry and is served as a side dish to complement steamed rice. As every lunch meal includes a variety of curries that differ in texture, cooking methods, and level of spiciness, gotukola sambol plays a role of something fresh and green on the table. It is usually mixed with lime juice, salt, grated coconut, and onions. This sambol can be made of other greens too, like mukunuwenna and even passion fruit leaves.

gotukola mellum

21. Gotukola Mellum (Tempered Leafy Greens) 

Gotukola mellum is very similar to gotukola sambola in that it uses pretty much the same ingredients. The difference is in preparation. For mellum, greens are slightly tempered along with grated coconut until they sweat. Like sambol, mellum can be made of many other leafy greens.

pineapple curry

22. Pineapple Curry

A fruit curry! Yes, it is possible. If pineapple found its way onto a pizza, I think pineapple curry is more than justified. Sri Lankan pineapple is among the best in the world, so while on the island make sure not only to eat it fresh, but try a curried version too. Combined with other dishes, pineapple adds a sweet punch to the explosion of flavors that is Sri Lankan rice and curry. 

ambarella curry sri lanka

23. Ambarella Curry

Another popular fruit curry is made of a locally grown ambarella. The tartness of the fruit combined with the sugar sweetened gravy results in a wonderful sweet and sour curry. There’s a pit inside every fruit, so be careful when eating. The pit is kinda spiky too.

kehel muwa - banana flower

24. Kesel Muwa Maaluwa (Banana Flower Curry)

From meats to vegetables to fruits to flowers – anything can be curried in Sri Lanka. Green bananas (or plantains) can be cooked in a curry of its own, but I find the fact that you can make a curry of banana flowers even more fascinating.

lotus root curry 

25. Nelum Ala Maluwa (Lotus Root Curry)

Another flower curry is prepared using the root of lotus. Lotuses cover many lakes in Sri Lanka. Their water-proof leaves are sometimes used instead of plates to hold rice and curry. And the root is sliced and cooked in coconut milk with spices.

papadam

26. Papadam

Not a curry in itself, but something that is often served along with rice for lunch. These crunchy chips made of rice flour are reminiscent of Mexican tortilla chips and even served as appetizer at some modern restaurants. The traditional way, though, is to offer papadam along with steamed rice and a variety of curries for lunch. That way the chips add a crunch to your mix of creamy and spicy curries.

As I mentioned above, the amount of curries in Sri Lanka is so high it is impossible to list all of them in one article, but here are a few more ideas of curries you might encounter on the island: potato curry, beetroot curry, carrot curry, kohilla curry, bitter gourd curry, chickpeas curry, fried dried fish, cauliflower curry.

Condiments

The three condiments below serve as flavor boosters and accompany carb loaded dishes like rice and curry, kiribath, or pol roti. There are more than three in Sri Lankan cuisine, but these are the most basic and popular ones.

traditional Sri Lankan food

27. Pol Sambol (Coconut Sambol)

Hands down, my favorite thing in the whole of Sri Lankan cuisine. Pol sambol is made by grating fresh coconut and mixing it with lime juice, chili powder, and onions. Some people also add pieces of Maldive fish. If you are vegetarian, make sure to ask for fish-free pol sambol. While I am not a vegetarian, Maldive fish (a type of dried fish) is not my favorite thing because of its distinct smell and sharp taste, so I usually ask to leave it out too. Pol sambol can be served with roast paan or pol roti for breakfast, with rice and curry for lunch, or with string hoppers for dinner. 

sri lankan lunu miris

28. Lunu Miris (Onion Chili Relish)

Only try this if you have high tolerance of spices since this relish is essentially a fine mix of onions (lunu in Sinhalese) and chilis (miris). In the olden days, the two were ground on a special heavy stone called “miris gala”, a process similar to that of grinding cocoa beans. Today, women use mortar and pestle more often to release juices and create a spicy paste. Lunu minis is a regular accompaniment for pol roti and kiribath. 

seeni sambol

29. Seeni Sambol (Sweet Onion Sambol)

The one condiment you can eat without worrying of setting your mouth on fire. Seeni in Sinhalese means sugar. The sambol is prepared by mixing Maldive fish and caramelizing onions. Served with bread, pol roti, hoppers, or kiribath. 

Lunch (Other Options)

While rice and curry is the most traditional and common meal for lunch, there are a few other dishes you can choose instead. Although all of them include rice anyways. Oh, Sri Lanka!

lamprais

30. Lamprais

Traditional dish of Sri Lankan Burghers, lamprais, is made of rice, vegetables, and meats, wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked slowly. Burghers are a small Eurasian ethnic group in Sri Lanka descended from Portuguese, Dutch, and British people. The number of Burghers is quite small, constituting only 0.2% of the total population of Sri Lanka. Traditional lamprais includes samba rice, mixed meat curry (lamb, beef, pork), two deep fried cutlets, eggplant, ash plantain, and shrimp paste. Some also feature a boiled egg.

crab fried rice

31. Fried Rice

Fried rice comes in variety of flavors: chicken fried rice, shrimp fried rice, egg fried rice, crab fried rice (fancy!), or veggie fried rice. The latter was quite literally my daily lunch during the first year in Sri Lanka when I was a poor intern, and 130 Rs ($1) meal was all I could afford. Sold at little roadside restaurants, fried rice is one of the easiest and most affordable lunch options. Unlike rice and curry that you’ll only find at lunch time, fried rice is a common dinner dish too. 

buriyani

32. Buriyani 

“Buriyani” is Sri Lankan way of writing and saying the oh-so-familiar in Asian countries “biriyani”. Traditionally an Indian dish, buriyani was brought to Sri Lanka by South Indian Muslims who were trading in the northern part of the island and Colombo in the beginning of XX century, according to Wikipedia. Buriyani is a dish made of fragrant basmati rice, served with fried chicken and mint chutney. Sometimes raita and boiled egg are served along with rice.

Dinner

While breakfast and lunch in Sri Lanka are mostly home cooked, dinner is when people eat out. More often than not, Sri Lankans opt for take away food: pick up something on the way home and enjoy the meal in the comfort of their own houses.

egg hopper

33. Appa (Hopper)

Hoppers, or local pancakes, are my biggest frustration with Sri Lanka. Don’t get me wrong, I love-love-loooove hoppers, but why is it that pancakes (and there’s a kind that comes with egg inside) are served for dinner and not breakfast? Made of wheat or rice flour, hoppers are shaped like a bowl with soft center and very thin crispy edges.

There are four varieties you must try: plain hopper, egg hopper (egg is added to the soft center of the pancake and cooked till it’s a bit runny), milk hopper (with coconut milk center), and jaggery hopper (dessert pancake made using local natural sweetener – jaggery). The first two (plain and egg hopper) are the easiest to find. Roadside shops start making them after five in the evening. Milk hopper is rare and something not even all locals know about. Milk hopper is a Tamil specialty, and you will mostly find it in Tamil shops and restaurants. 

string hoppers

34. Indi Appa (String Hoppers)

Although the name suggest that string hopper is some kind of a hopper variety, the two couldn’t be more different. String hoppers are prepared of rice flour, making it a perfect meal for people who are gluten-intolerant. The dough is a simple mixture of rice flour and water that is stuffed in a special device, not unlike a meat grinder. Thin strings of dough are squeezed out to create flat rounds which are then steamed and served with curries. 

kottu

35. Kottu Roti

Roti is Sri Lankan flat bread that comes in many varieties. I wrote above about pol roti – flat bread made with addition of scraped coconut. Another popular option is godamba roti, almost paper-thin, stretchy, oily pancakes. For kottu roti, those thin pancakes are cut into pieces and mixed with vegetables, meat, and spices on a grill. Usually the cook uses two metal blades to cut and mix kottu roti. The sound of the blades hitting the grill is one that you will recognize wherever you travel in Sri Lanka. I always say that one knows there’s kottu nearby not because of its smell, but because of the sound. Kottu can be made with chicken, crab, egg, or vegetables. 

string hopper kottu

36. Indi Appa Kottu (String Hopper Kottu)

Godamba roti is not the only ingredient that can serve as the base for kottu, but probably the most popular one. Another local favorite is kottu made of string hoppers (indi appa). Just like in case with kottu roti, string hoppers are cut into small pieces and mixed with spices, vegetables, and meats on a grill with the use of two metal blades.

sri Lankan food

37. Thosai (Pancake)

Thosai (pronounced more like “tosse”) is freaking confusing! Possibly, the most confusing food of all in Sri Lanka. Some people say that thosai is Sri Lankan name for Indian dosa. Others say that they are two different things. Whenever I show thosai in Instagram stories and call it “thosai”, someone inevitably sends a message: “It’s dosa!”. Next time I show the same damn pancake and say “dosa”, then somebody else corrects me: “It’s thosai”. So if you know what the deal is, please, explain in comments! 

Back to the pancake. Thosai is a rather thick chewy pancake usually served with sambara, a watery coconut sambol. This dish is considered to be Tamil and you can find it in the northern parts of the island, as well as in Tamil restaurants in Sri Lanka.

grilled lagoon prawns

38. Grilled Seafood

Probably, the only item on this list that is not traditionally Sri Lankan. Although Sri Lanka is an island and seafood is one of the major ingredients in local cuisine, you’ll never see a big fat tuna steak or a whole baked fish in a Sri Lankan home. Fish, shrimps, and cuttlefish are either curried, deep-fried, or devilled. 

One of my favorite meals — freshly caught seafood simply baked or grilled — comes from touristy restaurants down south, by the ocean. Almost every restaurant facing the ocean offers a selection of daily catch to choose from. You can pick the kind of seafood you prefer and the cooking method. 

Sweets

watalapan

39. Watalappan

An exotic cousin of cream caramel, watalapan is a kind of steamed pudding prepared with eggs, coconut milk, jaggery (natural local sweetener), and spiced with cardamom. Although  watalappan is traditionally a Muslim dessert prepared during Ramadan season, it has become a staple of Sri Lankan cuisine over time. Nowadays you can find it in many restaurants across the country.

curd with treacle

40. Curd and Kithul Treacle

Sri Lankan curd is a traditional type of yogurt prepared from the milk of water buffalo. You can buy one by the road, in specialized shops, or in supermarkets. Make sure your curd comes in a clay pot, not in a plastic jar (better quality, better taste, better for the planet). Sri Lankan curd has a slightly sour taste. Kithul treacle — a local plant-based sweet syrup — will add a perfect punch of sweetness to it. 

lavariya

41. Lavariya

Remember string hoppers I recommended to have for dinner with spicy curries? Now, the same string hoppers can be enjoyed sweet, with pani pol stuffed inside. “Pani” in Sinhalese means honey, “pol” — coconut. Pani pol is prepared by mixing grated coconut with kithul treacle (natural sweet syrup), and cardamom. For lavariya, string hopper is filled with pani pol and rolled up. Pani pol can be also stuffed inside thin pancakes. I shared a recipe of my cultural mix between Russian pancakes stuffed with Sri Lankan pani pol here. 

chocolate biscuit pudding

42. Chocolate Biscuit Pudding

Chocolate biscuit pudding is, probably, the closest to a European dessert you’ll find in Sri Lanka. It can be shaped as a cake and cut into pieces, or prepared in a jar, with more gooey consistency, and eaten by spoon. Chocolate biscuit pudding is made with Marie biscuits, cocoa powder, and butter, which are basically the same ingredients Russians use to prepare kartoshka. The outcome is quite different, but just as delicious. 

Sri lankan milk toffee

43. Kiri Toffee and Pol Toffee

Kiri toffee (milk toffee) and pol toffee (coconut toffee) are prepared for major celebrations in Sri Lanka, including Sinhala and Tamil New Year, or without any reason at all. Milk toffee is a mixture of sugar syrup with condensed milk. Sometimes chopped cashew nuts are added to enhance the flavor. Pol toffee is a variation of toffee that is made with grated coconut. Both can be found in small road side shops and supermarkets, but the best ones are homemade toffees. 

sri Lankan love cake

44. Love Cake

It is believed that love cake was brought to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese during the years of colonization. Sri Lankans fell in love with “bolo di amor”, as it was called then, but added a little bit of local flavors to the recipe. This soft cake with crumbly exterior can be spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. It became so incorporated into local culture that if you google “love cake”, the first two pages will be all related to Sri Lankan version, not the Portuguese one.

thala bola

45. Thala Bola and Thala Karali (Sesame Seed Candies)

These local candies made of sesame seeds can be found in every supermarket. “Thala” in Sinhalese means “sesame”, “bola” — “ball”, “karali” — “roll”. Therefore thala bola is a ball-shaped candy and thala karali — a roll-shaped one. Thala bola is slightly hard and crunchy. Thala karali is soft and chewy. The two make a perfect edible souvenir to bring back from Sri Lanka for your foodie friends. 

Drinks

ceylon milk tea

46. Ceylon Tea

Do I even need to write anything here? Not having a cup of black tea in Sri Lanka is like going all the way to Paris and not trying a croissant. Unacceptable. I’d recommend to try simple black tea of high quality without any flavors to really enjoy the taste of pure tea. In Sri Lanka, tea is always served wth milk and sugar, unless you ask for plain tea. You can always find it in cafes and restaurants, but I personally love the tea in small shops by the road. You can ask for jaggery (local sweetener) or milk toffees to go with your tea. 

Bonus: if you ever come across kiri kahata, give it a try! You might have to ask for it at roadside shops. Kiri kahata is the opposite of milk tea. Let me explain. While in milk tea you add a little bit of milk into a cup of tea, when making kiri kahata you add a tiny bit of very strong black tea into a cup full of hot fresh milk. One word: divine!

sri lankan coffee

47. Ceylon Coffee

Before Sri Lankans started growing tea, the country was one of the biggest exporters of coffee in the world. The coffee industry was thriving in XIX century, with its peak in 1870, until the plants were affected by a fungal decease known as the coffee leaf rust which wiped out whole plantations. Coffee production dipped and tea bushes were planted instead. 

Nowadays coffee industry is not in great shape, but there are people who are trying to revive it. Unfortunately, coffee served in roadside shops and even in good restaurants often leaves a lot to be desired. To try truly amazing Ceylon coffee you need to know the right places. In Colombo, check out Whight & Co and Hansa Coffee. You can have a cup of coffee in their cafes or buy a pack of coffee beans to take home. 

say-no-to-straws

48. Thambili (King Coconut)

Large bright orange coconuts sold in the streets are perfect to quench your thirst on a hot and humid day in Sri Lanka. Unlike green coconuts that are found in many tropical countries, king coconuts are indigenous to Sri Lanka. They are full of vitamins and nutrients, delicious, and — added bonus — are more eco-friendly than water bottles. Just remember to refuse a straw. I always stop by the road to buy one when I forget to bring my reusable water bottle with me. 

homemade ginger beer

49. Ginger Beer

Despite its name, ginger beer contains no alcohol and is simply a carbonated drink flavored with ginger. You have two options in Sri Lanka: buy a bottle of the famous EGB, local factory-made ginger beer, or try to seek out a bottle of homemade one. EGB, or Elephant House ginger beer, is sold in supermarkets, cafes, and restaurants. Although the ingredient list is far from perfect, it is a taste familiar to locals from childhood and beloved by most of Sri Lankans.

As for homemade ginger beer, in Colombo, you can find it at the Good Market Shop and at Dutch Burgher Union. Both are made with nothing but ginger, sugar and carbonated water. The taste is much more sharp in comparison with EGB.

sri lankan arrack

50. Coconut Arrack

Arrack to Sri Lanka is what vodka is to Russia and tequila is to Mexico — the most popular local alcohol. Arrack is made of unopened flowers of a coconut palm that produce nectar called toddy. At dawn, men called toddy-tappers climb coconut trees and move along the tops of the trees using tight ropes to collect the flowers and extract the toddy. Due to its high content of sugar and yeast, toddy ferments naturally. Fermented toddy is distilled and aged in barrels. Arrack can be consumed on its own or in a cocktail. Make sure to buy high quality arrack as some inexpensive brands mix it with neutral spirits.

*  *  *

Phew! That is it! All 50 Sri Lankan foods you should try on the island! I purposefully skipped all the street foods, snacks, and short eats as I am planning to write a separate post about them. 

If you are looking for more information about Sri Lankan cuisine (at this point I have to ask, are you writing a PhD thesis on Sri Lankan food?), check out the post I wrote about sweets and treats that are prepared for Sinhala and Tamil New Year. If you are planning to stay in Colombo (which I recommend), read this post with all my favorite restaurants serving Sri Lankan food in Colombo. 

What dishes have you tried? What traditional Sri Lankan foods would you add to this list?

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The Ultimate guide to Sri Lankan food: 50 must try dishes on the island! #srilanka #srilankanfood #srilankancuisine  50 foods you should try in Sri Lanka! The only guide to Sri Lankan food you need to read before your trip! #srilanka #srilankanfood #srilankancuisine