Fiery curry and mellow rice strike up a ying and yang style balance in Sri Lanka’s national dish, which is often served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Chilli is not the only flavour present on this lush island’s palate – sour lime, bitter herbs, sweet coconut, salted fish flakes, and a prominent rainbow of spices awaken the senses at every mealtime. Sri Lankan cuisine isn’t for the fainthearted, but it can also be a lot of fun. Rice noodles are squashed into pancakes, vendors hand fried pastries out wrapped in their kids’ old homework, markets heave with exotic fruits and vegetables, and your main of curry and rice is never without an ensemble of sides – ideal for sharing. We look at what you should eat and where.
What to eat in Jaffna
Let’s begin our tour on the northern tip of the island. Given its geography, Jaffna cuisine generally exhibits flavour profiles and dishes similar to those you can find in Southern India. Making full use of the abundance of seafood and other endemic ingredients, locals produce a range of dishes very distinct to Jaffna. Do not leave without sampling Jaffna Kool – a seafood soup thickened with Palmyra. In fact, whilst you’re there, be sure to sample a few Palmyra palm tree treats. You can eat the fruit raw from the tree, sweet Palmyra treacle over buffalo curd, or even the fermented sap – which forms a pleasant alcoholic drink.
We couldn’t go without mentioning this northern city’s crowning glory – the Jaffna Crab Curry. Rich, spicy and bright with Jaffna curry powder, this dish is a firm favourite around the coastal areas of the island. Enjoy the tender mudcrab meat coated in its glossy sauce alongside rice and Pol Sambol – ground coconut relish with chilli and onion. If seafood is not on the menu for you, we suggest Jaffna dry mutton curry, aubergine (or brinjal) curry, or the emblematic bowl-shaped pancakes, Hoppers. Whilst Hoppers are popular all around the island, the regional difference found in northern Sri Lanka is a dash of ghee added to the pan during cooking. The additions of coconut milk and jaggery are Jaffna specialities.
What to eat in Colombo
Colombo is Sri Lanka’s commercial capital and largest city. A crossroads of commerce set on the coast, Colombo has every vital ingredient necessary for a foodie hotspot. Amidst this charmingly jumbled mixture of shady boulevards, corporate skyscrapers and honking tuk tuks, we’d recommend pausing to sample some street eats. Start your food-finding mission at Galle Face Green – a seaside park thronged with vendors. Have your fill of egg hoppers, generously stuffed potato samosas, and cassava chips, but ensure you save room for the incredibly moreish Isso Vadai (lentil pancakes topped with prawns) and Kottu (chopped roti with meat and spices).
Despite being situated both by the sea and not far from the fishing paradise that is the Negombo Lagoon, it’s not just juicy prawns, melt-in-the-mouth butterfish, and chilli-doused squid you’ll find here. Given its significant Tamil population, Colombo also boasts a fantastic choice of ‘pure vegetarian’ (no meat, fish, alcohol or eggs) South Indian style restaurants. These cheap and cheerful local joints serve anything from dosa pancakes with curried fillings, to vegetable soups, spiced rice dishes, and tantalising Thalis (a collection of small dishes). Finish up with some fresh fruit, or a sticky Sri Lankan dessert.
What to eat in Kandy
Welcome to Hill Country. Perched in Sri Lanka’s mountainous and lush interior, Kandy is no doubt one of the island’s most-visited locations for tourists and natives alike. Packed with sights and attractions, including the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy is a melting pot of cultures and religions – making for an excellent place to stop and fill up. It’s as easy to track down an authentic Biryani dish or curry as it is to find quality Chinese food. If you’d like to try a regional speciality, we’d recommend Ambu Thiyal – a sour fish curry made with skipjack or tuna and gorkal (similar to tamarind).
Kandy is also a great place to sample one of Sri Lanka’s biggest and finest exports –tea. We suggest you stop at the Ceylon Tea Museum, where you can learn a little and attend a tea tasting session on the top floor with a panoramic view of the city and its verdant surrounds. If you get a taste for it, you may even want to visit the Giragama Tea Plantation, which lies just outside Kandy. The Peradeniya Royal Botanical Garden and the New Ranweli Spice Garden is also a fantastic spot to see herbs and spices such as nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom growing in situ.
If you’d like a taste of Sri Lanka yourself, be sure to visit the Kenwood Travel website, or call our Indian Ocean specialists on 020 7749 9296.