Sri Lanka: The Cuisine – 15 “Must Try” Dishes!

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Sri Lanka Cuisine -15 Must-Try Dishes!

If you’ve been a reader of for a while, then you’d know local food is a big part of our travelling experience, so diving into Sri Lanka Cuisine was inevitable.

We’re lovers of everything from roadside snacks, wobbling on stools at street stalls, local restaurants, and springing for fine dining.

Getting to know the food of a country helps in getting to know the people, their land, and its history.

For all of you likeminded foodies, here is a compilation of some must-try traditional dishes to introduce you to Sri Lanka cuisine. Be sure to take this list with you on your adventure.


#1 Kukul Mas Curry (Chicken Curry)

Kukul Mas is a staple throughout Sri Lanka served for breakfast, lunch & dinner. Prepare Kukul Mas by tempering fennel seeds, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon sticks in hot oil.

Then the chicken then goes in with chilli powder, curry powder, turmeric, pandan leaves, lemongrass and curry leaves. Coconut milk adds richness & some areas in Sri Lanka add tomatoes.

Simmer until the chicken is cooked, no less than an hour to ensure flavour development.

Jetwing Kaduruketha. Sri Lanka.


#2 Parippu (Dhal Curry)

Vegetarians are well catered for in Sri Lanka with Dhal curry being as much a staple as the chicken curry above. Using split red lentils the ingredients include cumin seeds, turmeric, fenugreek, mustard seeds, curry leaves, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and fresh green chillies. Coconut milk enriches and thickens.


#3 Hoppers

These paper-thin pancakes are cooked over the fire in a bowl-shaped pan. The edges of the pancake “bowl” become crisp and light while the base remains soft and fluffy.

Hoppers come plain or with egg. Served with fish, chicken or beef curries for breakfast, they are a must.

Sri Lanka: Colombo, the Commercial Capital.


#4 Pol Sambol

Finely grated fresh coconut, red onions, dried whole chillies, chilli powder, lime juice, salt & Maldive fish are all ground in a bowl to make a form of dry chutney.

Pol sambol is served with everything! For breakfast, snacks, lunch and the evening meal, pol sambol is addictive but be warned, it packs a punch.


#5 Fruit

If you live in the desert and the bulk of your fruit is flown in, then it’s an event to eat fresh local fruit in situ. As you’d imagine, mangoes, pineapple, papaya, Asian apples, melons, all kinds of tropical fruit are available in Sri Lanka.

You’ll see fruit vendors in the streets through Colombo’s Pettah Bazaar. The fruit is pre-prepared and served with salt, pepper and chilli chutney. It is sooooo good!

Oh, and did you know Sri Lanka has 51 varieties of bananas? Neither did I but if you’re travelling around Sri Lanka you’ll get a chance to try quite a few.

From the plains to the highlands, bananas are grown all over the country. Some are tiny and sweet, others large and multi-coloured.

Sri Lanka: Colombo, the Commercial Capital.


#6 Wambatu Moju

This amazing candied eggplant chutney is perfect with everything and quite frankly, could be eaten with a spoon.

Reduced to almost black, this spicey, sweet chutney comprises deep fried long purple eggplant caramelised with sugar, vinegar, red onion, green chillies, mustard seeds, chilli powder and turmeric. It’s moreish!


#7 Gotu Kola Sambol

Or pennywort salad in English.

Pennywort is shredded then combined with shallots, tomatoes, freshly grated coconut, chillies, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Simple and refreshing, it works well with most Sri Lankan flavours.

Sri Lanka: Colombo, the Commercial Capital.


#8 Fish Ambul Thiyal (Sour Fish Curry)

Meaty fish like tuna is cubed and flavoured with spices and a sour fruit called guraka.

As with Kukul Mas, this is a dry curry dish from southern Sri Lanka, served at any time. Hoppers, coconut rice and sambols make the perfect partners.


#9 Cutlets

Potato and mushroom cutlets are moreish balls of intense flavour. The oyster mushrooms inside give a meaty texture and in the mix, chilli (of course), cumin, turmeric, curry leaves and other secret and delicious ingredients. These are excellent hot or cold and make an ideal snack while on the road.

Young jackfruit, or polos, is another popular cutlet filling. The texture is silky smooth with the same spicy flavour.

Kandy. Sri Lanka.


#10 Lamprais

Rice, cooked in meat stock with cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, is wrapped in a banana leaf with meat and chilli sambol then steamed. For me, this dish epitomises the flavours of Sri Lanka.


#11 Wadi

Dhal curry biscuits, or Wadi, are a revelation. These flavoursome discs are so good, you’ll need all your willpower to stop at just one or two. Like cutlets, it’s worth grabbing a few to save for later.

Kandy. Sri Lanka.


#12 Polos (Green Jackfruit) Curry

With the abundance of jackfruit in Sri Lanka, they’re not just saved for cutlets. Jack fruit is used to make a dry curry. The pieces of jackfruit absorb the curry flavours beautifully.


#13 Wood Apples

You’ll smell the wood apple’s blue cheese fragrance before you see them. Wood apples have an incredibly hard shell and a smooth sweet-sour flesh inside. Used in smoothies, jams and desserts, wood apples are not unpleasant but are definitely an acquired taste.

Yala. Sri Lanka.


#14 Jaggery

Jaggery is used in confectionary throughout South and South East Asia. In Sri Lanka, jaggery is made using the treacle of the kithul tree. Mixed with nuts, coconut, rice, or sesame, jaggery is said to contain minerals used in ayurvedic body balancing tonics.

Jaggery has many uses aside from food preparation. Mixed with mustard and buttermilk, it is used to season the inside of a tandoor oven. Jaggery is also easily fermented for alcohol production and in some areas, it’s smoked through a hookah.

Nuwara Eliya. Sri Lanka.


#15 Mukunnuwenna

Mukunnuwenna is a leafy green vegetable and Sri Lanka’s most cultivated and consumed. High levels of protein,  fibre and vitamins are found in its green leaves.

Kdakenda is the result of shredded mukunnuwenna, stir-fried with grated coconut and spices. To be eaten with rice, it’s recommended for constipation, skin diseases, anemia, and improving eyesight.

For breakfast, a little jaggery is added to Kdakenda for sweetness.

Cuisine. Sri Lanka.



Arrack might just be the spirit of Sri Lanka, or maybe not, but it is a widely consumed liquor across the country.

Made from just two ingredients; the sap from unopened coconut palm flowers and water, fermented for varying lengths of time to produce higher alcohol by volume.

Toddy hoppers are up at dawn climbing via ropes through the tops of coconut palms collecting the flower’s sap. Some trees will provide a couple of litres per day.

Yala. Sri Lanka.

Very quickly, “toddy” is produced due to the natural fermentation process with a high concentration of sugar and yeast in the sap. Toddy is mildly alcoholic but it’s not until the toddy is poured into teak vats called “washbacks” to continue fermenting that it’s ready for distilling and the ABV reaches 5 – 7%.

It takes just 24 hours for either pot stills, continuous stills, or both to produce an arrack with an alcohol content of up to 90%. Most arrack is about 30 – 50%.

Arrack can be distilled, filtered, or transferred back into vats repeatedly for maturation; some for 15 years.

Most bars offer arrack or you can buy your own from many wine/ spirit stores on the island. Send a bloke in though, it’s illegal for women to purchase alcohol in Sri Lanka. 

Negombo. Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan cuisine is complex, fresh, clean and delicious. There is such variety that we ate it every day without becoming tired of it.

Let me know what you’ve tried and what you think in the comments below. Sri Lankan cuisine: it’s a thing we love….


Getting around Sri Lanka.

Distances can be deceiving. Few highways exist, though this is changing, single-lane roads are what you’ll be taking for now. Although the road quality is pretty good, they weave and wind and the number of tuk-tuks make for slow going.

Your Über app works in Sri Lanka for private cars, taxis and tuk-tuks.

Trains are inexpensive and plentiful. From Colombo, Kandy is reached in 3 hours, Nuwara Eliya in a bit over 6, Ella in just under 9 and to reach Galle on the coast it’s just 2 hours.


When to go?

Sri Lanka has two monsoon seasons, ‘Yala’ in the west-south-west from April/ May to September, and ‘Maha’ in the east from November to March.

The heaviest rainfall occurs during Yala from April to June and Maha from November to December.

Take the monsoon seasons seriously. Wind and rain can cause major delays for road and train travel.


Our Sri Lanka Adventure

For detailed info on planning your adventure please see “Sri Lanka: Where to Begin?”

Sri Lanka: Colombo, the Commerical Capital! gives an overview of where to #eat #drink #explore #shop & #stay in the commercial capital.

If you’re interested in road-tripping Sri Lanka, our first leg is covered in Sri Lanka: Colombo to Kandy Road Trip!

Continuing through tea country on Sri Lanka’s famous Blue Train can be found in Sri Lanka Road Trip: Hill Country, Highlands & Plains!

For a unique experience at Sri Lanka’s first Agro-Eco-Luxury resort, please follow this link to Sri Lanka: Kaduruketha.

If it’s wildlife you’re seeking, then don’t miss Sri Lanka: Yala National Park & the Beach!

Galle, on the southwestern coast, oozes history at the Dutch Fort and Mirissa is the place to see Blue Whales and Dolphins. For more, check out Sri Lanka: The Coast Road from Yala to Galle!

Finally, Negombo is so close to Bandaranaike International Airport that it’s perfect as the beginning or end of your adventure. In Sri Lanka: Negombo, Our Final Road Trip Destination! you’ll find all you need to know before you go.

If you’re interested in the story behind Sri Lanka’s largest independent tourism organisation, please take a look at Sri Lanka: The Jetwing Story!

For accommodation, we highly recommend Jetwing Hotels. You can add Jetwing in the search window below then filter your preferences. You’ll find a wide selection of hotels across the country.

Please note, is a affiliate. This means by booking through us you’ll still receive the same competitive rates while we receive a tiny commission to keep going.

We appreciate your support.


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Sri Lanka Cuisine

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