Sri Lankan cuisine has been shaped by many historical, cultural and other factors. Contact with foreign traders who brought new food items, cultural influences from neighbouring countries as well as the local traditions of the country’s ethnic groups among other things have all helped shape Sri Lankan cuisine. Influences from Indian (particularly South Indian), Indonesian and Dutch cuisines are most evident with Sri Lankan cuisine sharing close ties to other neighbouring South and Southeast Asian cuisines. Today, some of the staples of Sri Lankan cuisine are rice, coconut and spices. The latter are used due to the country’s history as a spice producer and trading post over several centuries.
Sri Lankan National Dishes
Rice and curry
Rice and curry is a popular dish in the Southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, as well as in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Rice and curry dinner comprises the following:
- A large bowl of rice, most often boiled, but frequently fried. Sometimes Kiribath, rice cooked in coconut milk, is served.
- A vegetable curry, perhaps of green beans, jackfruit or leeks.
- A curry of meat, most often chicken or fish but occasionally goat or lamb.
- Dhal, a dish of spiced lentils.
- Papadums, a thin crisp wafer made from legume or rice flour and served as a side dish.
- Sambals, which are fresh chutney side dishes; they may include red onion, chili, grated coconut, lime juice, and are often the hottest part of the meal.
Each bowl contains small portions, but as is traditional in most of tropical Asia, if a bowl is emptied, it is immediately refilled.
The curry uses chili peppers, cardamom, cumin, coriander and other spices. It has a distinctive taste. The Southern cuisines uses ingredients like dried fish which are local to the area. The spicier preparations are believed to be among the world’s hottest in terms of chilli content (second only to Sylheti). While natives are born into this cuisine and develop a healthy tolerance to spicy food, many visitors and tourists to the country often find the spiciness excessive. As a result, many local restaurants in developed and tourist areas offer special low-spice versions of local foods to cater to foreign palates, or have an alternative western menu for tourists.
Kottu, also known as koththu rotti or kothu roti (meaning chopped bread), is a Sri Lankan dish made from godhamba roti (a type of Sri Lankan roti) and vegetables, egg and/or meat, and spices. The bread is described as very similar to the type found in the south Indian kothu parotta and Roti canai. A common dinner dish, kottu has become popular in cities with a significant Sri Lankan diaspora population, such as Toronto and New York City’s Little Sri Lanka neighborhood.
Generally, the consumer chooses what and how much of the amount of ingredients are included if someone else is preparing. Kothu is considered the Sri Lankan equivalent of the hamburger, in terms of its popularity.
Kiribath is a traditional Sri Lankan dish made from rice. It is prepared by cooking rice with coconut milk, hence this name, and can be considered a form of rice cake or rice pudding. Kiribath is an essential dish in Sri Lankan cuisine. It is very commonly served for breakfast on the first day of each month and also has added significance of being eaten for any auspicious moment throughout one’s lifetime which are marking times of transition. It is one of the more renowned traditional dishes in Sri Lanka.