What’s Cooking Sri Lanka?
Waking up to a steaming egg-hopper—a bowl-shaped pancake with an egg cracked in the batter and served with tangy sambols—is one of the simple yet deep pleasures of being in Serendib. It is second only to the joy of knowing that between Sri Lanka’s rugged coasts and lush hill country, this is a holiday where you can indulge and have a good time working it off, too.
For most of us, dining is one of the major enticements of a destination. When it comes to fabulous, yet somewhat under-the-radar cuisine, Sri Lankan food has tonnes of mouth-watering dishes to discover.
A trip to the island of Sri Lanka is an opportunity to feast on its rich, melting-pot cuisine, which is influenced by its geography. Though Sri Lankan food has parallels to South Indian food, yet it remains distinctly its own form of cuisine with abundance of flavors.
Over the traffic and noise at a Sri Lankan market, you'll likely hear the clanking of metal on metal and know kottu isn't far away. It’s common to hear the rhythmic clank of the kottu maker on the streets - it’s the ultimate Sri Lankan street food. Kottu is Sri Lanka's everybody's favorite fast food when craving something tasty and greasy.
When you place an order, the kottu chef will fry and chop the roti with a selection of ingredients you choose. The result is a tasty mixture of salty pieces of fried dough, lightly spiced and extremely comforting mixed with finely shredded vegetables or pieces of meat, soya sauce, spices, ginger and garlic, on a flat iron skillet using two metal cleavers with wooden handles. Kottu is served with spicy curry sauce, which you can either use as a dip or pour over your entire plate.
You can usually find it in the evenings on the many street stalls.
Sri Lanka has been influenced by a diversity of cultures and one of the most evident is the Dutch Burgher community. The word “Lamprais” originate from a Dutch word that translates as ‘a packet of food’. It consists of boiled eggs, eggplant, frikkadels (Dutch-style beef balls), mixed meats (soya for vegetarians) and sambol. Infused with cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and rice the mix is then wrapped in a banana leaf and baked in the oven at a low temperature for several hours. The matter of fact creating an authentic Lamprais is a painstakingly long labor intensive process.
The chances are the Lamprais we are most likely to run into today, are not the real deal. Make sure to ask the locals where you can find the best Lamprais in town.
Egg hoppers with sambol (appa)
Hoppers are basically the Sri Lankan version of thin pancakes with crispy edges. These crepe-like bowls are made from fermented rice flour, coconut milk, coconut water and a little sugar. A ladle of batter is fried in a small wok and swirled around to even it out. An egg is cracked into the bowl-shaped pancake as it cooks. Traditionally, hoppers were cooked at home over coconut-shell embers. Egg hoppers are garnished with lunu miris - a sambol of onions, chilies, lemon juice and salt. Pol sambol, which might also be called fresh coconut relish, is a simple blend of finely grated coconut, red onions, dried whole chilies, lime juice, salt and a little fish. It is sprinkled over almost everything! Hoppers and Egg hopers can be found all over Sri Lanka.
Fish Ambul Thiyal (sour fish curry)
As you'd expect from an island in the Indian Ocean, seafood plays an important role in Sri Lankan cuisine. Fish ambul thiyal (sour fish curry) is one of the most beloved varieties of the many different fish curries available.
This peppery fish dish originated in Southern Sri Lanka as a method to preserve fish. Cubed fish (usually tuna) is sautéed in a blend of spices including black pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, garlic, pandan leaves and curry leaves. The most significant ingredient is dried goraka, a tamarind-like fruit that gives the fish its distinctive, tart flavour.
Ambul thiyal is a dry curry dish, meaning all the ingredients are simmered with a small amount of water and cooked until the liquid reduces. This allows the spice mixture to coat each cube of fish.
Originating in southern Sri Lanka, it's available throughout the country at restaurants that serve curry, and is best eaten with rice.
Polos Curry (green jackfruit curry)
Jackfruit is consumed in a number of different stages of ripeness, from very ripe and sweet to green and starchy. Polos is a Sri Lankan curry prepared with young green jackfruit. The fruit is sliced into bite-sized chunks and boiled until soft.
It's then cooked with onions, garlic, ginger and spices like mustard seeds, turmeric, chili powder, roasted curry powder, pandan leaves and curry leaf sprigs. The final step is to add coconut milk and simmer to reduce most of the liquid, leaving all the beautiful flavors within the cubes of jackfruit.
Jackfruit has a starchy texture, somewhat similar to cassava or potato. Polos is a standard dish available at most Sri Lankan curry restaurants. The curry is usually eaten with Rice or String hoppers (Another meal you should try).
Malay-influenced Wattalappan, which is very popular with Sri Lankan Muslims, is a must for their religious festivals which you need to experience. It’s a rich steamed egg custard made with Kitul jaggery, coconut milk and spices like cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. Air bubbles keep the thick dessert from getting too heavy.
Wood apple juice
If you walk through a market in Sri Lanka, your nose will lead you to the wood apple stall - it’s a South Asian fruit with a brown paste inside the hard shell. The fruit has many health benefits and aids digestion. A favourite with the locals is a wood apple smoothie, a blend with jaggery and water. It has a unique sour and sweet flavour which every traveller must experience.
Few Other Meal Hits
· Kiribath with lunu miris.
· Wambatu moju (eggplant/brinjals pickle)
· Gotu kola Sambol (pennywort salad)
· Pol Sambol (coconut relish)
· Roast Paan (Roasted Bread)with Parippu (Dhal) Curry
· Ambarella Curry
· Cuttlefish Curry
Experience Tropical Fruits Sri Lanka has to offer.
Also don’t forget to experience amazing and delicious Sri Lankan fruits during your stay. Sri Lankan fruits are tropical, of course, and similar to those found in all other tropical regions but there are a few fruits Sri Lanka is particularly famous for. Don’t forget to visit a fresh produce market during your time on the island to check out and maybe buy a few Sri Lankan fruits of your own. You will also find little fruit stalls lining the roads, don’t be afraid to stop and buy, your driver should be able to negotiate for you.
Escaping the Sri Lankan heat on a warm day can be quite tricky if you don’t have the comfort of an air conditioned room or vehicle. Such time don't forget to experience the orange colored fruit King Coconut (commonly known as Thamibilli) you found most places in Sri Lanka. Stop over at a thambili stall and watch as the vendor skillfully carves the thambili and hands it to you (sometimes with a straw). It’s not all over one you finish drinking it. Hand the empty thambili back to the vendor, and he will in turn split it and carve out a spoon from the outer shell in a matter of seconds so that you can now enjoy the soft gelatinous inside of this wonder fruit.
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