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Flavours of Sri Lanka

Fresh seafood dishes are staples at beach shacks.
Image courtesy: Creative Commons

If you want to get to know Sri Lankan cuisine, you’re in for a treat. With influences from Arab traders, Malay navigators, Portuguese, Dutch and British colonists, and South Indian neighbours, you’ll be captivated by some of the local dishes. Check out these delicious culinary experiences and some essential etiquette tips.

Essential eating and drinking highlights

  • Kicking back with a gin and tonic in the bar at the Hill Club in Nuwara Eliya, before diving into the old-school colonial excesses of the formal set-course dinner. Make sure you linger to experience one of Sri Lanka’s best billiard rooms.
  • Listening to the rhythmic chop-chop-chopping of the kotthu rotti (doughy pancake chopped and fried with meat and vegetables) maker. At the Kandy Muslim Hotel it adds a percussive soundtrack to the compelling buzz of commerce and three-wheelers outside.
  • Melting into the sunset on Galle Face Green in Colombo with a few prawn vadai (deep fried snacks made from lentil flour and spices) before retiring across the road to the Veranda bar at the Galle Face Hotel.
The super refreshing king coconut.
Image courtesy: CC BY 2.0/flickr/Hafiz Issadeen
  • Taking a roadside break and recharging with a fresh thambili (king coconut). Don’t forget to scoop out the delicately sweet coconut flesh after you’re finished.
  • Deciding which curry to sample first as you’re surrounded by the table full of options of a freshly prepared personal banquet at your family-run guest house in Ella.
Stilt fisherman perched above the waves.
Image courtesy: Gitika Saksena
  • Buying fresh seafood from a fisherman on the south coast, and then getting it cooked to perfection at your favourite end-of-the-day, sand-between-your-toes restaurant.

And finally…

A little word on the etiquette of eating in Sri Lanka. Always wash your hands before you eat (for the sake of courtesy as well as hygiene) and always use your right hand to give and to receive. It’s acceptable to use or to ask for cutlery, but if you’re eating with your hand, always use your right hand. (It’s acceptable to drink holding a glass in your left hand.) If you’re invited home for a meal, remove your shoes before entering the house (although some people no longer follow this custom). Because let’s face it, once you’ve tasted some of Sri Lanka’s finest home cooking, you’ll want to be invited back, right?


This article first appeared in in January 2011.