While it is impossible to write a comprehensive list of the best Sri Lankan recipes, these five choices are the top things I learned to make during my time in the country. All of these recipes were taught to me by locals, and learning how to cook regional cuisines from locals is one of my favorite parts about traveling.
Some of you may know that while I run this food and cocktail blog, my partner Alona runs a travel blog, Jet Set Together. This means I do quite a lot of traveling (and eating) all over the world. One of my favorite things to do is to take cooking classes in whatever country I am in. Earlier this year I spent a few weeks in Sri Lanka learning how to cook authentic Sri Lankan recipes from my homestay hosts. This article features my 5 best Sri Lankan recipes, and hopefully shows you a new cuisine to appreciate.
Sri Lankan food is quite different than Indian food, believe it or not. I know, it surprised me too. However it ended up being a positive misunderstanding because I absolutely like Sri Lankan food more! I find the flavors to be much more balanced, and the subtropical influence (especially in regards to the seafood) is a huge plus. However the two cuisines do share a lot of similar spices, as can be seen by looking at my rich butter chicken.
Ambul Thiyal is a sour fish curry usually made with tuna. I made this with my homestay host Winston in Ella, Sri Lanka and was so impressed with how good it is. Apparently this is actually his mother’s recipe, so here you have something not only culturally significant, but authentic as well. The fish is cooked in the acid of the garcinia fruit, not unlike a ceviche. But the coconut milk based curry really rounds out the flavor and pairs great with some white rice.
Dhal is a lentils dip and one of my favorite snacks when I was in Sri Lanka. The recipe is for a yellow dhal, which I like to think of as an appetizer before the main course. The flavors here are perfectly balanced, and go great with some poppadums. Who knows, maybe this will replace guacamole at your next sports viewing party.
This was the first recipe I learned to make in Ella and it was so eye opening. I remember asking Winston if he needed any help with the vegetables and what I received was a warm smile and an invite to assist him in the open air kitchen. I knew then that I was going to have a great stay. While many countries have curry recipes, Sri Lankan curries almost always use coconut milk as the liquid. We had fun breaking open and grating fresh coconuts, but store bought milk also works.
This was my breakfast most days in Sri Lanka, and one of the recipes I absolutely had to learn. Sri Lankan Roti is different than its Indian counterpart in that it uses coconut in the dough. If you are bad at bread baking, don’t worry, this bread is cooked on a griddle like a pancake. Perfect with some butter, chili sambal, or marmalade for an A+ breakfast.
One of the most popular recipes on Cooking To Entertain is for Chicken Devel. Sri Lankan food has been influenced by other cultures throughout history, and this is considered an adopted dish. I learned how to make this from my host in Kandy, and fell in love with it immediately. Devel food in Sri Lanka is used to signify the recipes that have a Chinese influence. There is a decent sized Chinese-Sri Lankan immigrant population, and the fusion recipes are known as devilled _______. This chicken and peppers is stir fried in an awesome sauce and pairs great with some fresh white rice.
Best Sri Lankan Recipes
Now, there are a few more recipes I want to add to this list. These are things I learned while in Sri Lanka, just haven’t loaded to the site yet. Be excited for one of my favorite dishes: Jaffna Crab Curry, a dish I learned from my host in Unawatuna.