A foodie’s guide to Sri Lanka

If you’re like me, food is more than just fuel while travelling. There’s a ‘food’ tab in your travel spreadsheet and your travelling style is more food safari than road safari. You’re a travelling foodie –– a troodie!

IMG_6178 The night food market in Sri Lanka’s mid north

So, when I was given the incredible opportunity to take a food tour through Sri Lanka with World Nomads and Intrepid Travel, my taste buds were more than ready.

With the land mass of approximately one Tasmania, and the population of an entire Australia, every inch of Sri Lanka is bursting with people, culture and glorious food. The food on this small island nation is surprisingly diverse; and contrary to popular belief it’s not all just rice and curry. I also found out that while the gourmet scene is growing, especially in tourist hot spots like Galle, Kandy and Colombo, the best part about Sri Lankan cuisine is the home-style cooking.

So, here it is: my ‘best of’ list for all those hungry travellers planning a trip to Sri Lanka. You lucky things!

Start your day with a touch of good karma with Kiri Baht

Kiri Baht is a white rice cooked in fresh coconut milk. Sri Lankan Buddhists believe that the boiling over of milk in a clay pot brings prosperity. If you’re in Sri Lanka on a Poya Day, get up early and visit a Buddhist temple to catch pilgirims make a Kiri Baht offering to the Buddhist society.




Startle your senses with a kotthu rotti experience

You’ll hear this dish before you see it. It’s like a noodle stir fry which is then chopped in theatrical fashion to an unintentional rhythmic beat over a hot griddle. It’s an exciting way to serve up dinner and a popular street food among locals and tourists, alike. You can find kotthu rotti in just about every town but Downtown Rotti Hut in Ella is an exception. We ordered a couple different varieties of their Kotthu Rotti dish and couldn’t leave without trying some of their crepe-style chocolate and banana rottis, as well.  

IMG_6139 DSC01735

One of the best ways to and from Ella is by train


Try a Sri Lankan curry

Rice and curry is the staple dish in Sri Lanka. It’s tasty, filling, cheap (a couple dollars, or 200-300rp) and on every menu. Mama’s Fort in Galle was a real highlight though. Mama’s special roasted curry powder is the secret to the amazing flavour, and her mango chutney and vegetable curry dishes are a stand out. Mama also offers cooking classes, which includes a trip to the local food market.

DSC01515 The amazing rice and curry spread at Mama’s Fort in Galle. IMG_9271

A typical rice and curry in Sri Lankan eateries. Not as glamorous (check out the cling wrap!), but equally delicious. 

Try a curry wrapped in a banana leaf

Do one better than the standard curry and try Lamprai – a rice, veggie and curry dish cooked in a banana leaf. If in Ella, bypass the crowds (and tourist prices) at Chilli and give one of the other restaurants on the main strip a go. There’s a great place (forgot the name!) with lip-smacking Lamprai just two doors down from the Rotti Hut.


Taste the fiery dishes of the north

For the past couple of decades the northern cities of Sri Lanka, like Jaffna, have been synonymous with civil war, but with peace restored to the area that’s about to change. You won’t see many tourists here (yet) so chances are you’ll have the spice trail on the main road all to yourself, and you’ll be free to mingle with the locals at the popular fruit and veg markets near the bus depot. But what you want to try here is the famous Jaffna chilli crab. 
IMG_6299Jaffna cuisine is influenced by the region’s Hindu culture.IMG_6315A local Jaffna merchant (above) and the spice trail in Jaffna’s main street (below).  IMG_9274IMG_9336Our host for the night prepares the Jaffna chilli crab dish.IMG_9338

Ditch the toast for breakfast

Feast like a local at dawn with some fresh Rotti and Pol Sambol – a mouthwatering shredded coconut and chilli ‘salad’. You can get a decent serving pretty much anywhere, but De Silva’s in Nuwara Eliya would be my top pick. Their traditional pastries (like cheese rotti and onion buns) are bang on as well.

IMG_9083Homemade pol sambolIMG_9093

Go loco for coco

Hydrate with the ubiquitous orange king coconut. You’ll find a coconut kiosk around every corner in most parts of Sri Lanka.

IMG_9603This restaurant in Ella took a creative approach to serving up their king coconuts (above). Coconut kiosk in Jaffna (below).


Cool down with the local brew

Watch the sunset in Galle with an EGB ginger beer or Lion Lager, and for the perfect snack order a bowl of dry roasted cashews with chilli spice and curry leaves.


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Do you have a favourite foodie moment from Sri Lanka? What did I miss? Share your comments below!

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  • Avatar
    Reply Gilbert Pool August 24, 2018 at 10:16 pm

    I want to throw the cat amongst the pigeons here. Food is first and foremost about Honedtyy. If you really know cuisine you quickly find tjat Sri Lankan cuisine is not very diverse as you’re saying. It’s basically an island’s adaptation and sometimes evolution of Indian cuisine. Hold up ANY, and I mean ANY Vegetable or raw food item to a Sri Lankan housewife and ask her how she would cook it, and the answer comes straight back: CURRY. And if it’s not Curry, then it’s “tempered” with curry-like spices. If you REALLY want to discover a diverse cuisine in an area the size of a Salmon farm in Tasmania, yes, and it had a seat at the United Nations, please contact the writer….

  • Avatar
    Reply Nancy October 14, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    Hello! I’ve just stumbled upon your blog via the World Nomad competition and am really enjoying reading your stories. I had the opportunity to visit Sri Lanka this summer and it was beautiful.. other than Lamprais though (and lots of tender coconuts!), don’t think I tried anything else you’ve mentioned. Must go back!

  • Reply Travel Guide | Travelguide October 3, 2015 at 7:06 am

    […] A foodie's guide to Sri Lanka – Maman's Kitchen night food market in Sri Lanka's mid north. So, when I was given the incredible opportunity to take a food tour through Sri Lanka with World Nomads and Intrepid Travel, my taste buds were more than ready. With the land … […]

  • Avatar
    Reply Berta September 21, 2015 at 9:30 am

    I never knew that Sri Lanka has such an interesting and diverse cuisine! Thank you for this interesting article!

    • mamanskitchen
      Reply mamanskitchen September 21, 2015 at 6:16 pm

      Neither did we before the trip! And there were lots of synergies with Persian cuisine so it felt a lot like home, in a way. Well worth a visit for anyone who calls themselves a foodie!

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