I had no idea what Sri Lankan food was. I had assumed there was overlap between it and Indian food. Which was somewhat true, but in some major ways Sri Lankan food is not the same as Indian food.
One huge difference is the curry. Sri Lankan curry is some of the best curry I’ve had! It’s consistency is completely different from Indian curry. Indian curry is thick in it’s consistency, unlike Sri Lankan curry. Curry from Sri Lanka is a soup consistency. Because of this, I found it to be very flavorful. You could really taste all the different spices. Sri Lankan curry is typically served in a bowl. Whatever protein or veggie (chicken, shrimp, cauliflower) you pick is in the bowl with the curry. A plate of rice comes on it’s own dish, so it doesn’t get all mixed together.
The spice level in Sri Lankan food is HELLA HOT. Hotter than most Indian food I’ve had. By the end of our time in Sri Lanka I grew to like spicy food and could have way hotter things than before our trip in Asia began. My favorite curries to eat in Hikkaduwa were prawn ones because we were so close to the ocean.
Side dishes that came with our curry were papadam and coconut sambal.
Papadam is a type of large, bubbly surfaced, fried chip. We would eat it as an appetizer but it could also come out with your curry. Some people spooned their curry over their rice, then topped it off by crushing papadam and sprinkling it over the rice and curry. We also went to a place that served the papadam with mango chutney and that was a tasty salty/sweet combination.
Coconut sambal was something I’d never heard of before. It’s a side dish of finely grated coconut meat mixed with finely chopped onions, chilli powder, lime, and a bit of salt. You can really taste all the flavors and they are glorious together! Again, I ate this on the side or mixed it with my rice, but I saw other people pouring it over their curry and rice, or dipping their papdam in it. Some coconut sambals have dried fish in them as well, but we didn’t try those.
Other foods we ate in Sri Lanka:
Roasted cashews and spicy cashews are sold on the road, so if you’re on a road trip stop and buy some.
Coconuts are everywhere in Hikkaduwa. Locals walk up and down the beach selling them, so be sure to have a sweet treat in the hot sun.
Tiny bananas – they looked like plantains – were a great midday snack and were sold at every corner store.
Dhal curry seemed to be the most popular veggie curry of choice in Sri Lanka. It’s made with lentils, turmeric, onion, tomatoes, green chilies, coconut milk, mustard, cumin, fenugreek, and curry leaves.
Ceylon Tea is the tea of Sri Lanka. Lipton tea is ceylon tea. So if you’ve had Lipton’s you’ve had ceylon tea. Often times you’ll see people drinking this instead of coffee in the morning. It’s so good, we even swapped it out for coffee on some mornings.
Lion beer is the most popular, cheap beer in Sri Lanka. I guess I’d describe it as a light lager?
Arrack is coconut liquor. To me it tasted like a coconut rum.