**(Currency Guide @ 20 July 2011) = 1.00 GBP (British Pound) = 175.970 LKR (Sri Lankan Rupee)**
Sri Lankan food is little known as a speciality food abroad, being totally overshadowed by next door neighbour India and its food. While Sri Lanka food has a certain amount in common with South Indian food, Sri Lankan culinary traditions are quite distinct, being a fusion of local produce and predominately chicken, pork and fish used in recipes and spices carried to the island over the centuries by various visitors and settlers - Malay, Indian, Arab, Portuguese, Dutch and more recently English. The staple dish is rice and curry, being at its best a delicious mini banquet mixture of spices that demonstrate Sri Lanka's status as one of the premier spice islands in the world. Spices generally used in Sri Lankan cooking can include a mixture of chillies, cinnamon, curry leaves, garlic, coconut milk, pandanus leaves and sometimes a small pinch of intensely pungent sun dried tuna called 'Maldive Fish'.
Spices and Curries
Sri Lanka is of course famous as is India for its use of spices and curry in its local cuisine. Food can be incredibly fiery - often compared to Thai food, and usually much hotter than Southern Indian food. As well, the more uninspired chefs sometimes toss the chilli and curry powder at a meal to make up for a lack of imagination and skills, so be careful when you specify the degree of "hot" you want your meal to be, as the level of spice in a meal is not on a uniform scale. 'Hot' can be outrageously hot to medium and 'Medium' can be 'medium' to 'red hot'.
Speciality Sri Lankan Cuisine
Speciality Sri Lankan main meals are: 'Hoppers': a small bowl shaped pancake usually made from batter with coconut milk and palm toddy and usually eaten at breakfast or dinner. Other foods can be mixed with hoppers e.g. eggs, yoghurt or honey. 'String Hoppers' are quite different and are tangled balls of steamed rice noodles, usually eaten with a dash of curry or dhal for breakfast. 'Kotthu Rotty' is a Muslim food also called 'Roti' which is a fine pancake made from small balls of dough that are stretched by the chef into virtually transparent sheets of very fine pastry, with a portion of curried meat, vegetables or potato then added, where it is then folded into usually a triangle and quickly deep fried.
'Rotis' can also be chopped up and stir fried with meat and vegetables. This dish is called 'Kotthua Rotti'. 'Lamprais' is a serving of rice baked in a plantain leaf along with side dishes such as chicken or a boiled egg and vegetable pickles. 'Sambol' is usually served as a side dish which is mixed into your food to give it extra spice. Sambols come in different varieties, the most common is 'Pol Sambol' (Coconut Sambol) and is a VERY hot mixture of chilli powder, salt, chopped up onions, grated coconut and a dollop of ubiquitous 'Maldive Fish'. Eat it your own risk, and remember that a big glass of cold water along side is not always a good antidote to a very hot curry, much more effective is usually a few mouthfuls of plain rice.
Other local dishes include local vegetable dishes such as curried Jack Fruit, Breadfruit, Pineapple, Potato & Aubergine, with local shredded green vegetables stir fried with spices and grated coconut also often served. Rice is of course an accompaniment to every meal. Devilled dishes are also quite popular and are usually prepared with a thick spicy sauce plus chunks of onion and chilli mixed with chicken, fish, pork or beef, and usually not as hot as other Sri Lankan traditional dishes.
Eating Your Food
Sri Lankan cuisine is best enjoyed with your fingers - not a western style knife and fork - although of course restaurants catering to western visitors always supply you with a knife and fork. It is also possible that a mainstream dish as above can appear on a variety of menus spelt in a variety of different ways and with sometimes quite humorous renditions of its original spelling!
Not many distinct fine restaurants exist except in Colombo, Kandy and Negomobo. Restaurants serve a mixture of Sri Lanka dishes: Seafood, Chinese and Western cuisine. The small resorts in Ella and Galle and some seaside areas also have excellent local restaurants. Most visitors opt to dine in their hotels which serve good to excellent Sri Lankan and Western style cuisine. Restaurants are usually open for lunch and dinner, closing from 3 to 7 pm and last orders usually at 9pm.
Food in Sri Lank is incredibly inexpensive outside of *tourist resort restaurants (*which by UK standards is still very cheap!) and a full meal at a local guest house can cost as little as 2 pounds sterling, and mid class restaurants about 5 pounds. Note that many restaurants add a service charge of 10% and more upmarket restaurants can add a government tax of 15% on top of that. Locals usually eat at home or at small local neighbourhood cafes confusingly sign written as 'hotels'.
Sri Lankan Seafood
Seafood is one of the major foods in Sri Lankan cuisine with seafood replacing meat as a day to day staple. Fish types include Tuna, Seer (a firm white bodied local white fish), the superb eating local 'Butter fish', Mullet, Bonito, and Shark. Other local sea foods include Lobster, Crab, Prawns and Calamari (Cuttlefish). Most fish is usually prepared quite simply either grilled or steamed - and is a good choice if you are not a big fan of highly spicy foods. It is usually prepared and cooked without spices or sauces and is delicious. Or if you like seafood AND hot - try the Chilli Crab. Awesome!
Chinese, Indonesian, *South Indian (Vegetarian), Korean, Japanese, Thai, & European - usually only in larger town and cities.
Sweets (Dessert) (aka' Pudding'!)
After a meal of spicy curry, try curd (made from buffalo milk) with honey or treacle, or Kitul an indigenous syrup made from the Kitul Palm, or wattallapam - egg pudding from a very old Malaysian recipe. Pani pol is a small coconut and honey cake. . Kiribath is a dessert of rice cakes cooked in milk and served with Jaggery, a chewy sweet, made with crystallised Kitul palm sap. This is traditionally served at weddings and small babies. Ice cream is 'usually" (ask if you are not sure!) factory made and safe to eat, the most famous being the local 'Elephant Brand'. If you are really stumped - try a curried cake - yes - curried cakes- an acquired taste we believe! However, the magnificent local fresh fruit makes the best dessert of all: passion fruit, guavas, mangoes, mangosteen, papaya, jakfruit, (jackfruit) pineapples, bananas, custard apples, wood apples, rambutan and the foul smelling but wonderful tasting Durian fruit. The delicious, purple-skinned mangosteen is at its best in June and the tiny furry gulsambilla (a large furry tart tasting green seed) is best in August - October.
Water & Soft Drinks
As in all other situations when away from home in a different climate and country it is best to avoid tap water (although it is chlorinated) because of the unfamiliar micro organisms in it so try to stick to bottled water only. This is available everywhere and is cheap and plentiful. Average cost is Rs .50 a litre but can range from Rs .40 to Rs. 90 a litre depending on where you are in Sri Lanka. Also best to avoid ice unless you know it made from boiled or purified water such as in better hotels and restaurants. Coke, Sprite etc. is also widely available but we recommend you try the local soft drinks which come in a bewildering array of choices and colours. Lion and Elephant brands produce local favourites: Cream Soda and Ginger beer (made with local natural ginger) whilst other local soft drinks include Portello and Necta.
Favourite local drinks are Beer (bottles - lager with 5% alcohol content) The local brew is 'Lion', and is quite good. Carlsberg is bottled under licence. Prices range from Rs.90 in a liquor shop to Rs. 150-200 (about 1 pound) in bars to up to Rs. 400 (about 2 pounds) in an upmarket resort restaurant. Arrack (33% proof) is the local liquor of choice made from the flower of the coconut which is fermented and distilled. No local wines - Imported wines only.
Full Moon Days and the purchase of Alcohol (?)
You are not allowed (technically) to buy alcohol on days where there is a full moon (Poya - Buddhist Holy Days) although in tourist areas this is conveniently overlooked.
Wash your Food
It's a wise precaution if you buy fruit or produce from stalls, markets, small local shops or the roadside to wash your fruit or vegetables/produce thoroughly before you eat it. Just to be sure.
Tea - Of Course!
Sadly most of the good stuff is exported overseas and there is not really a real tea drinking culture in Sri Lanka. Tea is usually milky and not at all like our English 'cuppa'. If you are an avid tea drinker don't be disappointed.