A diverse country like Sri Lanka does not fall short when it comes to having a plethora of amazing food dishes. The staple ingredients in the Sri Lankan diet are coconut, fish, rice, tea, and fresh vegetables and fruits. Sri Lankan cuisine has maintained the traditional methods of cooking despite the modern evolution in the culinary industry. A lot of Sri Lankan preparations still rely on traditional methods of cooking with most of them heavily relying on fresh fish or vegetables as their main ingredients. What you see is what you get in Sri Lanka, a statement that greatly epitomizes the humble Sri Lankan population. So get your napkins and try not to drool; these popular food dishes are exquisite, to say the least!
Do not be surprised if you see colorful bowls holding delicious veggies in them only to find out that these bowls aren’t bowls. Well, not plastic bowls for sure. Hoppers are the Sri Lankan version of Appams. A thin layer of rice batter is poured in what strongly resembles a kadhai. The essential idea is for the Hoppers’ sides to be crispy and wafer-thin, while the center should be fluffy and hot. Spinach, beetroot, dried mango Hoppers are common, thus their vibrant colors. However, egg Hoppers are the most common, eaten along with delicious curry preparations. If you’re trying Hoppers at a traditional Sri Lankan restaurant, ask for their coconut curry to taste one of the best combinations.
Fish Ambul Thiyal
Being an island country, Sri Lanka relies heavily on the fresh catch of the day. Most of the non-vegetarian dishes are centred around fish, and sometimes, chicken. Fish Ambul Thiyal is a sour Fish Curry where fresh fish is diced into cubes and cooked with cream or milk along with tamarind, chillies, garlic, turmeric, and a few other spices. This curry is a household delicacy and is frequently eaten along with piping hot rice. Despite the milk or water as the curry’s base, the curry is quite dry, and best served when the water is still evaporating and the pan has been deglazed.
Now that we’re done with the main dish, Hoppers, it’s time to talk about its accompaniment. Sambol, whether made from coconut or green leaves of the Brahmi plant, is the ideal side dish. Coconut Sambol is grated coconut, chili flakes, and onion, all tossed together and lightly roasted. It is the Sri Lankan version of a dry vegetable preparation (sabzi). Gotu Kola Sambol is the green version of the coconut Sambol, where any variant of green leaves (salad leaves) replace coconut but everything else is similar. Sambol is the ideal accompaniment for Hoppers, depending on whether you are having it for breakfast or dinner. Sambol is perhaps the most popular dish in Sri Lankan kitchens.
When translated from the Dutch language (the dish origins) Lamprais is a ‘lump of rice’. It’s prepared by combining rice, Sambol powder, meat, and a few choice spices. The mixture is then made into a lump, and steamed after placing under banana leaves. Since it’s evolved from Dutch cuisine, Lamprais isn’t a spicy food dish, rather it uses relatively sweet spices like cinnamon and clove which gives this delicious preparation a refreshing, mildly sweet taste.
Most of the vegetarian dishes can easily be transformed into meaty delicacies, however, Kottu Roti should be left as it is. A humble preparation made from an ordinary flour Roti, Kottu Roti is all about mincing or chopping this simple Roti (bread) into fine pieces over a stove. What you get are crispy, chewy pieces of Roti that can replace a portion of rice complimenting any curry dish. Kottu Roti is a part of every South Asian kitchen, the clash, and clang of pans, the smell of fresh spices wafting through the kitchen, and of course, irresistible dishes full of flavor. Next time you’re in Sri Lanka, try this out, and ask for their curry recommendations; a simple peanut, coconut, and veggie curry should be a treat for your taste buds.
Time for dessert! Helapa is an ideal breakfast/teatime dish that is nutritious, filling, and of course, delicious. The Sri Lankan version of a sweet jaggery roti, except the jaggery, is replaced by coconut and sweet palm extract. The mixture is then flattened or rolled like a chapati/paratha and steamed under banana leaves. Ideally, you’re good to go with this, however, some variants of Helapa also include pouring a spoonful of honey or even Nutella (yes, not so traditional) over the sweet dish. Best served piping hot, Helapa is best eaten during winters.
Essentially a custard dish, the Sri Lankan version of it is topped with nutmeg, cardamom, and tender coconut shavings. This is a dessert dish influenced by the Malaysian cuisine, however, the Sri Lankan version is just as popular. The secret ingredient is the Kutul Jaggery, a treacle stored from the Kutul tree. It’s rich, slightly sour, and not overly sweet. The custard is then cut into cubes and served with fresh vegetables, honey, or in rare scenarios, whipped cream (again, not traditional). Watalappan is Sri Lanka’s most popular dessert and usually signifies happy family occasions and festivals.
Curated by Yashodhaan Burange
Images sourced from Wikipedia, Shutterstock