South Asian cuisine is widely regarded as one of the most exotic, expressive, and soul-satisfying cuisine in the world. Chefs from all across the world are pushing out more and more South Asian dishes over the counter, most of the fine dining restaurants will have a couple of South Asian dishes for sure. Both India and Sri Lanka, have branched out and spread their food palette across the globe. And while most of South Asia’s cuisine is heavily focused on meat or the protein, there’s also a heavy influence of vegetarian dishes on the entire cuisine. Fresh vegetables and grounded spices can transform some of the most ordinary vegetables into exotic, mouth-watering preparations. So grab something to munch on, and try not to drool- this one is about to get tempting!
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.
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.
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.
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