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Exploring Sri Lankan Food Culture

Updated: Dec 26, 2020

Whether you're a big foodie or not, you should try Sri Lankan food at least once in your lifetime. The taste of Sri Lankan food can be strong and mild at the same time. It varies according to the choice of the individual.

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You may think that Sri Lankan cuisine recipes would be similar to South Indian food, but it's not. Sri Lankan food has obtained its aromatic flavors through the rich spices that can't be beat. No wonder Sri Lanka is often called ''The Spice Island'' due to the rich flavor of the variety of spices.

Sri Lankan food culture is connected to the very core of its culture. The majority of Sri Lankans are farmers, and they grow rice mainly along with the other vegetables. We grow rice in paddy fields, and the people who own paddy fields are considered rich and wealthy.

1. Rice and Curry

When it comes to Sri Lankan food culture, I can't start off without mentioning our staple food - rice. Actually, We like to eat rice for all three meals of the day, along with three or four vegetables. It's very healthy and delicious, but sometimes it takes time to prepare a whole meal. So, we go for other substitutes, which I'm going to talk about later.

Here are different dishes of rice and curry:

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2. Milk Rice

This is another one of Sri Lankan cuisine recipes that is very unique, which you won't be able resist! It's a perfect blend of the milky and aromatic taste of coconut milk with fresh rice. No wonder it's my favorite Sri Lankan dish!

We consider this dish an auspicious one, and when we first take the harvest from paddy fields, we prepare it from the very first portion of rice and dedicate it to the gods. As most Sri Lankans are Buddhists, we give the first portion of rice to the temple by preparing milk rice.

This picture was taken during the New Year Festival, which we celebrate every year in April. Milk rice is in the middle and is served along with other sweets.

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3. Coconut Sambol

Sambol means salad. The main ingredient of coconut sambol is grated coconut. This dish is a fine mix of coconut, red onion, chili, lime juice, and salt. It is great with plain rice, bread, roti, or anything else that delights your taste buds! We make it often as it is very easy to make in no time at all!

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Coconut sambol goes with any other curries with plain rice.

4. Yellow Coconut Mallum

The difference between this dish and coconut sambol is the fact that here we use turmeric instead of red chilies (turmeric has antioxidant properties that are great for skin!). This dish has a sweet aromatic smell from the fine blend of freshly grated coconut and turmeric.

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This one is made by my mom. It's one of her favorites, and she adds pieces of boiled green chilies and dried fish for enhancing the flavor of the dish.

Here's our turmeric harvest from the garden:

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My girl asks if she could have raw turmeric:

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5. Coconut Rotti (Coconut Flat Bread)

This can be used as a main meal. Coconut Rotti is made with wheat flour and freshly grated coconut in an earthy pan. We have coconut rotti for breakfast and dinner. It's very tasty with coconut sambol, or any other side dish you prefer.

As you can see, we use coconut for almost everything we eat. A lot of Sri Lankans grow coconut trees in their gardens as well:

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This is coconut rotti with chicken and dhal gravy.

It’s our garden. We too have lot of coconut trees:

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6. Moringa curry

Moringa curry is one of the famous dishes in Sri Lanka. It is served as a side dish, and is prepared with coconut milk. We add a lot of spices to our curries, such as coriander, turmeric, cumin, and pepper. Plus, we add fresh curry leaves. It provides an aromatic flavor, as well as a pleasant smell too.

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My mom prefers to cook food in earthy pots because she thinks they add some special flavor to the curry!

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These are raw Moringa right after plucking them from our garden.

7. Mallum (Leafy Greens Tempered with Fresh Coconut)

This is a very tasty dish we eat alongside rice. As they are full of antioxidants and vitamins, we don't overcook them as it would destroy all the valuable vitamins. It only takes two or three minutes to cook them. Sri Lanka has a wide variety of leafy greens that are consumable. In our garden, we have 23 of them!

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8. Coconut Pancakes

The filling of these pancakes is made by mixing caramelized sugar with freshly grated coconut. The pancake batter is made with turmeric, coconut milk and wheat flour. It's a tea time snack we make often, as it is very easy to prepare. Imagine the taste of these coconut pancakes with a hot cup of tea on a rainy evening. It tastes simply like a piece of heaven!

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9. Porridge

This is a unique porridge in Sri Lanka. We prefer to eat or drink it in the morning before breakfast, and as I'm lactose intolerant, I like to drink it every morning instead of tea or milk.

To prepare this, we have to cook rice with red onion, garlic, ginger, and salt. Then we grind green leaves with coconut, and squeeze the liquid. The liquid is added to the pureed rice mix, and we have to stir it well. It is very nutritious, and we prepare it using different kinds of green leaves like gotu kola, curry leaves, moringa, and spinach.

This one is made from curry leaves:

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10. Dosa

Sri Lanka is a multicultural country. Dosa is a popular dish among Sri Lankan Tamil people. I'm Sri Lankan Sinhalese, but I love having dosa. We are not very good at preparing dosa like Tamil people. So, we go to our favorite cafe near our home when we have cravings for it.

It's prepared with a mix of urad flour and rice flour. Dosa is served along with various kinds of sambol and chutney. These sambols include curry leave sambol and coconut sambol as well. They also serve it with a gravy called sambar.

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This is me having my favourite dosa at a nearby cafe.


As you can see, our food culture is infused with coconut and various kinds of spices. While living in a tropical paradise like Sri Lanka, we are coconut lovers to the core of our hearts!

Though there are lot of people who prefer the enhanced spicy flavors of foods, there are some people who, like me, prefer food like milk rice, which has a very mild and milky flavor.

Whatever your preference, you must come to Sri Lanka and explore its diverse culture and Sri Lankan cuisine recipes through its tantalizing and unique food!

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