27 August

Culinary Journey through Sri Lanka – A tourist’s guide to Sri Lankan cuisine!

When one thinks of Sri Lankan cuisine, it’s a journey in itself! Going back into the years, the reason why Sri Lanka has multitude of cuisines and fusion dishes is because Sri Lanka was a major port along the Silk Route; thus brought about a lot of commercial and cultural exchanges. These traders and merchants brought along with them their culinary traditions, and food is definitely a sense of home for most!

Currently, with many variations and mixes along the way, Sri Lankans indulge in coconut sambal of Indonesian roots that pair perfectly with string hoppers – which was introduced from India! Apart from this, Sri Lanka also has Chinese cuisine that is most often spicy and deep-fried. Albeit these dishes being a medley of these dynamic interactions, it is also distinctly Sri Lankan – a mouthwatering riot of flavours seasoned by local spices and fragrant curry leaves!

Read on to dive further into these culinary experiences, and what to look forward to when travelling around Sri Lanka. With the wide array of tastes to choose from, you’re guaranteed to fall in love with at least one type of cuisine!

Northern Cuisine

If you have considered Northern Cuisine to be Indian, you are mistaken! But you are not alone, as this is a common misconception. Although there is an undeniable similarity to south Indian food, the food in Jaffna and other towns in Northern Sri Lanka is unique in taste and presentation, mainly because of the spices and ingredients used.


Some of the key spices and ingredients that are commonly used in Jaffna cuisine are coconut milk, palmyra flour, aniseed and a unique curry spice mix (known to be VERY spicy). If you consider yourself a foodie, you would have definitely heard of the ever-famous Jaffna Crab Curry, made with daily freshly-caught crabs, and spices that are sure to leave you in tears! The burst of flavours are sure to leave your taste buds tingling.

Restaurants to try out:

What’s even the point in visiting Jaffna if you aren’t going to try the Jaffna Crab curry, right? Jaffna Authentic Cuisine and Green Grass Hotel & Restaurant are two restaurants you must try out if you’re looking for this experience. Both these restaurants are famously known for this dish, and as both are located in the heart of the town, getting here wouldn’t be a hassle either.

Food in the subcontinent is best enjoyed with your fingers! Be sure to also experience the traditional way of enjoying a delicious meal served on a banana leaf. Drop by at Malayan Cafe and indulge in steaming idlis, sambar, crisp thin paper dosa and so much more!

To cool off from the heavy spices and flavours, be sure to try out Lingan Cream House or Rio Ice Cream. If you’re wondering, ‘Why Ice Cream? Isn’t that a bit cliche?’, it isn’t! Take our word and try it out, and you will know why.

Southern Cuisine

The south of Sri Lanka is well-known for its shoreline – astonishing beaches and thriving fishing culture. On most days, if you are driving along the coastline, you would see the stilt fishermen in action, just like the images on postcards of Sri Lanka.


The Southerners, with their abundance of seafood, have innovative ways of preparing their fish dishes. One of the most popular Lankan dishes, Ambulthiyal which is originally from the South has a blend of tangy and spicy flavours.

Restaurants to try out:

The food experience isn’t just about the food itself, we strongly believe the atmosphere and ambiance also play a key role. Coconut Sambol restaurant is a small restaurant, with mud-block walls, and dried coconut leaf roofing that serves your food on a leaf. The curries and especially the local ambulthiyal is a definitely must-try at this place.

Be sure to have your quota of seafood while you are in Galle, as it is as fresh as it gets! Drive down to the Galle Fort, and enjoy the scenic view and you wouldn’t have to worry about parking either. The Tuna and the Crab offers stellar seafood dishes such as pepper crab, sashimi platter, bento boxes, crab croquettes, and even an amazing tuna salad. If you are with a crowd that’s not so crazy about seafood, they also have some amazing steak dishes on the menu. Another place within the Galle Fort is Pedlar’s Inn Care and Restaurant. Nestled in an ancient building that’s over 150 years old, the interiors of this restaurant gives anyone the warmth of an ancestral home. Established in 2004, it is also the first coffee shop to be established in a UNESCO heritage site! They are also well known for their seafood dishes, especially the pastas.


Sera at Shangri-La brings to you an experience of the streets of Southeast Asia. Indulge in Thailand’s hot and sour Tom Yang Soup, spicy Malaysian sambals, and the spicy Laksa soup from Singapore, served with a humble Sri Lankan twist. Prepared with a well-balanced mix of spices and herbs, the food is quite true to its authentic flavours. The seafood dishes at Sera are a definite must try!

Central Cuisine

The central highlands of Sri Lanka were much loved by its colonial rulers. Even today the reminiscent colonial grandeur and the nostalgia for its English past lurks in the architecture and the food culture. One can continue to languish in a persistent memory of the past – sip a cup of freshly brewed tea with a view of the rolling hills and plantations.


Since Sri Lanka is a tiny little island-nation, most tourists picture sandy beaches and sea when they think of Sri Lanka. However, nestled right of the center of the island lies a city that’s rich in culture, heritage, spirituality and all of this surrounded by lush greenery! Kandy is Sri Lanka’s second busiest city, and it is also known as the historical and cultural capital of Sri Lanka.

Restaurants to try out:

Without a doubt you should definitely have a cup of true Sri Lankan tea when you’re in Kandy! No matter where you drop in, you’re sure to get a warm tea that tastes nothing like you have ever had before. And when it comes to food, why stick to one type of cuisine when you can choose from a wide range of options under one roof, right? Drop by at World Spice located at Kandy City Center Mall and enjoy authentic Sri Lankan, Indian, Italian and much more, all at affordable prices.

Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya is set amidst the mist-laden hills with verbatim carpets of lush green. Known as Little England, the legacy of its English past seeps through the city – buildings, food, tea. Clubs, restaurants, tea lounges and traditional English pubs. While the nightlife here isn’t over the top, it assures a quiet atmosphere for repose. The rhythm of two different cultures and eras come to a standstill in Nuwara Eliya. It is the perfect location and climate for someone looking for a quiet and cozy getaway.

Restaurants to try out:

Tea is served at sharp 3:30 pm at Tea Lounge – Grand Hotel, and it is arranged in the open-sided lounge or on the lawn outside – a buffet of perfect little sandwiches, pretty cakes and the finest tea from the hills. Now, this is a place you will want to be at if you want to experience the English culture of afternoon tea – away from London. You sure won’t be disappointed!

The warm and inviting ambience of The Pub is a lively setting to make memories over a few drinks with friends and loved ones. They have a great selection of local and international liquor and a particularly great western menu. This old-style drinking spot is every bit English. A beer with some fried chicken is a sure way to ease into the essential hill country nightlife.


Naturally cool climate and fertile landscape are nurturing grounds for the fragrant spices grown in the island, particularly turmeric, curry leaves and cardamom. Thus, It is not surprising that the cuisine relies mostly on the blend of spices, and are much milder – as they ditch the chilli for the coconut milk. The locals vouch for their cinnamon-spiced potato curry and tender jackfruit curry with much pride.

Restaurants to try out:

One of the adventures to look forward to in Ella are the short classes in Sri Lankan cooking! The Ella Spice Garden is a family-run endeavour and they grow their spices – chilli, cinnamon, pandan, pepper – you name it! It is a heartwarming affair packed with a tour of their spice garden, and lessons in making a complete Sri Lankan meal. At the end of the session, you sit down at the dinner table with the family to enjoy your culinary creations. Make sure to book a tour in advance to avoid any disappointment.

Eastern Cuisine

The Eastern parts of Sri Lanka are laid back – it moves at a slow pace. They seem to be still waking up from the slumber of civil war and food is traditionally made on firewood hearths, with freshly grounded spice and painstakingly scraped coconut.


Batticaloa is an emerging tourist destination – blessed with beautiful beach stretches set against arid, tropical weather. Street food in Sri Lanka mostly consists of roadside eateries. The spread is pretty much the same around the island and includes isso vade, beef roti, hoppers, Chinese rolls, and Kottu. Fun fact, did you know that the word Kottu originated from Batticaloa! This diced up version of roti, which is mixed to a rhythm with veggies and meat enjoyed by the locals, is now going places and enjoyed the world over.

Restaurants to try out:

Batticaloa Muslim Hotel: Beef roti is easy to come by at any roadside eatery in Sri Lanka. However, people who have been to the Batticaloa Muslim Hotel swear by it. They make it soft, with a lovely filling of beef roast that wafts of the East coast spices. You could easily down three to four of these with a good cup of tea for just about a dollar.

RN Buffet & Take Away: These guys have made it to Lonely Planet’s lists. So something must be right! If you decide to sample the ubiquitous yet mouthwatering Sri Lankan rice packets, then this is a sure place to pick one. They also have a fantastic buffet of seasonal vegetables, seafood and meat, that you can leisurely enjoy in the restaurant upstairs.

Arugam Bay

Known as the surfers paradise, Arugam Bay has one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka. With Kumana National Park and the ever-famous Yala National Park in close vicinity, you are sure to spot a lot of wildlife such as elephants, monkeys, and even crocodiles in this area. The busy season is during June – August, as this is when most of the surfing events take place.

Restaurants to try out:

As this small little town caters to a lot of foreigners and tourists that come for surfing events, the culinary experience in Arugam Bay has something for everyone! You are sure to find authentic Sri Lankan cuisine or wood-fired pizzas or even some tantalizing vegan options and smoothie bowls! Be sure to try out The Sketch, Cili Hotel and Pizza Restaurant and FLO! Restaurant for a happy-tummy, happy-you.

Western Cuisine

The food culture of this region is vibrant – ranging from street-side saivarkadés that serve quick bites at dirt cheap prices to extravagant fine-dining experiences, you will always find something to suit your palate and your budget!


Colombo is a bustling melee of cultures. You will encounter the ever-evolving flavours of the different cultures adapted to Sri Lankan taste buds and regional availability of ingredients. Take your time to acquaint yourself with this interesting gastronomical ensemble as you travel through the busiest region of the island.

Restaurants to try out:

When you are in Sri Lanka, you definitely don’t want to miss out on having the local cuisine with all the authentic flavours packed in. Be sure to drop by at Upali’s by Nawaloka to enjoy the best of Sri Lankan food, some of these dishes are slowly fading away hence even locals are amused with the dishes listed on the menu here. With a wide range to choose from on their menu itself, they also have platters that allow you to try a little bit of everything.

If you think you have missed out on the best of seafood by not visiting Jaffna or the South, you are mistaken. Whilst you are in Colombo, don’t miss out on an opportunity to dine at the Ministry of Crab – voted one of Asia’s 50 best restaurants for many consecutive years. Indulge into export quality crabs available in all sizes, packed with flavour – it does however come with a price but it’s definitely worth it.


Perfectly nestled between lagoons and the ocean, Negombo has much to offer if you love seafood! Freshwater crustaceans, crabs, shrimps tossed up in local curries that could be had with roast paan or steamed rice, freshly caught fish, barbecued by the ocean – it is a trip in itself!

Restaurants to try out:

Heritance Negombo’s Mad Dog’s Bodega is a restro-pub that offers sleazy cocktails and great pizzas. Try their Young Jack Fruit Pizza, a tropical twist to the OG Italian favourite. Up next on the list is the Sri Lankan Hot Butter Cuttlefish – the godchild of the Sri Lankan takeover of Chinese cuisine. It does pair well with chilled beer! You could try it alongside stirred kangkung fried rice, too!

Craving some European fare? Bijou Swiss Restaurant is the right place to go! They offer a great spread of German Swiss food – Pepper Steaks, potatoes gratin, schnitzel – not to miss the brilliant splay of seafood. It remains true to the owner (Dolly’s) European ancestry while embracing the sensibilities of the locale.

If you have been reading to this point, we bet you are craving at least one of a few of these amazing dishes and wondering how to get to these places. Most of the restaurants mentioned above are located within the city center and have parking space. Having the freedom to go wherever you want, and experience a culinary journey at your own pace is recommended. You could rent a car from Kings Rent a Car and drive around yourself or you have the option to also rent a car with a driver!


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