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Food Guide: Sri Lankan Cuisine

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Sri Lankan cuisine isn’t particularly well known on the international stage. Although it is often misunderstood or taken to be an extension of Indian food, it is a very unique cuisine. For many who do visit Sri Lanka it’s love at first taste!

Sri Lankan cuisine consists mainly of fragrant curries and starchy accompaniments, which include hoppers (crispy bowl-shaped fermented rice flour pancakes), string hoppers (steamed rice flour vermicelli ‘nests’) and rotis (flatbreads). A cross between Thai and Indian cuisine, traditional Sri Lankan curries are cooked using a fresh spice paste, comprising ginger, garlic, fresh chilli and sun dried spices, with flavours influenced by region and the cook’s ethnicity.

Almost any fruit or vegetable can be used to make a curry or an accompanying dish such as a sambol (usually hot and fiery), mallung (shredded greens), or chutney, and a typical meal includes a meat or fish dish, a few vegetable dishes and a lentil curry (dhal). Coconut milk is used in some curries to add creaminess while others are left ‘dry’, and the result is a really healthy balanced cuisine.

Sri Lankan currySRI LANKAN CURRY FROM jamieoliver.com

Rice and curry is typically eaten for lunch whereas hoppers and string hoppers are often on breakfast and dinner menus, usually served with a fish and/or dhal curry, a fiery kata sambol (tomato, onion and dried chilli) or a sweet onion relish. Sri Lankans aren’t big on desserts, and usually end a meal with fresh tropical fruit, ice cream or an adopted Malay crème caramel-like dish, watalappan.

Sri Lankan New Year takes place in April, and this is a time of celebration for the island’s Buddhists and Hindus who prepare special sweets and sweetmeats for sharing. Thanks to the island’s Muslims, biryani is another popular ‘borrowed’ dish as is fried rice or fried noodles, a favourite quasi-Chinese dish adapted by the Sri Lankans that you’ll see in many guises on numerous restaurant menus.

You’ll be able to try an endless number of delicious Sri Lankan curries when you book a stay at one of our villas in Sri Lanka. The villas come with a full complement of staff, including a chef or a cook, and they can introduce you to the flavours of Sri Lankan cuisine. They will also be happy to teach you how to make your favourite dishes for recreating with your friends and family back home.

Sri Lankan-style fish curry recipe

Try Sri Lankan curry at home with this recipe from UK celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

INGREDIENTS

  • 500 g monkfish , skinned and deboned, from sustainable sources
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 lime
  • 200 g brown rice
  • 400 ml light coconut milk

SAUCE

  • 2 onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 5cm piece of ginger
  • 2 fresh green chillies
  • 10 ripe medium tomatoes on the vine
  • groundnut oil
  • 1 handful of fresh curry leaves
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 knob of tamarind paste

METHOD

  1. Slice the monkfish into large chunks and pop in a non-reactive bowl, along with the turmeric, a squeeze of lime and a large pinch of sea salt.
  2. Mix together to coat the fish, then leave in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
  3. Add the rice to a pan with 100ml of coconut milk and 300ml of salted water, then cook according to the packet instructions.
  4. To make your sauce, peel and finely slice the onions and garlic, peel and finely chop the ginger, then slice the chillies. Roughly chop the tomatoes, keeping them separate.
  5. Heat a large casserole pan over a medium–high heat and add a splash of oil, the onion, ginger, garlic, chillies and curry leaves. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the onion is softened and coloured.
  6. Smash the cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar, then stir them into the pan along with the mustard seeds, cumin, fenugreek and turmeric. Fry for 1 minute.
  7. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, tamarind paste or syrup, the remaining 300ml of coconut milk and 100ml of water, then simmer for 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes begin to break down and the sauce reduces.
  8. Add the monkfish meat to the sauce and simmer until the fish is cooked through and opaque. Remove and discard the cardamom pods.
  9. Serve with the rice on the side.

Emma is a freelance travel writer currently based in Sri Lanka. She reviews villas and hotels for high-end travel companies, creates bespoke destination guides and writes travel features for a range of magazines. Emma also updates travel guidebooks, and has just finished work on The Rough Guide to Sri Lanka.

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