Sri Lankan cuisine is similar to Indian cuisine, particularly southern Indian cuisine. Hot curry dishes are very popular and come in an amazing variety. Vegetarian meals are common (Sri Lankan vegetarians get their protein from legumes). Many meat dishes are made from chicken, and sometimes mutton or goat. Fish is common. When beef is served it usually comes from water buffalo. In places with lots of tourists Western food is often easer to find than Sri Lankan food.

Food from Sri Lanka is lighter and spicier than food from India and has incorporated elements of the cultures — Arab, Malay, Portuguese, Dutch and British — that played a role in shaping its history. Sri Lankans tend to emphasize rice while many Indians (northern Indians anyway) emphasize breads such as chapatis and naan. Food in Sri Lanka is often judged by its heating and cooling effect and basic principals of Ayurvedic medicine.

Coconut milk is an essential ingredient in many Sri Lankan dishes and adds a creaminess to Sri Lankan curries. . But that is not the only way that coconuts are used. The bud at the top is pickled and eaten. Sambol (a condiment made with grated coconut, lime, salt, red peppers and ferment tuna) is as hot as Tabasco sauce and as common in Sri Lanka as ketchup is in America. Sambol is also used to describe any spicy side dish. Ghee (clarified butter) is an important ingredient for many Tamil dishes. Both ghee and coconut oil are very high in saturated fat. Ghee is also highly flammable, and is used to light funeral pyres.

Regional Variations in Sri Lankan Cuisine

What people eat is often determined by their religion, caste, ethnic group and home region. Different groups have different prohibitions against certain spices, meats and vegetables. Beef is not widely eaten out of respect to Hindus who don't eat beef. Pork is not eaten out of respect to Muslims. Sinhala and Tamil try to eat foods that strike a balance between hot and cold ayurvedic energies. They also typically not touch food prepared by people from lower castes.

The cuisine of Sri Lanka's hill country differs from that of the coastal areas and can even differ between different coastal areas. A fish curry cooked on the east coast of the island can taste completely different from one originating from the south, based on the spices and cooking methods used by local people.

The Dutch and the Portuguese left their stamp on the local cuisine. For example, lamprais — rice boiled in stock with a special curry — accompanied by "frikkadels", or meatballs — were introduced by the Dutch. One Sri Lankan touch is that they are wrapped in banana leaves and baked. The Dutch and the Portuguese also bequeathed a number of recipes for various sweets which continue to be made to this day. There are British and Malay influences as well. Roast beef and roast chicken are enjoyed by many Sri Lankans and "Wattalapam" — a steamed pudding made with coconut milk, eggs and jaggery (a sort of solidified treacle extracted from the kitul palm) has become a Sri Lankan dessert, although first introduced by the Malays.

Seafood and Fish in Sri Lankan Cuisine

Fish has traditionally been more widely consumed than meat. One man told National Geographic, "When I was small, fishmongers traveled every street. No meat vendor would do that — there wouldn't ne enough customers.

Near the sea you can get a wide variety of seafood, including lobster, crabs, prawns and squid. As Sri Lanka is an island, it has an abundant supply of seafood of all types. Varieties of fish including seer, tuna and mullet. There is also the delectable cuttlefish which is favourite among locals, prepared in myriad ways. Pickled fish and dried fish are delicacies worth a try. They have a pungent and piquant flavour. It sometimes takes a little time to get used to their heady aromas and taste.

On freshwater fish, Manik Sandrasagra wrote:, A wide variety of fish provided yet another blessing. Fish are trapped in streams, wewas and in paddy fields when flooded. Fish such as the lula (snakehe), kawaiya (climbing perch), handaya (panchax) and ara have learned to live even in dried ponds. The lula is thought to help in the formation of blood, so is fed to pregnant mothers. Other wewa fish include the petiya, the hirikanaya, the walaya, the aanda and the ankutta. The wewa is also the source of vegetable food. For instance, the white olu has seeds that are eaten as lotus rice. The green stem of the olu is also eaten. The red lotus yam is eaten in the drought, and a flour is made from the roots of the keketi. [Source: Manik Sandrasagra,]

Spices in Sri Lanka

Beginning in the 15th and 16th centuries, traders from all over the world came to Sri Lanka in quest of fragrant and aromatic cardamoms, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Some of these traders settled on the island, and the recipes of their countries were introduced to Sri Lanka, resulting in a delightful blend of cuisines. Sri Lankans use spices liberally in their dishes and this is what gives the dishes the exuberance and the aroma they are known for. There are no fixed measures. A typical Sri Lankan cook would "throw in a pinch of this and that", and a handful of other things according to personal preference. This is why a curry, prepared by two different people, using the same ingredients, never tastes the same. The secret is in the personal touch.

Sri Lanka’s spices have been one its main attractions for thousands of years. Cinnamon, which is native to Sri Lanka, was in use in Ancient Egypt in about 1500 B.C.. The Romans, Arabs and the western world traded with Sri Lanka in ancient times to obtain spices. years. Today Sri Lanka remains one of the foremost exporters of quality spice across the world.

Common spices and flavoring include turmeric, cinnamon, cummin seeds, coriander, cardamom, garlic, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, tart-sweet tamarind, onions, hot chilies and Maldive fish (dried sprats). Unique flavorings used in Sri Lanka include the gorka, a sour-tasting, fleshy red or yellow baseball-size fruit; rampe, which looks like tufts of grass; karapincha leaves, which are said to add a pleasing aroma; uri, a cucumber-like vegetable; water buffalo yogurt; jaggery; brown sugar made from the coconut palm; treacle; curd; honey; and kitul, a treacle or syrup made form the kitul palm.

A number of therapeutic spice gardens are found on the routes into Kandy from Colombo, and many offer multi-lingual garden tours. Here you can view and sample not just spices but a range of things including vanilla and cocoa pods, curry leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and sandalwood, red bananas, sea coconut and king coconut, coffee beans, aloe vera, and much more, many growing on trees and plants.

Turmeric, ginger, pepper and spices used in the preparation of food in the hilly regions of the Sri Lanka. The Sinhala use gammiris or honda miris peppers as well as red chillies. Ghee — oily clarified butter — is extracted from the cows milk are regularly eaten with rice.

Sri Lankan Dishes

Sri Lankan Dishes include various kinds of curries, kebabs, spicy stews, and a variety of breads. There are a wide variety of curries. Most are made from chicken, fish or dried fish but the can also be made from plantains, banana flowers, pumpkin, breadfruit, jackfruit, potatoes, beans or anything else. Each region has its own styles. A number of different kinds are often served thali-style on a thali tray as the are in southern India. Common dishes include rice and curry, string hoppers (cup-shaped pancakes), egg hoppers and kottu,

Sri Lanka's staple meal is a large serving of rice accompanied by up to twelve different side dishes of vegetables, egg, meat, or fish stewed together with peppers, spices, and often coconut milk. Dahl (a yellowish soup made from lentils poured on rice) is a common dish in Sri Lanka as it is throughout South Asia. Parripu (red lentil dahl) is Sri Lanka’s contribution to the dahl theme. Bread is often dipped in dahl or hodhi (a thin curry gray) for a breakfast or a quick meal.

Common Sri Lankan dishes include pol hodda (a spicy gravy make from coconut milk), kira bath (rice cooked in coconut milk), kool (a Tamil dish made with a variety of vegetables prepared in different ways), lampria (a dish of Dutch origin made with rice, meat and vegetables bakes in a banana leaf) and Mbbul thiyal (pickled tuna or other fish, sometimes called “sour fish curry”). You can also get prawn paste and eggplant curry placed around rice, wrapped in a banana lead and baked, cashew curry, chicken and cashew curry, fish curry, and pudding-style entrees that have been baked like casseroles. Seafood dishes include prawns (all sizes), lobster, crabs (river and sea species), stuffed crabs, mollusks, squid, clams, rockfish, salmon, kingfish, mullet, mackerel, sardines

The traditional morning and evening meals often revolve traditional starchy staples such as hoppers (cup-shaped pancakes), string hoppers (fresh rice noodles), roti (coconut flat bread), or thosai (sourdough pancakes), served with a sambol (a mixture of hot peppers and other vegetables, served cool) and one or two curries. Hoppers are a staple of Sri Lankan cooking and a popular snack food and breakfast staple. .Many Sri Lankans eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They are bowl-shaped pastries made from rice flour and coconut milk deep fried in coconut oil in a wok-shaped pan. Often used to mop up and eat curries, they are light and crispy and bowl-shaped and have a soft center and are particularly delightful when there is an egg in their center.

Popular breads include string hoppers (typically balls of thin noodle-like hoppers), indiappa (string hoppers made with rice flour), appa (waffle-like bread deep fried in coconut oil), bit-hara or egg hopper (a pancake with an egg on top), pittu (a cylinder-shaped concoction made from flour and grated coconut steamed in a bamboo tube), roti (chewy, very-thin, almost crepe-like bread), godama, a kind of bread cooked on a flat grill and flipped like a pancake. It is denser and more oily than naan.

Rice in Sri Lanka

People eat the auspicious dish of kiri bath (milk rice) as their first meal of the new year, and in many cases, on the first day of every month. Kiri bath is often the first solid given to an infant, in a traditional first food ceremony.

The rice served in Sri Lanka is plain white and boiled or spiced with turmeric. The rice served in Sri Lanka is short grained and glutinous like the rices in southern India, China and Japan and is unlike the longer and thinner grained rice favored on northern India..

In the 1950s, Sri Lanka had more than 280 varieties of rice. For example, heenati rice was grown for lactating mothers. Kanni murunga, another variety, was grown for men going out to work in the fields. Suvandel was cultivated for its extraordinary fragrance. Monks who did not eat after noon were given a special variety grown over six to eight months called mawee, which possesses a high-protein content. Today, there are 10 to 15 varieties commonly cultivated [Source: Manik Sandrasagra,]

Curries in Sri Lanka

The curries in Sri Lanka are even hotter than those in India, and are made with meat, fish, beans, and vegetables and virtually anything else. . The ones made with crab and banana flowers are recommended. Curry is a mix of spices; sometimes more than 30 of them. Sri Lankan curry uses included turmeric, cumin, fenerl seed, cardamon, coriander, mustard cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon and black or red pepper.

Describing the joy of eating a proper curry from Colombo in 1913, the Englishwoman Anna Buchan wrote: ""I don't like curry at home, curry as English cooks know it — a greasy make-up of cold joint served with sodden rice, but this was different. First rice was handed around, every particle firm and separate and white, and then a rich brown mixture with prawns and other interesting ingredients, which was the curry...You mix the curry with the rice when a whole trayful of condiments is offered to eat with it, things like very thin water biscuits, Bombay duck — all sorts of chutney, and when you have mixed everything up together the result is one of the nicest dishes it has been my lot to taste. Note also, you eat it with a fork and spoon, not with a fork alone as mere provincials do!" [Source: “Eyewitness to History”, edited by John Carey, Avon, 1987]

On the polos (jack fruit) curry she had as a child, Chandra Edirisuriya wrote: “I am reminded of a tasty and nutritious polos (tender jak fruit) curry prepared by Peter Appuhamy. He used the milk of one coconut to cook a tender jak fruit and added the kernel of one more coconut, cut into thin strips, to the curry along with chillie, turmeric and condiment paste, a few cloves of garlic, curry leaves, sera, goraka and Maldive fish. The clay pot was put on the hearth for the polos curry to cook overnight to be consumed at all three meals the following day. [Source: Chandra Edirisuriya, WS, June 4, 2006]

Recipe for Sri-Lankan-style chicken curry: Ingredients: 500 grams of chicken ;2-3 tablespoons roasted (black) curry powder; 2 teaspoons of hot pepper powder; two ounces of milk (coconut or any other) 2 teaspoons vinegar (or lime); to taste Salt; two cloves of garlic; one onion; a piece of Cinnamon; half teaspoon of nutmeg; two tablespoons of oil. Directions: Cut the chicken into small pieces and wash well. Dice onions. Add to the chicken, spices, vinegar and salt and mix well. Allow to marinate for some time (optional).Put oil into heavy pan and place on very low fire and heat for some time. Put in chicken and other ingredients. After about 10 minutes the heat may be increased to a slow heat. Cook for 20 minutes. 5 minutes before taking down add the milk.

Rice and Curry in Sri Lanka

Rice and Curry — boiled rice with curried vegetables, fish and/or meat laced with Sri Lankan spices — is the typical Sri Lankan main meal. It is served for both lunch and dinner, and sometimes for breakfast too. Meat, fish and vegetables are prepared as curries. Sliced onions, green chilies, black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg and saffron are used to add flavors. Over time, rice and curry shifted from being a popular breakfast to the essential lunch.

Rice and curry is made with boiled or steamed rice with a variety of curries, salads, sambols, pappadam and chutney. A basic rice and curry requires one fish (or beef or chicken) curry, two different vegetables, one portion of fried crispy bread like papadum, a salad-like mallum of chopped leaves and coconut, and a gravy or "hodda" of spices cooked with coconut milk. The rice is always put on to the plate first and then the curries are selected from the other dishes to mix with it so you have a collection of minor meals around the plate. You eat by mixing the rice with something, forming it in to a bite-sized ball and consuming by hand.

There is vast range of flavors and different curry mixes used for different foods. There are regional differences too. Even when same basic foods are used the taste can be completely different. Curries are usually made hot but can be mellowed to suit the pallet. Spices are added to make the dishes more delectable. The unaccustomed may sometimes find the curries too hot but, this is easily controlled by reducing the quantities of spices used, specially chilli and pepper, to suit the different tastes. Everything is brought to the table at once and there are no separate courses as in a Western style meal. It is perfectly correct to take a little of everything and taste it against the neutral rice. On special occasions yellow rice is cooked in coconut milk and delicately flavoured with spices. Turmeric is added to give the rice a bright yellow. It is served garnished with cashews raisins, and hard-boiled eggs.

Kiri Bath

"Kiri bath" (rice boiled in milk) is served at all auspicious occasions like weddings and birthdays or even events like the opening of a store. It is also a must at New Year celebrations. Kiri bath is translated in to "milk rice". The rice is cooked in thick coconut cream for this un sweetened rice-pudding which is accompanied by a sharp chilli relish called "Lunumiris" or with a tackey coconut and treacle confection called "Panipol" — a sweet made with grated jaggery coconut and touch of vanilla.

Kiri bath (also spelled kiribath and kiri buth) cooked with white raw rice. It is enriched by cooking it with cows milk as done in ancient times or by adding green gram, gingelly seed or split undu (oorid dhal) soaked in water over night. Sugar cane jaggery (uk hakuru) and ghee may also be added occasionally for a change. When cooked with red raw rice it needs no addition except coconut milk. A katta sambol with a liberal quantity of Maldive fish is all that is needed to make it a complete meal for breakfast. Getting back to kiri bath for breakfast it is beneficial in many ways and can restore our nation to its pristine glory.

According to the Sunday Times: Any special occasion in a Sinhala home is incomplete without a table laden with these mouth watering sweetmeats and kiri bath. Since the new year is a symbol of fertility, kiri bath takes precedence over all other items. Kiri bath as its name implies is a simple food prepared with milk and rice. There are of course, varieties of kiri bath especially Mun kiri bath, where green gram is added and the delicious Imbul Kiri bath with its center filled with coconut and jaggery. The name 'Imbul' is because it is made in the shape of an Imbul fruit. Sweetmeats like the Kavum for instance, have a long history, dating back to the days of our kings . [Source: Sunday Times, 1996]

Hoppers (Appa)

Indra Jayasekera wrote in "A Taste of Sri Lanka": “ Hoppers are unique to Sri Lanka which are usually consumed either for breakfast or lunch. A regular hopper is similar to a bowl shaped pancake which is crisp at the other edges. Hoppers (appa) are made from a fermented batter of rice flour, coconut milk and a dash of palm toddy. The batter of rice flour and coconut milk traditionally has toddy added for the typical sourish flavour and, more importantly, the fermentation which makes the centers full of little holes like crumpets. If toddy is not available, the same action is duplicated by using yeast, either fresh or dry. After leaving to rise, the batter is swirled in a hemispherical pan, rather like a small, more acutely curved wok. Even without the traditional hopper-pan, it is possible to enjoy the unique texture and flavour using a small omelette pan. [Source: "A Taste of Sri Lanka" by Indra Jayasekera]

A hopper, crisp on the outside, yet soft and spongy in the center, is best eaten with curries and sambols while still streaming hot. There are many types of hoppers: plain hoppers, egg hoppers, milk milk hoppers, and sweeter varieties like vanduappa and paniappa. Egg hoppers are made of the usual hopper where an egg is poached into its center. Milk hoppers and honey hoppers too are delicacies enjoyed by both locals and foreigners. Makes about 20

Ingredients: A) 15 grams per 1/2 oz fresh compressed yeast or 1 teaspoon dried yeast; B) 125 milliliters per 4 fluid ounces per1/2 cup warm water; C) 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar; D) 185 grams per 6 ounces per1 1/2 cups medium-coarse ground rice; E) 185 grams per 6 ounces per1 1/2 cups fine rice flour or plain (all-purpose) white flour; F) 2 teaspoons salt; G) 400 milliliters per 14 fl oz can coconut milk; H) 500 milliliters per 1 pint/2 cups water

Sprinkle yeast over warm water, stir to dissolve, add sugar and leave for 10 minutes or so. If yeast starts to froth it is active and you can proceed with the recipe. If it has no reaction, start again with a fresh batch of yeast. Put ground rice, rice flour and salt into a large bowl. Combine 300 milliliters (10 fl oz canned coconut milk with measured water and add yeast mixture. Stir into dry ingredients to form a smooth, thick batter. Allow to stand overnight, or put in a warm (turned off) oven for 1 hour until the mixture rises and froths.

The batter should be of a thick pouring consistency, but thin enough to cover the sides of the pan with an almost transparent coating when the batter is swirled. It will probably be necessary to add extra water. A little practice will tell you when you have achieved the perfect consistency, and so much depends on the absorbency of the flour (which is variable) that it is not possible to give an accurate measurement.

Heat the pan over low heat until very hot, rub the inside surface with a piece of folded paper towels dipped in oil, or spray with one of the light oil or non-stick lecithin-based sprays and pour in a small ladle of the batter. Immediately pick up the pan by both handles, using potholders, and swirl it around so that the batter coats the pan for two-thirds of the way up. Cover pan (any saucepan cover that fits just inside the top edge will do) and cook on very low heat for about 5 minutes. Lift lid and peep. When the upper edges begin to turn a pale toasty color, the hopper is ready. Where the batter has run down the sides to the center there will be a little circle of spongy mixture, rather like a crumpet, while the curved edge is very thin, crisp and wafer-like. With a curved slotted utensil or flexible metal spatula, loosen edges and slip the hopper from the pan on to a wire rack. Wipe pan again with oiled paper and repeat. Serve the hoppers warm, accompanied by a hot chilli, Maldive fish and onion sambal or any kind of meat, fish or chicken curry.

Note: The remaining undiluted coconut milk, with a pinch of salt and teaspoon of sugar added, is usually spooned into the center of the last few hoppers which are made. This is a special treat, known as miti kiri appe or coconut cream hoppers and may be served with shavings of jaggery.

Egg Hoppers

Indra Jayasekera wrote in "A Taste of Sri Lanka": Have ready an egg broken into a cup. As soon as the batter has been swirled to coat the pan, gently slip the egg into the center of the hopper. Cover and cook as in the Hopper recipe, and the egg will be done to perfection by the time the hopper is cooked. Serve with pepper and salt for grinding over the egg. This type of hopper is generally served with a knife and fork, and a plain hopper which can be rolled up and dipped into the egg. [Source: "A Taste of Sri Lanka" by Indra Jayasekera]

Another popular breakfast dish is a rice preparation known as indi-appa or string hoppers. These are small spaghetti-like strings of rice-flour dough squeezed through a sieve onto small woven trays, which are steamed one atop the other. Light and lacy, string hoppers make a mouthwatering meal with curry and sambol.

Pittu probably came to Sri Lanka with the Malay regiments of the European colonial period. It is however completely naturalized now and is a staple of Sri Lankan cuisine. Pittu is a mixture of fresh rice meal, every lightly roasted and mixed with fresh grated coconut, then steamed in a bamboo mould. It has a soft crumbly texture and is eaten with fresh coconut 'milk' and a hot chilli relish or curry

Ingredients: A) 250 grams rice flour: B) 250 grams coconut; C) 1/2 ts salt; D) 75 milliliters hot water; and E) 180 milliliters thick coconut milk

Roast and sieve the flour well. Grate the coconut. Place the flour in a bowl and add the salt. Slowly pour in the hot water, mixing with your fingers as you do so until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the grated coconut and mix well in. Place the mixture in the pittu mould and place over a pan of boiling water until steam emerges from the top of the pittu mould. Cover with half a coconut shell and steam for a further 5 minutes or until done. Note: If a pittu mould is not available, mould dough into loaf shape, wrap in muslin and steam for about 15 minutes.

String Hoppers

String hoppers (Idiyappam) is a rice noodle dish originating from the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In Srilanka it is popular with both Sinhalese and Tamils.. It consists of rice flour pressed into noodles, woven into a flat disc-like shape and steamed. [Source: Wikipedia.

According to food historian K. T. Achaya, Idiyappam, Appam, Idli, Dosai and vadai were already known in ancient Tamil country around A.D. 1st century based on references in the Sangam literature. The origins of these dishes may stem from South India. In northern and eastern Sri Lanka, where a similar rice flour noodle is served with sugar and coconut, and sometimes banana too, and is known as idiyappam.

String hoppers are popular in the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka and in Sri Lanka. The name idiyappam derives from the Malayalam word idi (meaning beat) and appam, (meaning pancake). The dish is also, frequently, called noolappam or noolputtu. String hoppers are made from rice flour, salt and water. It is generally served as the main course at breakfast or dinner together with a curry (potato, egg, fish or meat curry) and coconut chutney or with spicy curries.

To make it mix rice flour with hot water season with salt. Some people add ghee. Knead into a smooth dough. Pressing the dough through a sieve to make vermicelli-like noodles which are put onto banana leaves or directly into an idli steamer. Add a little grated coconut if desired. Steam for 5–10 minutes. The dish is often served with coconut gratings (Pol sambola) and coconut milk


Kottu is a Sri Lankan dish comprised of diced roti stir-fried with scrambled egg, onions, chillies, spices, and, if desired, vegetables or meat such as mutton or chicken. It is served in restaurants and is a filling snack found at street side eating houses. Often it is an elastic, doughy pancake chopped into shreads and stir fried with vegetables, onions, egg and beef or chicken. “Kottu is not necessarily a nocturnal meal,” chef Imtiaz Ghouse said. “What happened is that it takes the whole day for the preparations, making the dough, frying every rotti, cut them into pieces and preparing vegetables and condiments. [Source: Suranga Gamage, April 22, 2006]

Kottu is originally from Trichi in Tamil Nadu, where it was known as “Kottu Paratha” and is made there using shredded paratha, eggs, onions, curry leaves and other spices. Even so kottu is widely known as a Sri Lankan dish. Suranga Gamage wrote: kottu “first appeared in the eating houses in Eastern Coastal towns in the late ‘70s, where Godamba Rotty had been cut into pieces and served mixed with curries. However, as the dish has now spread throughout the country, its shape, ingredients preparation method has dramatically changed in evolving the Lankan kottu.

“It is not known who had discovered the noisy kottu making technique first, but kottu is now available in string Hoppers and noodle bases as well. In the eating house, Imtiaz makes kottu in traditional way, using chicken, beef and fish in curry form but when he is called by star hotels; Imtiaz gets an opportunity to experiment with new ingredients, developing new recipes promising to elevate kottu one day to a global delicacy like Mexican taco. “I’ve already started using fresh meet and fish instead of curries and there is a big demand for the mixed seafood kottu developed by me” said Imtiaz, “I’m experimenting with barbecue sauce as a replacement for gravy.” Imtiaz said that kottu is a kind of a barbecue. “The Mongolian Barbecue is a kind of a kottu and we call it “Bath Kottu” he added.


Jaadi is a traditional fermented fish product popular among coastal people in Sri Lanka. Bandu de Silva wrote: “Some believe that the Portuguese introduced Jaadi to Sri Lanka. ‘Jaadi’ was among the items that the fishermen had to supply to the King’s court as we note from Portuguese Tombos. [Source: Bandu de Silva]

Curing ‘Jaadi’ is a special art. It has to be done carefully. The fish has to be free of water. The migrants used, namely, salt and ‘Goraka’ have to be placed in layers. The fish, specially ‘Kumbalawa’ are slightly opened up on the side in those places. The barrels have to be sealed that no foreign matter could get in. The barrels are not opened till the fish is cured. After several months in shady place. The closing of the barrels in important.

Today, ‘Jaadi’ has virtually disappeared as a popular ‘rice-puller.’ Even the memory of the popular Baila, ‘Arapya Lucia Dora- Jaadi kade Jema mama’ of 1956 vintage has disappeared from memory. Modern methods of deep freezing and refrigeration maybe the cause for it. Another reason could be the virtual non-availability of the real smoke-dried ripened ‘Goraka’ in industrial quantities. What is sold in shops today is forced-ripened and forced –colored (stained), fruits of the tree occasionally not without passion fruit peels and other substitutes in it. One is not even sure of the hygienic quality and the efficacy of the modern substitute.

Different kinds of fish are used. Jaddi’ from Tutucorin uses the popular salted fish‘Kumbalawa’. Next came ‘Bolla’ and ‘Hurulla’ (a kind of Sardine). ‘Thora’ (Seer). ‘Jaadi’ was a specialty availability in season, especially during the Sinhalese New Year time. These barrels of ‘Thora Jaadi’ were cured over a longer period in sealed barrels and opened only on the eve of the Sinhalese New Year.

Wood from ‘Goraka’ (Garcinia Cambodge) tree is sued in the curing process. There are two different varieties of ‘Goraka’ trees in the jungle lands. One was the normal ‘Goraka’ tree we know. The other was what was called ‘Rata Goraka’ which was conical in shape with big long leaves and bearing yellow colored round fruits (unlike the other variety), which resembled a peach. These trees were very rare indeed. Curing of the fish on Malabar coast was done by people who went from Dodanduwa who were engaged in the task of curing alone and not pre-occupied with fishing itself.

Goraka’ is used in curing ‘Jaadi’ as well as in making the special fish dish called ‘Ambulthiyal’ which is a southern specialty in Sri Lanka. As Dr. C. G. Uragoda observes, there is a scientific explanation for the use of ‘Goraka’ in curing fish and in cooking fish. Writing on the scientific explanation (See C. G. Uragoda: Traditions of Sri Lanka), of the use of ‘Goraka’ in traditional fish curing, he says, quoting Amarasinghe and Jayaweera that ‘Goraka’ inhibits the growth bacteria normally found in the fish because of the presence of tartaric acid in the smoke-dried fruit. The spoilage rate is moderated by its use.

Different Kinds of Jaadi

Bandu de Silva wrote: “'Jaadi' for which Dodanduwa was well known till the middle part of the last century.Jaddi Mudalais from Dodanduwa who went across to Tutucorin (Tuutukuddiya), in boats with wooden barrels and workmen to cure 'Jaddi' on that coast and bring back the cured stuff in sealed barrels to Dodanduwa. these Mudalalis owned land on the Malabar coast. These Mudalalis, among whom Prof.Vinie Vitarana mentions the Patuvata Vitana family and another, were owners of Yatra Donies for transport of merchandise. [Source: Bandu de Silva]

Dodanduwa also became a well known dock yard where larger boats were built. (V. Vitatana: Oru and Yatras, 1992). The timber came from nearby Kanneliya forest reserve and villages around. Wal-del, a light-wooed large tree with long trunks. Vitarana mentions the Manawadu family as superior carpenters. There were others like Uttamawadu, Wadumestri, Malliyawadu and Manikkuwadu, just to mention a few. Vitarana mentions Sir James Peiris’ ancestors among the rich boat owning people of Dodanduwa. Dodanduwa became the distribution point for both ‘Jaadi’ and imported tiles in the south as far as Hambantota. ‘

Jaddi’ from Tutucorin was preferred by the people because it was tastier. It was higher priced than that from Mannar (Mannaram Jaadi), which was good enough for the poorer villagers. ‘Mannaram Jaadi’ was considered inferior not because of any difference in the fish, but, I believe, because of one of the materials which went into the curing of ‘Jaadi’, namely,‘Goraka’ (Garcinia Cambodge), being a product of a hill country tree, was not so easily available in the Mannar district. So, there was less use of ‘Goraka’ there for curing which made the difference in quality. On the other hand, ‘Goraka’ (Korakpulli in Tamil), was easily found in the Malabar coast, the hills of Mysore and Nilgiris being home for this tree. [According to John Shortt, who wrote in ‘Tropical Agriculturist,’ July 1884, ‘Coorkapalli’ is a different tree to the Gambodge. He speaks of a tree ‘Gorecenea Pictoria’ found in Mysore, Wynaad and Ceylon].

In the ‘Ambulthiyala’ preparation, the process of cooking fish adding liberal spray of powdered ‘Goraka’ or paste for ten minutes at 100C degrees, results in detoxification of 80 percent of histamine content. At times, a 90 per cent reduction had been achieved. (Prof.U.Samarajeewa and Dr.S.Gunaratne). The use of Karapincha (curry leaves) too has its effect, it being a recommended remedy for bowel diseases including amoebic dysentery. These results show that our traditional fish curing and cooking methods are not without a scientific basis.

Short Eats, Snacks and Street Food in Sri Lanka

"Short-eats" are savoury bite-sized pastries or rolls that are often quick, easy and fun to make — and to eat too.. There's always a dish of sambol (a red hot combination of grated coconut, chilli and spice) available if you really want to set your mouth on fire. Short eats such as Chinese rolls (a pancake with a beef, fish, chicken or vegetable filling and fried), cutlets, patties, pastries, hot dogs, hamburgers are widely available. The fish cutlets made from mashed tuna spliced with curry spices are delightfully tasty. Also try fried squid and onions.

Items you can buy on the streets include various kinds of bread and sweets, kebabs, jalebas (pretzel-shaped treated boiled in oil), samosas (deep-fried turnovers filled with spiced potatoes and peas, or meat or vegetables), vegetables dipped in flour and then fried) and wafer-like chips. Curry sold on a banana leaf in the streets cost less than a couple dollars as is as filling as a large meal.

According to“Countries and Their Cultures”: A variety of snacks and beverages are also eaten periodically throughout the day. Strong, sweat tea, usually with milk, is drunk alone or following a small serving of finger food or sweets, especially at mid-morning and late afternoon. Curd, a yogurt made from the milk of water buffaloes or cows, is often served as a dessert with palm syrup or sugar. A rich variety of fruits is available year-round. Eating outside of the home has not been very common, although it is becoming more so. In almost every town there is at least one Chinese-style restaurant where alcohol is also served, as well as Sinhala, Muslim, and Tamil restaurants and traditional snack booths. In the capital, Western chain restaurants as well as other foreign-style foods are increasingly available. [Source: Bambi L. Chapin and Kalinga Tudor Silva, “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Lamprais is a popular Dutch dish. Rice is boiled in beef stock, then added to vegetables and meat and baked in a low oven after it is wrapped in a banana leaf. Baking the rice in a banana leaf gives a special flavour to the rice. Lamprais has a unique flavour and an appetizing aroma.

Pol sambol is a fiery mix of dry grated coconut, red chilli tempered with curry leaves. Other stunning sambols include seeni sambol made from sweet onions, sugar, chilli and spices and katta sambol, a mix of onions and chillis ground to a fine paste. Seeni Sambol is one of the lanka's rare dishes that is both sweet and hot. Although Sri Lankans like their food spicy, sugar (seeni) is added to Seeni Sambol to give it that special taste, and to take the sting out of the hot chilli.

Kottu roti is a filling snack found at street side eating houses. This doughy pancake roti is chopped into shreads and stir fried with vegetables, onions, egg and beef or chicken. Mallung: is a Sinhalese word which means 'mix-up' and is usually applied to the leafy green preparations with everything chopped finely and mixed over heat. This dish is an accompaniment to rice, and is always without a sauce — the liquid that comes out of the leaves or other ingredients is evaporated. A traditional blend of spices used to flavour green leafy vegetables, producing a light, fresh accompaniment to all Sri Lankan dishes.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (, Government of Sri Lanka (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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