Sri Lanka for food lovers

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If you want to get to know Sri Lankan cuisine, you're in for a treat. With influences from Arab traders, Malay navigators, Portuguese, Dutch and British colonists, and South Indian neighbours, you'll be captivated by some of the local dishes. Check out these delicious culinary experiences - as well as some classes so you can take the taste back home, and some essential etiquette tips.

Essential eating and drinking highlights

  • Kicking back with a gin and tonic in the bar at the Hill Club in Nuwara Eliya, before diving into the old-school colonial excesses of the formal set-course dinner. Make sure you linger to experience one of Sri Lanka's best billiard rooms.
  • Listening to the rhythmic chop-chop-chopping of the kotthu rotti (doughy pancake chopped and fried with meat and vegetables) maker. At the Kandy Muslim Hotel it adds a percussive soundtrack to the compelling buzz of commerce and three-wheelers outside.
  • Melting into the sunset on Galle Face Green in Colombo with a few prawn vadai (deep fried snacks made from lentil flour and spices) before retiring across the road to the Veranda bar at the Galle Face Hotel.
  • Taking a roadside break and recharging with a fresh thambili (king coconut). For just Rs 20 you'll get a super refreshing drink. Don't forget to scoop out the delicately sweet coconut flesh after you're finished.
  • Deciding which curry to sample first as you're surrounded by the table full of options of a freshly prepared personal banquet at your family-run guest house in Ella.
  • Buying fresh seafood from a fisherman on the south coast, and then getting it cooked to perfection at your favourite end-of-the-day, sand-between-your-toes restaurant.

DIY guide to Sri Lankan food

Unlike nearby India and Thailand, Sri Lanka doesn't have a big network of cookery courses, but there are a few low-key places that can impart the tasty knowledge you're seeking.

Related article: Two weeks in Sri Lanka
  • Travellers are welcome to join the skilled kitchen crew at the Rawana Holiday Resort in Ella. Just let them know you're interested the day before. The cost is Rs 440, which also pays for the rice and curry banquet you're helping to prepare. The friendly owners will email you the recipes so that you can try them at home. Cookery classes (Rs 1500) are also available at the Ella Holiday Inn across the road.
  • At the Woodlands Network in Bandarawela, you can help pick the organic vegies in the garden across the lane before you start cooking.
  • Down in Unawatuna you'll visit the Galle market for provisions before a cookery course with Karuna at Sonjas Health Good Restaurant.
  • Check out SriLankaFood.Net for tasty recipes from Aussie Sri Lankan Saronjini. More recipes are available online at Malini's Kitchen, Asia Food and Chandra'ge Sri Lankan Recipes.

And finally...

A little word on the etiquette of eating in Sri Lanka. Always wash your hands before you eat (for the sake of courtesy as well as hygiene) and always use your right hand to give and to receive. It's acceptable to use or to ask for cutlery, but if you're eating with your hand, always use your right hand. (It's acceptable to drink holding a glass in your left hand.) If you're invited home for a meal, remove your shoes before entering the house (although some people no longer follow this custom). Because let's face it, once you've tasted some of Sri Lanka's finest home cooking, you'll want to be invited back, right?