Sri Lanka’s scrumptious spicy street eat, kothu roti, is a delight to make and a delight to eat. 

Traditional Sri Lankan kottu roti in wooden background.
Kothu roti is eaten across Sri Lanka © ngoc tran / Shutterstock

What is it?

A staple meal in Sri Lanka, kothu roti (sometimes known simply as kothu, or kottu) is as enjoyable to eat as it is to watch being made. Indeed, witnessing this jumble of shredded Gothamba roti (a fried flatbread), meat and/or vegetables and Jaffna curry powder be transformed into a tantalising, perfectly-spiced snack at the hands of a skilled local vendor makes for wonderful streetside viewing.

Ingredients (serves 6)

For the Lamb Curry: 
1 tbs vegetable oil 
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped 
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed 
1 green chilli, chopped 
500g (1lb) stewing lamb, diced 
1 tbs curry powder 
½ tsp cumin seeds 
1 tbs garam masala 

For the Gothamba Roti: 
225g (8oz) self-raising flour 
1 tsp salt 
1 tbs vegetable oil 
About ½ cup (125mL) water 
Oil for brushing and frying

For the Kothu Roti: 
1 tbs vegetable oil 
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped 
½ tsp mustard seeds 
½ tsp cumin seeds 
Handful of curry leaves 
1 green chilli, chopped 
2 eggs, beaten

Kothu roti being made on a tabletop surface. The ingredients are being mixed together using two flat metallic utensils.
Watching kothu roti being made is almost as enjoyable as eating it... almost © limipix / Shutterstock

How to cook

Step 1: Make the curry. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion, garlic and chilli until the onions are soft but not brown. Add the lamb and brown. Add the spices and cook for 3 minutes. Cover with water and simmer until the lamb is tender (at least an hour).
Step 2: To make the roti dough, combine all the ingredients (apart from the extra oil) until the mixture starts to come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn out the mixture and knead until soft, adding flour or water to get a smooth, but not sticky, dough. Rest for half an hour.
Step 3: Divide the dough into six balls, then roll out each to a thickness of 2–3mm (⅛in). Take one and brush a little oil on the bottom third and fold towards the middle. Repeat with the top third. Turn 90 degrees clockwise and repeat with the bottom and top thirds. Repeat for each roti. Heat the oil in a pan and flatten each roti with a rolling pin. Fry each on one side until the top puffs up and the bottom is blistered. Turn over and repeat. Cook the rest of the rotis.
Step 4: To make the kothu roti, heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves and chilli for a few minutes. Set the mixture to one side of the pan and scramble the eggs in the other half. 
Step 5: Slice the rotis into strips, add to the pan with the lamb curry and stir-fry to blend and heat. Serve immediately.

Top tip: The roti and the curry can be prepared a day in advance and assembled just before serving. Store-bought roti is an acceptable substitute if time is tight. Ensure the curry has plenty of gravy to be soaked up by roti.

Beautiful tropical beach with boulders and palm trees lit by a morning sun in Tangalla, Sri Lanka.
Whip up some kothu and pretend you're sunning yourself on the beaches of Sri Lanka © Filip Fuxa / Shutterstock

Tasting notes

Street entertainment doesn’t get better than watching the street vendors at work making kothu roti. Think saliva-inducing aromas of curry and roti sizzling on a smoking-hot griddle combined with a melodic cacophony of clanking oversized metal dough-scrapers that shred and mix the roti with a spicy meat gravy. What might sound like stodgy fare – bread, curry, egg and vegetables seasoned with chillies and the rich local Jaffna curry powder – is in fact a feast for the senses: golden-yellow, aromatic, and an addictive melange of explosively hot and savoury flavours. Despite its humble beginnings, the dish is now considered a Sri Lankan staple, including as a midnight ‘snack’ for clubbing types.

Other recipes in this series:
Italian tagliatelle al ragu
Polish bigos
Texan spicy chilli

Have you recreated any of the dishes featured in this series so far? Share your pictures with us on Twitter and Instagram by tagging @lonelyplanet. For more great recipes, check out Lonely Planet’s book The World’s Best Spicy Food.

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