Sri Lankan traditional cuisine is a combination of flavors, spices, and techniques influenced by its history and cultural diversity. Traditional kitchens in Sri Lanka vary based on the region and ethnic background, but they all share some common characteristics.
One of the most prominent features of traditional kitchens in Sri Lanka is the use of clay pots and earthenware for cooking. These vessels are believed to enhance the flavor and aroma of the food and are also known for their ability to retain heat, allowing the food to cook slowly and evenly.
Rice is the staple food in Sri Lankan cuisine and is usually accompanied by a variety of curries, sambols (condiments), and other side dishes. Coconut, which is abundant in the country, is an essential ingredient in most Sri Lankan dishes, and coconut milk is used to give curries their creamy texture.
Spices are also an integral part of Sri Lankan cooking, with a combination of spices known as “curry powder” forming the basis of many dishes. This blend typically includes coriander, cumin, fennel, cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper.
Traditional Sri Lankan kitchens also have a range of cooking techniques, including boiling, steaming, frying, and roasting. Some of the popular Sri Lankan dishes include:
Rice and Curry:
Rice and curry is the staple food of Sri Lanka and can be found in almost every restaurant and home in the country. The curry is made with a blend of spices such as cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom, and cloves, and includes a variety of vegetables, meat, or fish. The vegetables can vary depending on the season and may include pumpkin, okra, eggplant, beans, or jackfruit. Meat curries are typically made with chicken, beef, or pork, while fish curries are made with a variety of local fish such as tuna, mackerel, or kingfish. The curry is usually served with boiled or steamed rice.
Pol Sambol is a spicy coconut relish that is a popular side dish in Sri Lanka. It is made with grated coconut, red chili powder, onion, lime juice, and salt. The ingredients are mixed together and pounded with a mortar and pestle to release the flavors. Pol Sambol is usually served with rice and curry, hoppers, or roti.
Kottu Roti is a popular street food in Sri Lanka. It is made by finely chopping roti (flatbread) and mixing it with vegetables, egg, and meat or fish, along with a blend of spices. The mixture is then fried on a hot griddle with a pair of metal blades, creating a rhythmic sound that can be heard from a distance. Kottu Roti is usually served with a side of spicy gravy.
Hoppers are a type of pancake made with fermented rice flour and coconut milk. They are cooked in a small bowl-shaped pan and can be served with a variety of toppings, such as egg or curry. There are two types of hoppers – plain hoppers (made without any toppings) and egg hoppers (with a fried egg in the center).
Watalappam is a traditional Sri Lankan dessert made with coconut milk, jaggery (palm sugar), cashew nuts, and spices such as cardamom and nutmeg. The ingredients are mixed together and steamed in a banana leaf or a small bowl. Once it is cooked, the watalappam has a caramelized texture and a sweet and spicy flavor.
Lamprais is a dish that originated from the Dutch Burgher community in Sri Lanka. It is made with rice cooked in meat broth, accompanied by a variety of curries, and wrapped in banana leaves before being steamed. The curries can include chicken curry, beef curry, pork curry, or brinjal (eggplant) curry. The rice is usually mixed with sultanas, cashews, and onions before being wrapped in the banana leaf.
Kiri Bath is a type of rice dish that is cooked in coconut milk and served on special occasions such as weddings and festivals. It is often served with a sweet or savory side dish. Kiri Bath can be made with white or red rice, and the coconut milk gives it a creamy texture and a slightly sweet flavor. It is usually cut into diamond-shaped pieces before being served.
Regional variations: Sri Lanka’s cuisine has regional variations influenced by the geography, climate, and cultural diversity of different regions. For example, the cuisine of the coastal regions is heavily influenced by seafood, while the cuisine of the central highlands is known for its use of vegetables and spices.
Cooking techniques: Traditional kitchens in Sri Lanka use a variety of cooking techniques. For example, steaming is commonly used for making string hoppers (a type of noodle), while roasting is used for spices and coconut to bring out their flavors. Some dishes, such as curries, are made by simmering ingredients in a pot for an extended period to develop the flavors.
Festive cuisine: Sri Lankan cuisine also has a range of dishes that are prepared for special occasions and festivals. For example, kiribath (coconut rice) is a must-have dish for Sinhalese New Year, while sweetmeats such as kokis (deep-fried sweet biscuits) and athirasa (rice flour sweet cake) are popular during festive seasons.
Traditional ingredients: In addition to rice and coconut, traditional kitchens in Sri Lanka use a range of other ingredients such as jackfruit, breadfruit, taro, and various greens like gotu kola (pennywort) and murunga (moringa) leaves. These ingredients are used in various curries, sambols, and salads.
Hospitality: Sri Lankan culture is known for its hospitality, and this is reflected in its cuisine. When guests visit a Sri Lankan household, they are typically served a variety of dishes, and the host will encourage them to eat more. In fact, it is considered impolite to leave food on the plate, and guests are expected to eat their fill.
In summary, traditional kitchens in Sri Lanka offer a unique and flavorful culinary experience that is influenced by the country’s diverse cultural heritage, geography, and climate. The use of traditional ingredients, cooking techniques, and regional variations make Sri Lankan cuisine a fascinating and delicious topic to explore.