Traveling as a vegetarian can be like a treasure hunt at times. It is a joy to see more than a few choices on the menu or the buffet spread. For vegetarian Food in Sri Lanka, I knew I would get the basic South Indian food – like Rice and some Curry, wherever I go.
From my first trip, I remember eating a lot of red string hoppers on the road. However, this time I was there for an exquisite culinary experience with MasterChef George Calombaris. So, my senses were all prepared to enjoy the culinary delights of the MasterChef and the food in Sri Lanka on the road trip.
So, what did this vegetarian discover in Sri Lanka!
Coconut Sambol – Most Popular Food in Sri Lanka
Pink colored grated Coconut Sambol is something that I ate with my every meal on the road trip in Sri Lanka. At Cinnamon Lodge at Habarana, I sat with Chef Ranaveera to understand how he makes it – his smile said – you want the recipe for this. I think, he thought it was like asking the recipe of Lemon Juice.
For Sri Lankans, Coconut Sambol is such is staple thing that they do not realize it’s novelty for outsiders. It is freshly grated coconut, red onions, red chili flakes and salt mixed together with hand till they get a uniform pink color.
It is yum and goes perfectly well with most food in Sri Lanka. Try it with Hoppers that I am showing you just in a minute.
Do check if it has fish in it – as that is a common ingredient for a version of Coconut Sambol.
Gotu Kola Sambol
Gotu Kola is green leaves locally found in Sri Lanka and I was told in India as well. This Wikipedia gives all possible names of these leaves – the only name I had heard of is Brahmi – which is an Ayurvedic herb used in many medicines.
So, all you have to do is finely grate these leaves and add to the coconut sambol above and you have a green version of coconut sambol. In fact, Chef at Cinnamon Lodge told me that you can use any green leave like parsley and the Coconut Sambol becomes your salad.
If instead of green leaves, you add tomatoes, it becomes a Tomato Onion Sambol. Basically, flavor your coconut with anything that can be eaten raw and
This is a variation of Sambol – made from the dry red chili. Yes, I know, you can see the red color. Well, Lunu means onions and Miris (almost like our Mirchi) means Chilli in Sinhala. So, it is essentially a concoction of Onion, Dried Red Chillies, Salt and a bit of lemon juice. The quantities vary from home to home and from chef to chef.
I was told this is an essential side dish that you can eat with hoppers or with rice any time of the day.
Hoppers are like Kerala Appams. They are made in a bowl-like vessel. A spoonful of watery thin rice batter is put into the bowl in a way that the center is thick and fluffy while the sides are thin and crisp. The plain version of this is made only with rice batter.
Beetroot version has beetroot crushed into the batter and comes in nice pink color.
Spinach or some green leaves are added to make a green hopper.
The most commonly eaten hopper though is Egg Hopper – where a raw egg is put on the appam and allowed to cook in steam by covering the vessel.
Almost every breakfast I had in Sri Lanka, I had some Hoppers with Coconut Sambol or Lunu Mirsi or Mango Chutney.
The String Hoppers in Sri Lanka are mostly made of red rice. They come in piles – small hoppers piled one over the other. Each one typically makes one bite if you can manage to pull them apart.
String hoppers are essentially bland and have not much taste for themselves. So, their taste depends on the company you provide them. Choose from a range of curries, chutneys or Sambol.
The Kurakkan is Ragi or Nachni in Sinhala. This is like a steamed Idiyappam made of equal parts of rice flour and Ragi flour. However, what I ate in Sri Lanka was very hot and spicy not the bland ones that I have eaten in Kerala.
So, you eat it with lots of coconut milk. In fact, you break this into a powdery spread, pour a lot of coconut milk.
Boiled Healthy Options – Kiri Ala & Sweet Potato
At one lunch I had a helping of Kiri Ala – well, it is just boiled yam. Another time I had a similar helping of boiled sweet potato. Yet another time, I had a helping of boiled pumpkin.
All these dishes were garnished with a bit of Tadka and sprinkled with bits of coconut. Then, it’s up to you to mix and match it with spicy Sri Lankan Chutneys.
Quite a healthy choice for vegetarian food in Sri Lanka, I must say. Yes, they taste healthy too – if you know what that means.
Curries & Chutneys
Daal Curry – Our humble Toor daal is called Daal Curry in Sri Lanka. This is a rudimentary version of our Daal – usually thick boiled daal without much of Tadka.
Mango Curry – I have eaten Mango in many shapes and forms but never as a curry. In Sri Lanka, slices of mango were cooked in spicy curry – making it a Chatpata curry. I quite enjoyed eating it.
Mango Chutney is pretty much like our sweet and sour (Khatti-Meethi) Mango chutney. Sri Lankans eat it with hoppers, or with rice. I could just lick it off – just like that.
I did not explore desserts too much but there were two things I had to try:
A Beetroot Burfi and A Semolina Burfi – they were intriguing. Too sweet for my taste, but nonetheless had the unique taste.
Most other desserts were pretty western – pastries, truffles, ice creams, and pies. Nothing that sounded local.
In Sri Lanka, you can have some of the spiciest food – dry red chili is their favorite spice. It seems Cinnamon is something they export – did not see it being used much in the food.
However, I loved their mild tea options. They provide a perfect ending to every meal. On the road, it was King Coconut that was my favorite cooler.
Recommend you read following travel blog on Sri Lanka.