Vegetarian Food In Sri Lanka You Must Try


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 basic South Indian food – like Rice and some Curry, wherever I go.

Vegetarian Food in Sri Lanka

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 MasterChef and the food on the road trip.

Vegetarian Food in Sri Lanka

So, what did this vegetarian discover?

Coconut Sambol – Popular Food in Sri Lanka

Coconut Sambol - Vegetarian Super Food in Sri Lanka
Coconut Sambol – Vegetarian Super Food

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 for the recipe for Lemon Juice.

For Sri Lankans, Coconut Sambol is such a staple thing that they do not realize it’s a 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 yummy and goes perfectly well with most food. 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 a green leaf 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

Lunu Miris

Lunu Miris - the Spicy Chutney
Lunu Miris – the Spicy Chutney

This is a variation of Sambol – made from 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.

Colorful Hoppers

Colorful Crispy Hoppers - Vegetarian Food in Sri Lanka
Colorful Crispy Hoppers

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.

The 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 here was Hoppers with Coconut Sambol or Lunu Mirsi or Mango Chutney.

String Hoppers

String Hoppers
String Hoppers

The String Hoppers 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 do not much taste for themselves. So, their taste depends on the company you provide them with. Choose from a range of curries, chutneys, or Sambol.

Kurakkan Pittu

Kurakkan Pitha or steamed Ragi Idiyappam
Kurakkan Pitha or steamed Ragi Idiyappam

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 and pour a lot of coconut milk.

Boiled Healthy Options – Kiri Ala & Sweet Potato

Boiled Vegetables Kiri Ala, Pumpkin & Sweet Potato – Garnish is just to help you pick them up
Boiled Vegetables Kiri Ala, Pumpkin & Sweet Potato – Garnish is just to help you pick them up

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 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 – Everyday Vegetarian Food in Sri Lanka

Mango Chutney
Mango Chutney

Daal Curry – Our humble Toor daal is called Daal Curry here. 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.

Sri Lankan Desserts

Burfis of Sri Lanka

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 a unique taste.

Most other desserts were pretty western – pastries, truffles, ice creams, and pies. Nothing that sounded local.

Coconut Water & Fruits - always there for a Vegetarian
Coconut Water & Fruits – always there for a Vegetarian

In this country, 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.

Vegetable Sandwich - On the Road option in Vegetarian Option
Vegetable Sandwich – On the Road option in Vegetarian Option

However, I loved their mild tea options. They provide a perfect ending to every meal. On the road, it was King Coconut which was my favorite cooler.

Recommend you read the following travel blog on Sri Lanka.

Polonnaruwa – the Most beautiful ruined city

Anuradhapura – Things to see in the ancient capital

Top 15 Sri Lanka Souvenirs to Pick

Ramayana – Places to see in Sri Lanka


  1. I think I like the colorful hoppers the most, they look too good and I was playing with some ideas on how to use them maybe in a fusion dish. Otherwise I have never fancied Sri Lankan food before but I have to say that especially the chutneys sound good.

  2. I am no vegetarian but I would love to try all of these foods if I ever visit Sri Lanka. Plus the Vegetable sandwich is my favourite kind of sandwich

  3. Sri Lanka is one desrination on my to visit list.Its reassuring that there is vegetarian food available as I totally agree with you that in some countries getting decent vegetarian food is a challenge. I love all the spicey sambals they sound delicious.

  4. The mango chutney of Sri Lanka is a popular dish in India too. The sweet & sour taste of it is favorite among families who prepare it with love in homes.


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