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Food and drink in Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka’s cuisine is delightful, with wonderful discoveries awaiting you at every meal. It has influences inherited over the years from the Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonists, as well as Arab traders and the island’s South Indian neighbours.

“Rice and curry” is the staple diet in Sri Lanka, and is a lot more interesting than it may sound. It is breakfast and lunch for working people who are up before dawn and go to bed after a light dinner. Along the roadside are traditional eating houses serving very presentable curries in buffet style (usually under £5 a head for as much as you like).

It’s the extraordinary variety of curries that makes Sri Lankan food so surprising. Served with pappadoms, chutneys, and sambol, “rice and curry” will consist of a chicken or a fish curry and an array of vegetable curries - sweet and sour aubergine, dhal, green beans, beetroot, okra, jackfruit, banana blossom, to name just a few. Some of the curries are quite hot so beware. Sri Lankans usually use roasted curry powder rather than raw powder like in India.

Other specialities:
Delicious crab curry served with fresh bread.
Hoppers - crispy pancakes in the shape of a bowl made with rice flour – great with a fried egg then topped with chutney or sambol (chilli-based, and can be quite hot).
Kotthu rotti – pancake chopped and fried with meat and vegetables.
Prawn vadai – deep fried snacks of lentil flour and spices.
Love Cake - semolina, cashews, honey, nutmeg, cinnamon, rosewater, from an old Dutch recipe.
Bolo Fiado - layer cake with dried fruit and syrup, originally Portuguese.
Dutch Lamprais made from meat, vegetables, and rice, all baked together in a banana leaf. Wattalappam made with jaggery (brown sugar made from the kitul palm) with coconut, egg, and cardamom, like a custardy cake.
A favourite dessert is curd (yogurt made from buffalo milk) served with kitul syrup.

Local lager is very good. The best is Lion (rather than Three Keys) and costs about £2 for a large bottle in a hotel and far less in a local bar (usually men only).

There is coconut milk in abundance – most people have their own coconut tree. Thirst-quenching thambili (king coconut) is available along all main roads and markets.

Sri Lanka is famous for its tea and has the perfect climate for growing it. The tea capital is at Nuwara Eliya, and in the interior of the island there are many spectacular tea plantations that can be visited.

A great variety of spices are cultivated, mainly cinnamon, which is more productive than tea as it produces crops of higher value, grown in smaller areas.

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King coconuts

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Hoppers

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Rice and curry

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Rice and curry

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Sri Lankan fusion dish