Sri Lanka, the tear drop of India, is often overlooked among the myriad of top Asian hot-spots. But, in the last decade or so, the country has garnered the attention of travellers far and wide – and for good reason.
Not only is the country one of the most visually stunning in the continent, it homes one of the most diverse culinary cultures found anywhere in the world. For any renowned foodies, Sri Lanka is an absolute must visit.
The first question to address: ‘is Sri Lankan food just like Indian food?’ My reply: ‘…kind of’.
There is no denying that a lot of Sri Lankan and Indian dishes are curry based, usually accompanied by rice, vegetables or sometimes just more curry. However, there are a number of discernible differences that, for me, moves Sri Lankan cuisine into the top spot.
Where to start:
The basics of Sri Lankan cuisine are pretty straight forward, but they certainly pack a punch. Endless variations of curries tend to be readily available, and while most have their own base flavours, almost all are very spicy. The Sri Lankan flavours are certainly not tailored towards the shy – aromatic spices, onions, sour pickle and fiery chillies are some of the biggest flavours you can find on a plate, and more importantly the combination is absolutely delicious. Some of you will be glad to hear that mild coconut, rice and yoghurt is always on hand to tame the flames, but they also add another dimension of flavour to an already jam-packed dish.
Another staple of Sri Lankan cuisine is seafood. Similarly to other small islands, the ocean provides locals with an endless supply of fish and crustaceans that are an absolute hallmark of the Sri Lankan diet. Crab in particular offers a visually unique experience for overseas diners, often left whole on the plate, swimming in curried broths and ‘Jaffna curry’ sauces. This perfectly demonstrates the fact that Sri Lankan cuisine is very involved, just like its Asian neighbours. This might be quite a culture shock for some new visitors, but throw yourself in head first and you’ll be sure to enjoy it. It’s a long way off your local McDonalds in every respect!
Food in Sri Lanka is of huge cultural significance. Be it a coconut curry made from the fruits of a nearby tree, or a shrimp fritter passed through the window of a commuter train, each dish takes influence from the country’s colonial heritage. Trade from Europe was, and still is, the backbone of Sri Lankan food. Described as a ‘rich melting pot of cuisines’ by SBS food, the spice trade has become synonymous with Sri Lanka, importing and exporting from all around the world to mould the diverse, warm and welcoming dishes we see in the country today.
Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in the world that truly prioritises the culture around food. It polarises the fast food mentality we are so used to in the West, bringing together communities and families around a table to taste and enjoy. With this in mind, food in Sri Lanka isn’t just a necessity, but a vibrant, powerful and all-consuming form of entertainment. The allure is truly intoxicating, and you’ll undoubtedly be transfixed by the rich history and richer flavours that engulf this wonderfully cultural nation.