Eat Your Way Through Sri Lanka Like A True Vegetarian

A country that is known for its non-vegetarian delicacies, Sri Lanka has an extensive repertoire of vegetarian dishes as well.

Published On Dec 06, 2023 | Updated On Mar 02, 2024

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A tropical paradise, Sri Lanka beyond its beautiful beaches, culture, and sights, is also about good food. And make no mistake, the island country has something for all. If you are vegetarian there is a variety of local delicacies that you can sample as well. Interestingly, the national carrier SriLankan Airlines also offers a selection of traditional dishes with vegetarian versions on board in both its business and economy classes as well. “We started a campaign called ‘SriLankan Flavours’ last year to enhance the Sri Lankan meal option onboard. Dishes we introduced as part of the campaign was Sri Lankan Yellow Rice, which is served with tender jackfruit curry, okra, coconut sambol and stir-fried finger millet noodles served with caramelized onions, and potato and green pea curry. Another meal option is local-favourite ‘Lamprais,’ which is available in vegetarian form as well and consists of an all-in-one rice served with ash plantain pahi, fried onion sambal, stuffed capsicum and brinjal moju,” says Maria Sathasivam, Manager - Product Development, SriLankan Airlines. 

Taking a cue from this, we have compiled a list of recommendations of the top 10 vegetarian dishes to try in Sri Lanka.

1. Parippu (dhal curry)

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A ubiquitous dish that you are likely to find at breakfast, lunch, and dinner is the creamy parippu or dal curry made with lentils and coconut milk that is mildly spiced with lots of tempering. Parippu means lentils in Sinhalese and there is a local saying that says that “there are as many dal recipes as there are stars in the sky”, which is an apt way to describe its popularity. The distinct taste of coconut milk is what adds a local flavour to this preparation and it uses different lentils like masoor dal, toor dal or red lentils.

2. Hoppers (appa or appam) and string hoppers

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Much like the appams in Kerala, Sri Lanka has its own version of the dish called hoppers, a popular fixture at breakfast. The egg hoppers are a popular variant. Recently many hotels also make healthy options from beetroot and spinach as well. The dish is made with rice flour fermented with yeast. The other popular option is the string hoppers or idiyappam made with rice flour that is cooked and made into thin noodles and eaten with curry and pol sambol. New innovations include making it with the blue pea flower – so if you see a blue string hopper don’t be worried!

3. Polos curry or polos ambula

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A traditional Sri Lankan baby jackfruit curry, this is made from the young jackfruit before it ripens. Using a melange of spices and coconut milk, this pairs best with warm rice, making it a perfect meal for vegans as well. The slight sourness of the dish comes from goraka, a dried, blackened fruit peel. The local Sri Lankan roasted curry powder usually made with a combination of coriander, cumin, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods, curry leaves and pandan add a nice taste to the same.

4. Wambatu moju

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The Sri Lankan eggplant dish, Wambatu Moju has fried eggplant strips, shallots, and green chillies that merges sweet and sour flavours to create a nice relish. Akin to a vegetable pickle, this is a classic vegetarian dish that you will likely see in most restaurants in the country. The key is to use firm and small round purple eggplants and peeled shallots for the right kind of crunch. The ingredients used include mustard seeds, white vinegar, ginger garlic paste, chilli powder and tamarind juice all of which ensure that there is a burst of flavours in your mouth.

5. Pol Sambol

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A typical coconut relish that works as a side dish adds a punch to any food you eat here. The simple dish is made with freshly grated coconut, onions, chilies, salt, and a dash of lemon juice that are ground using a grinding stone. The best part is that it works with rice, string hoppers, hopper, coconut roti and most dishes. “Being a coconut rich country, our dishes use coconut and coconut milk which makes the cuisine also vegan friendly. This in fact helps absorb the nutrients of the dish more quickly to the body. We have a vast repertoire of vegetarian dishes in our cuisine that use indigenous Sri Lankan greens that have many medicinal properties,” explains Dhananjaya Buddika, executive sous chef, Habarana Village by Cinnamon, Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts.

6. Lunu Miris

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Another essential accompaniment is a spicy fresh condiment made with dried red chillies (called miris) and shallots (called lunu) and lemon juice. This is a fiery accompaniment that pairs well with coconut flat bread or pol roti, Kiributh (rice cooked in milk), as well as with meals. To ensure you get the real flavour, using a mortar and pestle is recommended. Make sure to keep the consistency coarse, to taste its bold flavours.

7. Kurakkan Pittu

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Kurakkan (ragi), or finger millet, a gluten-free and diabetic friendly grain is used to make this breakfast dish (that is like the rice flour puttu of Kerala). Kurakkan being a healthy option is now finding favour with locals. The best way to eat it is to soak it with coconut milk to remove the otherwise dry texture and eat with dal curry. It is environmentally friendly as it helps with carbon sequestration and is easily digestible.

8. Coconut Roti

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The Sri Lankan pol roti, which is a coconut flatbread is a delicious version of a roti with a generous coconut flavour that is eaten at all meals as well as a snack. The simple roti uses flour, shredded coconut, and coconut milk. You can also add chopped onions and green chilies for more texture. This teams well with the spicy lunu miris. Interestingly, there is no leavening agent whether it is yeast or baking powder used to make this simple roti.

9. Aluwa

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A traditional dessert that is simpler to make, Aluwa is a must especially during the Sri Lankan and Tamil new year. Made with rice flour, sugar, milk, cashew or peanuts and ground cardamom, it has a unique flavour if made using treacle (a sweetener like honey). This white-hued dessert has a smooth and creamy texture that comes from the combination of these ingredients that are cooked to perfection and then shaped into perfect squares.

10. Wandu Appa

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A traditional Sri Lankan dessert made from rice flour, coconut milk and jaggery, Wandu Appa is a steamed coconut custard like dish. This is made in traditional kanda (Macaranga peltata) leaves, which are used as a flavouring agent. These leaves give this relatively unusual dessert a unique flavour and this is also another vegan dish from the region.


Photo: Shutterstock; Bindu Gopal Rao

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