6 Must-have Sri Lankan Delicacies

If the emerald island is on your itinerary, here are our food recommendations!

Nivedita Jayaram Pawar

Sri Lankan food is not for the weak-hearted, believes chef Julinda Pushpa Kumara, who hails from the island nation. She was in Mumbai whipping up delicacies at the Sri Lankan Food Festival at Sofitel Mumbai’s Pondichéry Café. “Our food is sweet, sour and spicy. The Sri Lankan curry powder and liberal use of black pepper lend the dishes a fiery kick while caramalised onions, palm sugar and goraka tamarind impart a sweet and sour balance,” explains the chef.

If travelling to the emerald island is on your itinerary, here are Julinda Pushpa Kumara’s top 6 recommendations.

Fish Ambul Thiyal
Traditionally prepared with tuna, chefs across the country now use a variety of fish to make this traditional dish. Ambul Thiyal is a dry preparation made using tamarind, garlic, onion and Sri Lankan curry powder. The fish is marinated, wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. It is eaten with rice, idiappam or kiri bath. Here are the ingredients and method for you to try Fish Ambul Thiyal recipe at home
1 kg fish (Halibut or Tuna)
10 to 15 pieces Goraka tamarind
1 ½ tbs salt
1 ½ tbs ground black pepper
¼ tsp turmeric powder
1 sprig curry leaves
1 to 2 pieces pandan leaves
2 pieces cinnamon
2 cloves garlic crushed
½ tsp roasted curry powder
1 cup water
1. Wash and cut the fish into 15-20 pieces.
2. Place the Goraka pieces in a saucepan, add a little water to cover and simmer for about 5-10 minutes (until the Goraka is soft).
3. Add salt, pepper, chili powder, turmeric, curry powder to the fish pieces and mix well (until all the pieces are well coated).
4. Drain the Goraka pieces and crush into a coarse paste. Mix the paste with the drained water and add to the fish, mix well.
5. Arrange the fish in a shallow pan and pour the liquid over the pieces.
6. Wash the mixing bowl with 1 cup water and pour over the fish.
7. Swirl the pan to coat the pieces with the liquid.
8. Add the curry leaves, Rampe, and cinnamon and crushed garlic.
9. Cook over low heat until the fish is done.

Appams with Cini sambal

Sri Lankans love their appams. Appams are typically paired with cini sambal (sweet sambal) made using onion, tamarind, sugar and chilies.
Tip: To make fluffy appams, soak rice overnight and then grind with the same water it has been soaked in, along with fresh coconut water, coconut milk and some sugar. Let the batter rest for 5-6 hours before making the appams. Use a good iron pan, not a non-stick pan.

(Also Reads: 4 Ways South India Uses Rice Beyond Idli and Dosa)

Kiri Bath with Lunumiris

Kiri Bath is a popular breakfast item. In Sinhalese, kiri means milk and bath is rice. This is a traditional Sri Lankan dish made with cooked rice and fresh coconut milk. It’s also made on auspicious occasions like weddings. It is had with lunumiris a chutney made with onion, tomato, lemon juice, coconut and dried fish. Here's the recipe:

Kiri Bath 


2 cups long grain rice
2 ½ cups coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
1. Combine rice with 1 1/2 cups water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.
2. Add coconut milk and salt. Stir to combine. Simmer on low heat for 15-20 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed.
3. Transfer to a flat plate or dish. And level with a spatula. Leave for 10 minutes to firm up. Slice into squares or diamonds.
Lunu miris 


10 peeled pearl onions
2 or 3 red chilies
½ tsp lime juice
Salt to taste
1. Heat the pan with few drops of oil; saute the onions & red chili for few seconds.
2. It helps to grind it smoothly and also to avoid the strong flavour of onions. Once it cooled, put it in blender along with lime juice and salt.
3. Grind into smooth paste.

(Also Watch: Step-by-Step Recipe for Hopper with Sambal)

Pork Black Curry
We love pork and cook a variety of dishes like pork black curry, pork beduman and devilled pork. The most popular is the black curry made with cinnamon, cardamom, our curry powder and other spices. The black colour comes from the roasting of the masalas and the liberal use of crushed black pepper. If you like big and bold flavours, this is for you. Here is Chef Pushpa Kumara's recipe to make this at home:
1 kg of pork shoulder, cubed
1 tsp chili powder
3 tsp crushed black pepper
4 pieces of Goraka tamarind
8 cardamom pods, cracked
¼ tsp fenugreek
1 tsp roasted curry powder
1 tsp salt
1 stick of cinnamon, broken up
1 sprig of curry leaves
Pandan leaf, roughly torn4 chopped green chillies
1 x 3cm piece ginger, roughly chopped
1 medium onion, sliced
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 litre water
Juice of 2 limes
3 tbsp chilli flakes


1. To make the pork curry, place the pork in a bowl with the pepper, chilli powder, goraka, cardamom pods, fenugreek, curry powder, salt and cinnamon. Using your hands, massage the spice mix into the pork. Set aside to marinate.
2. Heat the ghee in a pot over high heat and add the curry leaves and pandan leaf. Fry until fragrant and then add the green chilli, ginger, onions and garlic. Fry, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent.
3. Add the pork and enough water to cover it. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat. Leave to simmer for 35 minutes, or until the pork has cooked through.
4. Serve the curry accompanied by rotti and a small portion of the carrot sambal.

This is a Dutch delicacy and a must have in Sri Lanka. Lamprais in the Dutch Colonial period consisted of lamb, beef and pork. But today most people make it with chicken and fish. Cooked rice, fried raw banana, chicken curry, one boiled egg, fish cutlet and eggplant are wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. It’s a painstakingly long and labour intensive process. The banana leaf gives the food a special flavour and fragrance once it is steamed.

Jaffna Crab Curry 

Your Lankan vacation is not complete without a crab feast. In the emerald island, the crabs are massive, weighing up to 2.5 kg. We use a lot of drumstick leaves in the curry, and you can eat the crab with rice. When you tackle the crab with your hands and get messy is when you really have fun with it!
Try making the Jaffna Crab Curry at home with this recipe by Chef Ranveer Brar:
6 Must-have Sri Lankan Delicacies

Image of Kiri Bath with Lunumiris​: Shutterstock.com


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