The Teardrop of India or Pearl of the Indian Ocean are among many nicknames for Sri Lanka.
But a more accurate description of the gorgeous nation might be the island of rice and curry.
Making liberal use of local fruit, such as coconut and jackfruit, seafood and an arsenal of spices, Sri Lankan cooking delivers an abundance of incredible dishes.
Here are some you shouldn’t miss.
1. Fish ambul thiyal (sour fish curry)
As you’d expect from an island in the Indian Ocean, seafood plays an important role in Sri Lankan cuisine.
Fish ambul thiyal (sour fish curry) is one of the most beloved varieties of the many different fish curries available.
The fish — usually something large and firm, such as tuna — is cut into cubes, then sauteed in a blend of spices including black pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, garlic, pandan leaves and curry leaves.
Perhaps the most important ingredient is dried goraka, a small fruit responsible for giving the fish a sour flavour.
Ambul thiyal is a dry curry dish, meaning all the ingredients are simmered with a small amount of water and cooked until the liquid reduces. This allows the spice mixture to coat each cube of fish.
Originating in southern Sri Lanka, it’s available throughout the country at restaurants that serve curry, and is best eaten with rice.
2. Kottu (also, kottu roti)
Over the traffic and noise at a Sri Lankan market, you’ll likely hear the clanking of metal on metal and know kottu isn’t far away.
Kottu is Sri Lanka’s hamburger — everybody’s favourite go-to fast food when craving something tasty and greasy.
It resembles fried rice, except instead of rice, it’s made with a type of roti known as godamba roti (a flat, crispy bread).
The roti is normally fried at the beginning of the day, piled into stacks and served as it’s ordered.
When you place an order, the kottu chef will fry and chop the roti with a selection of ingredients you choose.
The result is a tasty mixture of salty pieces of fried dough, lightly spiced and extremely comforting.
Kottu is served with spicy curry sauce, which you can either use as a dip or pour over your entire plate.
Some of the most skilled kottu chefs compose their own unique songs, singing while they rhythmically clank their spatula and knives against the metal frying surface, slicing the roti with each clank.
3. Kukul mas curry (chicken curry)
Simple to make, chicken curry is a common household dish in Sri Lanka.
There are many variations depending on region and taste preferences.
Spices like fennel seeds, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon sticks are tempered in hot oil before being combined with chicken and spices like chili powder, curry powder, turmeric, pandan leaves, lemongrass and curry leaves.
Coconut milk contributes to the rich base of the curry gravy. Depending on the recipe, a puree of tomato is often included.
The chicken is stewed for an hour or so until the essence of the spices is infused into the chicken.
Most satisfying when served with hot rice and roti.
4. Parippu (dhal curry)
Parippu, or dhal curry, is the most common curry in all of Sri Lankan cuisine, a staple in any restaurant or household.
Masoor dhal (split red lentils) are first rinsed and boiled until soft.
In a separate pan, a number of fresh ingredients, such as onions, tomatoes and fresh green chilies, are sauteed and mixed with tempered spices like cumin seeds, turmeric, fenugreek, mustard seeds and curry leaves.
All the ingredients are combined and usually thickened with a splash of fresh coconut milk to give the dhal a rich flavour and creamy texture.
It goes with everything, but is perfect as a dipping gravy for a fresh roti or paratha.
Sri Lanka has been influenced by a diversity of cultures and one of the most evident is the Dutch Burgher community.
Lamprais, a word that combines the two Dutch words for “lump” and “rice,” is a combination of meat, rice and sambol chili sauce, wrapped into a banana leaf packet and steamed.
The rice is cooked with meat stock — usually a combination of different meats like beef, pork or lamb — that’s infused with cardamom, clove and cinnamon.
A scoop of rice is placed in the centre of a banana leaf, along with the mixed meat curry, two frikkadels (Dutch-style beef balls), blachan (a shrimp paste) and a starch or vegetable, usually either ash plantain or brinjals.
The package is folded into a parcel and steamed.
Since lamprais is a Burgher contribution to Sri Lankan cuisine, the meat is usually prepared with sweet spices like clove and cinnamon, recreating the flavour favoured by the Dutch Burgher community.
Original recipes called for beef, pork and lamb, but chicken and eggs are often included in a modern lamprais packet.
6. Hoppers (appa or appam) and string hoppers (indi appa or idiyappam)
Hoppers are the Sri Lankan answer to the pancake.
The batter is made from a slightly fermented concoction of rice flour, coconut milk, sometimes coconut water and a hint of sugar.
A ladle of batter is fried in a small wok and swirled around to even it out.
Hoppers can be sweet or savory, but one of the local favourites is egg hoppers. An egg is cracked into the bowl-shaped pancake, creating the Sri Lankan version of an “egg in the hole.”
Egg hoppers are garnished with lunu miris, a sambol of onions, chilies, lemon juice and salt.
Unlike the runny batter used for hoppers, string hoppers are made from a much thicker dough.
The dough is squeezed through a string hopper maker, like a pasta press, to create thin strands of noodles, which are steamed.
String hoppers are normally eaten for breakfast or dinner with curries.
7. Polos (green jackfruit curry)
Jackfruit is consumed in a number of different stages of ripeness, from very ripe and sweet to green and starchy.
Polos is a Sri Lankan curry prepared with young green jackfruit.
The fruit is sliced into bite-sized chunks and boiled until soft.
It’s then cooked with onions, garlic, ginger and spices like mustard seeds, turmeric, chili powder, roasted curry powder, pandan leaves and curry leaf sprigs.
The final step is to add coconut milk and simmer to reduce most of the liquid, leaving all the beautiful flavours within the cubes of jackfruit.
Jackfruit has a starchy texture, somewhat similar to cassava or potato.
Polos is a standard dish available at most Sri Lankan curry restaurants.
8. Wambatu moju (eggplant/brinjals pickle)
Served mostly with rice and curries, wambatu moju is an extremely flavourful candied eggplant (brinjals) pickle.
The eggplant — usually the purple-skinned, long and slender variety — is cut into bite-sized wedges and deep fried, giving the eggplant a crispy texture with a soft and silky interior.
It’s then caramelized with a spoon of sugar, vinegar, red onions, green chilies, mustard seeds, chili powder and a hint of turmeric powder until the colour turns almost black.
Take a bite and the soft and juicy texture of the eggplant should melt in your mouth — the slightly sweet, sour and salty contrast is absolutely sensational.
9. Gotu kola sambol (pennywort salad)
One of the most readily available green vegetable dishes in Sri Lanka is gotu kola sambol.
Gotu kola (known in English as Asiatic pennywort) is a medicinal herb in Asia.
It’s shredded into slivers, then combined with shallots, tomatoes, fresh grated coconut and chili and seasoned with a dressing of salt, pepper and lemon juice.
Sambol is a term used in Sri Lanka for ingredients that are combined and eaten raw, sometimes more of a chili sauce and sometimes more of a salad, like gotu kola sambol.
Gotu kola has a powerful, herbaceous flavour similar to kale, making it an extremely fresh and crisp dish.
It’s typically a side dish served with rice and curry.
10. Kiribath with lunu miris
Kiribath is a special type of rice, cooked with thick coconut milk and often served during special or auspicious occasions, such as Sinhalese New Year.
There are a few versions of kiribath, but the basic procedure is to start by boiling a pot of rice.
Before the rice finishes cooking, add coconut milk and a pinch of salt. The coconut milk makes the rice creamy and rich and helps it form a sticky consistency.
Once the rice is finished cooking, it’s cut into wedges and served like slices of cake.
Kiribath can be eaten along with a number of different Sri Lankan dishes, often either sweetened with jaggery or consumed salty with chili sauce or curry.
One of the most common ways to garnish kiribath is with lunu miris, a sambol chili sauce made from red chilies, onions, lemon juice, salt and sometimes dry Maldive fish, all ground into a paste using a stone mortar and pestle.
11. Pol Sambol (coconut relish)
In a country in which the coconut is of supreme importance, there’s one Sri Lankan side dish that pays fitting tribute.
Pol sambol, which might also be called fresh coconut relish, is a simple blend of finely grated coconut, red onions, dried whole chilies or chili powder, lime juice, salt and Maldive fish (if available).
The ingredients are diced or ground, then combined in a bowl.
In Sri Lanka, pol sambol is used as a garnish or side dish for everything and anything.
It goes well with rice and curry, pol roti (coconut roti), a hot paratha, string hoppers or even just scooped up with slices of bread.
If you love coconut, there’s no better garnish in the world.
12. Wood apple
It wouldn’t be a Sri Lankan food discussion without wood apple.
The wood apple is a Southeast Asian fruit about the size of a de-husked coconut. It also has just as hard of a shell, and a pungent, almost blue cheese aroma.
Walking through a market in Sri Lanka your nose will detect it long before your eyes do.
Inside the shell is a dark brown paste that resembles something between tamarind pulp and fermented raisins.
Wood apple can be eaten directly out of the shell, but one of the most popular ways to eat (or drink) it throughout Sri Lanka is in a thick smoothie, known as wood apple juice.
The fruit is blended with jaggery (or sugar) and water to smooth it out.
It has a unique sour and sweet flavour.
Mention that you love wood apple to any Sri Lankan you meet, and they probably won’t be able to hold back a knowing smile.
It is with sadness that we record the sudden passing away of Sujeewa Prasad in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He was a real live wire on the Radio Ceylon Facebook Group and a dedicated listener of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. Sujeewa was a regular contributor to the Radio Ceylon Facebook Group sharing his tastes in music and his views. He was a kind and supportive human being – a good man. Sujeewa represented the Radio Ceylon Facebook Group at the Service of Thanksgiving to mark the 10th death anniversary of Sri Lankan broadcaster Vernon Corea at St. Paul’s Church Milagiriya in Colombo, Sri Lanka in September 2012. He recorded the service and uploaded it on youtube. He became a friend of Vernon’s family and met Vernon’s daughter Ouida Corea Wickramaratne and her family when they visited Sri Lanka. He was in constant touch with Vernon’s children.
This is what Sujeewa wrote on this tribute site in August 2014:
‘Vernon Corea was a enormous character of the media field in Sri Lanka. He was well known not only in Sri Lanka, but right across the Indian Sub-Continent from the late 1950s to the 1970s – this was in the heyday of Radio Ceylon, the oldest radio station in South Asia
As a Radio Ceylon Face Book Fan, I am so proud to mentioned here that I got a chance to join his 10th death anniversary which was took place at the St. Paul’s – Milagiriya Church 2012, invited by his loving daughter, Ouida Corea Wickramarathne and his loving Son Ivan Corea.
Further, I will appreciate the invaluable co-operation of our friend Chris Marlon Perera to made this presentation to the Chairman of the station.’
May Sujeewa’s soul rest in peace………
These are the funeral arrangements for Sujeewa Prasad – people could pay their respects at the burial at Maharagama Cemetery at 3 pm on Sunday 26th October 2014.
Nimal Mendis who was a close friend of Vernon Corea mentions Vernon Corea and Radio Ceylon in this feature.
Memories of Ceylon- Remember Nimal Mendis- Udarata Menike
Nimal Mendis – dared to dream
Recently I got in touch with Nimal Mendis, a veteran composer of hits such as Master Sir, Nim Him Sewva and Ganga Addara. He has been living in Britain for many decades travelling to and from Sri Lanka to write those hits that have proved extremely popular.
When I emailed him I received the following reply.
“Thank you very much for your email. Unfortunately or may be fortunately I am now in Sri Lanka. We came over three months ago and have been busy settling down here in Malabe. Hoping to be here now with an occasional visit back to London. Our son worked for the BBC (TV Centre White City) for seven years as a sound/video editor and he too is now here with us.
There is outstanding talent in Sri Lanka, especially in some of the young musicians and singers here today and we are quite amazed that they have not got on to the world stage as yet. One thing we are determined to accomplish is to try and do our best to help these young artists.”
This is the man, as a young lad from Sri Lanka who dared to dream that he was good enough to perform with the best in the West. An impossible dream at the time!
He would swim along the coastline at “Bambalawatte” (Bambalapitiya) as it was called then, gazing at the sky on his back dreaming his dream. Just out of school at Royal College he filled in his music ambitions playing the piano for the Harold Seneviratne Combo. He said that they used to be paid Rs 10 a night and Rs 15 for an all-night gig at the ‘Pigalle’ night club in Colpetty.
He came from a family that viewed the world with an anglicised professionalism and the house was filled with the atmosphere of western classical music, art and literature, although it was also infused with everything Sri Lankan, especially in the world of art philosophy and politics. There were discussions of Ghandian and Nehru values. His mother was the first author in Sri Lanka to write in English and her first book was published in London in 1929. His father was an inventor – inventor of the now famous brand of “Mendis Special” that reached great heights through its development by his brother, Walter M Mendis.
The Mendis family was a set of liberals, five children making their mark in different spheres and the youngest Nimal, who dared to dream a tall dream into the entertainment world. Nimal said, “It must have been the `gene jewels’ we inherited from my father and mother. The liberalism of his parents is what enabled the young Nimal to convince his parents to send him to England, initially to study accountancy. However, there was a manipulation that took place because after an year of accountancy studies in London he was playing the piano in sophisticated restaurants and writing songs and composing music. The seeds were sown of the dream he dared to dream.
His first big break came when he was playing the piano at the Ceylon Students Centre. He had formed a group called `The Kandyans’. Mano Chanmugam on piano accordian, Anura on Kandyan drums, and Subra de Silva as the singer in the group.
Nimal played piano and also sang. The piano was in the restaurant and after meals the manageress allowed them to practise there while Sri Lankan students and their guests drank coffee or tea. While they were practising one of Nimal’s songs a young woman came up to them an inquired about the song.
She was Mary Marshall an up and coming English singer. The song was “Kiss Kiss Kiss” and it went on to be a huge hit in Sri Lanka played regularly over the airwaves by the late Vernon Corea, Livy Wijemane and Jimmy Bharucha, the veteran broadcasters of then Radio Ceylon.
It did well in England too but soon after Mary married a successful agent in the entertainment industry, she left England and went to live in the Channel Islands.
After 40 years Mary is in contact with Nimal again. Her daughter had seen some of his work on Sinhala Juke Box on the internet and emailed him. Although Mary had faded out from the music scene in London she was involved in a lot of charity work in the Channel Islands. Mary always kept her interest of ‘Ceylon’ and when the tsunami occurred collected funds for an organisation dealing with the victims. of the tsunami.
“Kiss Kiss Kiss” has still an occasional play on the SLBC.
String of hits
A string of hits followed when Nimal came back to Sri Lanka for a short spell. Kandyan Express, Butterfly in the rain, Cherry Blossom Tree, Champagne Blues, Oh My Lover and Goodnight Kisses, all with the Harold Seneviratne Combo and singers such as Ciff Foenander, Sandra Edema and the Jay Brothers. The dream beckoned him back to the bright lights of London and Nimal became a successful musician of the sixties in London.
Although he did not share the fame of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones he held his own as a Sri Lankan with his singing partner Sandra Edema who was now also searching stardom in London. They teamed up and were on’ Top of the Pops”, the famous British TV show at the time and “Beat Club” and even the more successful TV show in Germany that was viewed by millions on the continent of Europe. Nimal Mendis is one of the two Sri Lankan artistes to sing on BBC Top of the Pops. The other singer is Bill Forbes who lives in Yorkshire. Nimal said that he was searching for over 30 years to get a clip of the performance on “Beat Club” and there it was two weeks ago on the internet. He managed to get a copy which is of good quality and is hoping that a TV company in Sri Lanka will pick it up for airing.
The stars came out to sing for BBC Music singing ‘God only knows’ which was an absolute hit.The song was written in 1966 by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher for the Beach Boys. Legendary broadcaster Vernon Corea played ‘God Only Knows’ over his radio programmes on Radio Ceylon in 1966. In the 1970s and 1980s he was the BBC’s Ethnic Minorities Adviser and promoted Asian Music over the airwaves of the BBC.
Sri Lankan writer Nandana Karunanayake has mentioned broadcaster Vernon Corea in his book ‘Broadcasting in Sri Lanka: Potential and Performance, ‘ published by the Centre for Media and Policy Studies in 1990. The book refers to Vernon Corea being appointed Director News of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.
Nandana Karunanayake also goes on to mention in his bibliography that Vernon Corea contributed a feature on Commercial Radio Ceylon to the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) Newsletter in October 1969. (Pages 13-16)