Sri Lankan culture is one of the oldest cultures in the world that survived continuously for many millennia, according to the historians, Sri Lanka was inhabited even during the Stone Age period and the Stone Age man, who lived on the island is known as Homo sapiens Balangodensis. The descendants of the very Stone Age man still live in some parts of the island and called Vedda community or Vannila aththo.
The first king of Sri Lanka was the King Vijaya and ruled the country in 6th century BC, since then the island was ruled by many kings, rulers and missionaries, soldiers, traders, explorers and trickle of nature lovers have come and gone, however, they have left a part of their different traditions, cultures and practices, made the Sri Lankan culture more vibrant, like adding different taste and aroma to the Sri Lankan delicious rice and curry with various spices.
Food culture is one of the key areas where the Sri Lankan tradition and culture is given a distinct place. Food is one of the most important things for the people of Sri Lanka; they do have special care about things they have on their meals, and most people stick to rice and curry kind of traditional items as much as possible.
When it comes to drinks it is Tea all the time, in fact, Sri Lanka produces the best Tea in the world, better known as Ceylon Tea. As a matter of fact, people of Sri Lanka serves a cup of Tea on the first-hand, when they get a visitor, it is like a traditional way of greeting. A visitor will never be allowed to leave the house without drinking a cup of tea and having a snack, at least a cup of Tea.
It might be a daunting task to find Sri Lankan food outlet in most foreign countries, therefore taking a Sri Lanka food tour is the best way to experience the rich culinary heritage of Sri Lanka during your Sri Lanka trip. If you are wondering what extent the Sri Lankan food has a foreign influence, I would say it is well over 50%, people of Sri Lanka have borrowed the knowhow of Portuguese, Dutch, English, Arabian, Indian, Chinese when they cook a large number of food items. Perhaps this foreign presence in Sri Lankan kitchen is the main secret for its amazing blend of flavour and aroma of its food.
People of Sri Lanka serve food either in plates or Banana leaf, serving food in banana leaf is much traditional and it adds a pleasing aroma to the food too. Sharing food is a common habit of Sri Lankan people; therefore food has essential social aspects.
It is rarely the foreign travellers leave the island without being hooked by traditional Sri Lankan cuisine, many of the visitors find the Sri Lankan food is spicy but delicious, most traveller especially falls in love with seafood dishes, of which Sri Lanka has plenty. Some people say that Indian food is a little bit similar to Sri Lankan dishes, but I doubt the claim because Sri Lankan does not use a lot of oil when they prepare food like Indians, on the other hand, Sri Lankan use many spices and condiments to prepare food. Therefore Sri Lanka is the best place to taste the authentic Sri Lankan food and Sri Lankan food cannot be substituted by Indian or Thai food.
Sri Lankan cuisine can be largely divided into five schools:
Royal dishes- The royal dishes originated from the king’s palace’s kitchen, where the food was prepared for the kings and it’s retinue in the bygone era. The elegant names that provide wings to the imagination, perfect mix of spices and condiments and traditional cooking method that prove to be preserving the natural hue, aroma and taste are principal hallmarks of the royal dishes.
Local Cuisine– Several different cooking schools originated on the island due to the cultural differences, folklore and climate differences. Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka, Southern Sri Lanka, Kandy ad central province and western province are considered as the main four schools. The food varieties coming from the northern part of Sri Lanka shows totally different characteristics against the food prepared in Southern Sri Lanka, these cuisines have absorbed the Hindu influence and show some similarities to food available in southern India.
The cuisine coming from southern Sri Lanka are more authentic and traditional, however, some food items prepared in these areas shows the European influence, because the southern region of Sri Lanka was under the Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial rulers for many centuries. Fishing is a major industry in southern Sri Lanka, which led the rise of southern Sri Lankan cooking style majoring seafood. Even today the seafood recipes coming from southern coastal belt considered to be the finest to prepare seafood varieties.
Ethnic Dishes –Sri Lanka is an ethnic melting pot, where a large number of ethnic groups living together. The ethnic dishes were first introduced by minor ethnic groups such as moors, boras, burgers, Muslims who landed during the medieval period and later some of these ethnic dishes became a part of the recipe of other ethnic groups. However, most ethnic dishes are prepared during the festival time such as Hindu/Sinhala New Year and Ramadan; therefore such cuisines may not available throughout the year.
The monastic cuisine– Also called vegetarian dishes in Sri Lanka, Buddhism is the major religion on the island and it is the base of the Sri Lankan society. The origin of vegetarian dishes is essentially attributed to one of the five precepts of Buddhism (non-killing), which is closely observed by Buddhist monks and hard-line Buddhist devotees. This cooking style is essentially dominated by vegetable and non-meat items such as mushrooms. However, health benefits that can be reaped from vegetarian food is another reason for its popularity in the modern period, more and more health-conscious people keep away from meat dishes and make a habit of eating vegetarian food.
Some of the vegetarian dishes are prepared in such a way that they resemble the flavour and shapes of meat dishes. Monastic cuisines are health-friendly and piling-up very low carbohydrate and fat body; furthermore these dishes are very stomach-friendly as it is easy to digest. A large number of vegetarian restaurants is scattered on the island providing easy access to vegetarian food for monastic cuisines enthusiasts.
Ayurveda meals – Also known as therapeutic dishes have a long history in Sri Lanka. Ayurveda medicine and food habits have been embraced by the people of Sri Lanka, since the introduction of Ayurveda to the island in 6th century BCE, alongside with the arrival of King Vijaya. Ayurveda is an ancient healing method capable of handling most ailments. Stringent food control is a vital part of Ayurveda therapeutic system. According to Ayurveda, uncontrolled and incorrect food habits lead to various ailments, therefore, Ayurveda meals help to prevent and control various ailments by providing therapeutically effects to the body. Ayurveda meals can also be categorized under vegetarian food and serve no meat items.