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The Surprising Truth About Sri Lankan Food

The Surprising Truth About Sri Lankan Food

Important ingredients of most Sri Lankan cuisines are not native to Sri Lanka.

I wonder if you have ever been to a Sri Lankan kitchen in a village, in order to watch how Sri Lankan food is traditionally prepared. Scattered kitchen utensils made of iron, wood or leaves are a common sight in most Sri Lankan kitchen with baked clay pots in different sizes. Sri Lankan food usually being prepared using ingredients native to Sri Lanka and other South Asian countries such as India. Therefore you might feel the downgraded sharpness of chilli compared to Mexican chilli and lack starch in potatoes compared to potatoes coming from South America.

Rice and curry is the staple diet of Sri Lankan people and served for the breakfast, lunch and dinner as well. Even in every important occasion of Sri Lankan life, rice and curry take the centre stage of the food scene.

Hathmaluwa with rice is a meal eaten by most Sri Lankan families on the death anniversary of family members. The feast attended by a group of monks from then village Buddhist temple and this feast is organized as merit-making an activity for the families’ departed ancestor. Malabath which is another traditional dish of Sri Lankan people, which is the first meal prepared in Sri Lankan household after the demise of a family member is served for the attendees of the funeral, after cremation or burial.

None of these recipes includes cabbages, cauliflower, peas or carrots. But they are a delicious and healthy diet with a lot of vitamin, protein, starch and minerals. Most importantly the ingredients required to prepare these dishes can be found on the soil of Sri Lanka. Most importantly this type of dishes attached to traditional events inadvertently has been able to create a living memory of the island’s culinary history because these cuisines are prepared entirely using Sri Lankan ingredients and according to a Sri Lankan recipe that exists in the society for at least a millennium.

Colour and flavour of famous Sri Lankan red curry are coming from chilli (introduced by Portuguese), and the unique spicy flavour and colour of Chili paste and Sambol, some of the important ingredients that go into Sri Lankan cuisines are not native to Sri Lanka.

Tomatoes, carrot, potatoes, and peas, which are very common in contemporary Sri Lankan menus, arrived in the island during the Colonial era (1505 AD to 1948 AD). According to the historical information, potatoes were introduced to the island in the late 18’s by Dutch administration, primarily to feed other Europeans lived on the island with them. Today it is served in many forms such as boiled potatoes, baked, stuffed and fried potatoes.

It is believed that Chili was introduced to the island from Mexico during the Portuguese colonial era by Vasco de Gama. Today it is vastly produced throughout the island because the weather in the island is very suitable to grow this pungent spice, in fact, it is a good alternative to expensive native pepper, which needs a lot of rain than chilli to grow.

It seems that tomatoes are also making a big impact on the modern Sri Lankan culinary arena. All Sri Lankan cuisines have adopted tomatoes. Tomatoes arrived in the island through a circuitous route presumably from South America to Europe, and then to England and finally to Sri Lanka in the 16’s courtesy of British. Most curry verities such as Red curry have been popularized in the island by most local hotels and restaurants during the last 100 years and meat and fish dishes are coming with red curry sauce.

As foreign invaders, traders have come and gone, Sri Lankan kitchen has considerably changed in the past 1000 years. In most households in the island, older recipes’ prepared using local ingredients that represent Sri Lanka culture now co-exist with foreign influence from halfway across the globe. For instance, a Sri Lankan meal may include rice and curry with rasam (a thin soup made of ingredients like pepper, cumin, coriander seeds), but also served with a spicy version of stir-fried potatoes.

Most Sri Lankan food served in Sri Lankan restaurants does not show the characteristics of true indigenous dishes; however, most Sri Lankan households keep many traditional recipes handed down for generations. Sri Lankan domestic kitchen has been able to maintain the balance of older spices even with newer ingredients and showcase the nuances of the traditional culinary culture of Sri Lankan family.

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Sanjeewa Padmal (Seerendipity tours)

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