10 Sri Lankan Curry Dishes You Absolutely Have to Try in Sri Lanka
WARNING: This blog post will make you hungry.
Best eaten by hand, rice & curry, in Sri Lanka is our staple meal. But don’t get fooled by the name. It isn’t only one curry as the name suggests. It’s usually three, or four….or ten. “TEN CURRIES…???” Yes, absolutely. We are a nation that takes pride in our curry dishes. Colourful and a feast for the eyes, Sri Lankan curry dishes are rich in island spices and exploding with flavours. Usually, a plate of rice & curry contains rice in the centre and a few curries placed around it. Although curry dishes are often eaten with rice, we love to substitute rice with flatbreads (think of roti, egg roti and Indian-influenced paratha) and bread (roast paan, loaves of bread named as paan or kade paan), and our own stringhoppers and hoppers.
When we went to Upali’s Colombo a few days back, we had the opportunity to try an array of curry dishes and instead of rice, we chose our humble roast paan. At Upali’s, one of the go-to restaurants in Colombo for authentic Sri Lankan cuisine, we even had the pleasure of sneaking into their kitchen to see how some of their curries are made. In this post, we are talking about ten Sri Lankan curry dishes that you absolutely have to try once you are here.
- Maalu Oluwa (Fish Head Curry)
This was Zin’s absolute favourite as she’s a huuuge fan of fish and all kinds of seafood. One of their most popular dishes, and usually enough for four people, the mullet (Gal Maaluwa) head is cooked for about 20 minutes in rich coconut milk blended with Sri Lankan spices. The curry is then served in a big clay bowl, and seasoned with okra, eggplant, tomatoes and drumsticks to enhance the flavours and its appearance. As we were inside the kitchen looking at the curry turns into its perfect texture, the aromas tingled our noses with pure joy. A spice-loving-nation, our dishes are often prepared using the most common spices. Turmeric, chilli, mustard seeds, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin seeds and nutmeg are to name a few.
Did you know that you can combine about 20 spices safely to enhance both flavour and aroma?
- Yapane Kakuluwo (Jaffna Crab Curry)
Say “Jaffna Crab Curry” and it makes us flip! The authentic Jaffna Crab Curry is punchy red and peppery hot. The crab curry is never enjoyed in a civilized manner. You get all messy and considering this, at Upali’s, they give you a cute bib as well as crab cutters to make your job easier. A huge crowd pleaser, the Jaffna Crab Curry is best-prepared using the freshest crab. Nathan loves a good crab curry and growing up in Saudi Arabia, it’s one of the few dishes which kept him glued to his Northern Sri Lankan roots.
- Parippu (Lentils Curry)
Parippu aka the humble lentils curry is a must-have in our everyday plate. Sometimes, it’s part of our every single meal. A good parippu curry is served alone with almost everything in Sri Lanka. We recommend you to have a plate of stringhoppers with parippu curry and pol sambol. Trust us! You will never want to have anything else for breakfast. Perfectly scented in coconut gravy, the light-red Mysore Dhal (Masoor Dal) turns into a pleasing yellow colour with a few pinches of turmeric. Often spiced up with chilli powder, mustard seeds and saffron, chopped garlic, onions and curry leaves are used as flavouring-enhancers.
Did you know that curry leaves lower cholesterol levels?
- Kaju Sudata Uyala (Cashew Curry)
Pictured here on left: Creamy cashew curry at Upali’s Colombo. Right: Sri Lankan milk rice with cashew curry and Sri Lankan style omelette for breakfast at The Wallawwa.
Extremely creamy, oozing with flavours, the soft, nutty cashew curry we had at Upali’s turned out to be our favourite of all the curries. We loved it so much that we finished the entire dish that’s being served to us. “I found it like soft marshmallows melting inside your mouth. It’s that soft, I kid you not,” Nathan went gaga over Upali’s creamy cashew curry. Mildly spiced with turmeric and chilli powder, the melted cashews were rich in texture and will keep you coming back for more. Cashew curry is best enjoyed with rice and other curries. Once, for the first time, we had Sri Lankan milk rice with a creamy cashew curry at The Wallawwa, a boutique hotel close to the BIA Airport, and we remember our mouths rejoicing with happiness.
Let us hide under a table with shame. Urm…why though? Well, we’ve never had Sri Lankan Hathmaluwa curry before we stepped into Upali’s Colombo to collaborate with them. A traditional dish, wholesome and with its proud history over 1500 years, Hathmaluwa is prepared with seven vegetables. Multi-nutritious, this healthy vegetarian and the vegan-friendly dish is often prepared during the Avurudu (Sinhala and Tamil New Year) season at many households. The array of vegetables being used vary according to the region. At Upali’s, the chefs use ash plantain, cashew nuts, pumpkin, long beans, mushrooms, thibbatu (plate brush) and spinach.
- Haalmesso Sudata (Dried Sprats Curry)
Dried sprats, mildly treated with Sri Lankan spices are cooked with rich coconut milk until the gravy gives a thick, creamy texture. The gravy is best enjoyed with roast paan and loaves of bread (known as kade paan in Colombo) making it one of the popular staples of Upali’s menu. It’s also quite popular in Sri Lankan households to add boiled potatoes and sliced tomatoes which gives a whole different taste and appearance.
- Kukul Mas Mirisata (Sri Lankan Village Style Chicken Curry)
Welcome to the island’s favourite meaty dish. The frequently-asked for, easy-to-find Sri Lankan style chicken curry. Handsome chunks of chicken presented in a fiery red broth which is usually called gravy are every Sri Lankan’s delight. Seasoned with curry powder, chilli powder, curry leaves, lemongrass and pandan leaves to boost the aroma and taste, no photo does justice to the arsenal of Sri Lankan cuisine. The village style chicken curry at Upali’s is the same. It tastes phenomenal.
- Ala Sudata Uyala (Potato Curry)
Pictured here: Stringhoppers for breakfast with Sri Lankan potato curry and pol sambol at The Weir House in Ulapane.
Almost spicy-less, a light potato curry tastes delectable with a slice of roast paan or stringhoppers. The curry is made with coconut milk to bring out the creamy texture and its unique taste. One of the day-to-day dishes in Sri Lankan households, usually the potato curry helps offset the spicier dishes served on the table. After our hearty lunch, Deshani, who manages PR and Social Media tells us the birth story of Upali’s. This leading Sri Lankan restaurant in Colombo used to be her grandfather’s house. Interestingly, the kitchen is located at the same place where his grandfather’s kitchen was. The recipes are family-oriented. Did it ever occur to you that some of the best things, the best places are born out of love and togetherness? Love that exists within the families? Upali’s is no exception. Maybe one of the reasons why they remain as a paragon of Sri Lankan restaurant industry.
- Geta Polos (Baby Jackfruit Curry)
Pictured here on left: Geta Polos curry at Upalis. Top right: Sri Lankan rice & curry at Amba Estate. Botton right: Sri Lankan spices displayed at UTMT Hotel.
Geta Polos (young jackfruit) Ambula is loved by all the Sri Lankans. Traditionally cooked in an earthen pot for several hours, the jackfruit meat absorbs all the spices used, becomes tender and gives a fabulous taste. While not many people are able to perfect the dish, we cannot name a better accompaniment to white rice than this authentic tender jackfruit curry. A seasonal fruit, jackfruit is blended with an array of Sri Lankan spices to bring out the flavours and nose-tingling aromas.
Did you know that Jackfruit is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, vitamin B6 and fibre?
- Bandakka Curry (Okra or Ladies Finger Curry)
Pictured here: Preparing okra curry with EcoWave Travels in Arugam Bay
A slimy vegetable, some of us love okra. Some absolutely don’t. For those who love okra, it can be prepared into a fresh, light curry. A quickly cooked ladies fingers curry brings joy to many as the sliced okra remains crispy and crunchy. Usually, a mild dish, for those who love spices can include more flavour by adding pepper powder, mustard seeds and combining the dish with freshly cut tomatoes. Our last recommendation, the simple okra curry is a beautiful vegetarian and vegan option as well.
Have you tried any Sri Lankan curry? What are your favourite Sri Lankan curry dishes? Comment below and let us know!
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