Vegetarian Sri Lanka – Photos and Recipes From the Spice Island

by Sala @ Veggie Belly on March 25, 2014

Golden Buddha at Dambulla

My recent trip to Sri Lanka was a dream come true. My grandfather as well as my husband’s grandfather had business ties in Sri Lanka. When he was a young man, my grandfather worked in Colombo. I grew up hearing stories about this beautiful island – stories of colonial bungalows, lush tea estates, Hindu temples, and train rides. I am so excited that I finally was able to make the trip to the spice island and experience its magic for myself.

Vegetarian food in Sri Lanka was easy to find. I found plenty of delicious vegetarian local dishes. Food in Sri Lanka was comfortingly familiar. Rice and coconut feature heavily in Sri Lankan cuisine, just like in South India. But unlike India, they use pandan leaves in cooking, and treat it just like curry leaves.

If you are a vegetarian traveling to Sri Lanka, here are some must-eats..

Vegetarian lunch - Red rice, chili pickle, snake gourd with coconut milk, water spinach, beetroot curry, dal curry and papadam

 

A Vegetarian’s Guide to Sri Lanka

Rice and Curry – This is a staple in Sri Lanka and you will find plenty of vegetarian options. During my trip, I had dal curry, jackfruit curry, snake gourd curry, potato curry, coconut milk curry scented with pandan, pumpkin curry, beetroot curry and cashew curry. If you are a vegetarian and you like rice and curry, you will never be hungry in Sri Lanka!

Sambal – Sambal is a spicy condiment made of crushed red chillies and is ubiquitous on the island at meal time. There are many kinds of Sambal. Lunu miris sambal is made with red chillies, onion, lemon and salt. Pol sambal is made with fresh shredded coconut and red chillies. Katta sambal contains caramelized onions and chillies.

Hoppers – I could eat Sri Lankan hoppers every meal of every day. These bowl shaped rice and coconut milk crepes (Appa) are an iconic breakfast item. Hoppers come in many kinds. I tried honey hoppers sweetened with local honey, egg hoppers, curry leaf hoppers, beet hoppers and spinach hoppers. String hoppers (Idiappa) are steamed rice noodles nests and a Sri Lankan breakfast favorite.

Stuffed Roti – Flatbread stuffed and folded with spicy fillings (vegetarian easily available) are a common street food. Roti is cheap, filling and a great snack.

Kotthu Roti – This street food was my all time favorite. Kotthu roti means “chopped” roti. Shredded rotis are mixed with vegetables and spices and stir fried. Watching street side kotthu roti makers is fun – they throw vegetables and shredded rotis on a griddle and chop them using special flat knives, making rhythmic sounds.

Sri Lankan Chinese – Yes, such a thing exists! Chinese dishes like fried rice, soups and spring rolls are common items on restaurant menus. Chinese food in Sri Lanka is adapted to suit local tastes and to use local ingredients like chillies. I particularly loved Sri Lankan Chinese chili paste – a sweet and hot paste made by sauteing crushed chillies, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and sugar. Its like a Chinese sambal! Some of these pastes contain shrimp, so ask first.

Tea – Sri Lanka is blessed with abundant rainfall and humidity that are conducive to tea growing. Not surprisingly, this tiny country is one of the world’s largest exporters of tea. In Sri Lanka, you will find regular black tea, cardamom tea, ginger tea, and tea sweetened with condensed milk.

Spices – There is an abundance of spices in Sri Lanka. The country’s cooking uses numerous spices like cinnamon, black mustard, cardamom, coriander, cumin, etc. Sri Lankan cinnamon is especially fragrant and tasty, so make sure you bring back a packet or two when you are visiting.

Street side kotthu roti shop in Sigiriya

At Chuti, a street side kotthu roti shop in Sigiriya. The owner is making my lunch.

Curd and treacle (coconut molasses)

Pots of wood apple tea and black tea brewing at a street side shack

Wattalappan – A pudding of coconut milk, jaggery, eggs and cardamom
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Coconut rotis (recipe below) and king coconuts

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View of the library from our room. Vil Uyana eco-resort, Sigiriya.

Exploring Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle

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Woman in Sri Lankan sari worshiping at Polonnaruwa

Monk at Anuradhapura Maha Bodhi Temple

Entrance to Dambulla cave temples

Dambulla cave temples

Polonnaruwa ruins

 

Coconut Roti (Pol Roti) Recipe

I had coconut roti or pol roti in Sri Lanka almost everyday for breakfast. It is the easiest flat bread you can ever make. And its vegetarian, vegan and gluten free too!

I recommend using fresh shredded coconut. There are so few ingredients in this dish, and the coconut is the highlight, so use the freshest coconuts possible. Good quality fresh frozen shredded coconut is a second option. Also remember to salt the rotis well. The salt will really enhance the coconut taste in these pol rotis.

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Flatten coconut roti dough on banana leaves or foil

The pol rotis I saw in Sri Lanka mostly had all purpose flour in them. But I prefer using rice flour, its lighter and tastier in my opinion.

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Coconut Roti Recipe
makes about 20 small (3 inch) rotis

Ingredients
1 cup rice flour. Substitute with all purpose flour
3/4 cup fresh shredded coconut
salt
oil

Method
1. Place all ingredients a large bowl. Using water, bind the flour and coconut into a slightly firm dough. When the dough is done, it should not be sticky, and have a consistency that is like chappati dough.
2. Form the dough into lemon sized balls. Take a piece of foil, a zip lock bag or a piece of fresh banana leaf. Spread it with a drop of oil. Oil your palm and fingers with a few drops of oil as well. Put a dough ball on the oiled foil/ziplock/banana leaf. Gently pat it and flatten it into a 0.3cm thick disc (see picture above).
3. Put the flattened roti on a cast iron skillet on medium heat. Put as many rotis as will fit on the skillet. Drizzle a few drops oil around the rotis. Cook, flipping a few times till both sides form brown spots. Remove from skillet and repeat for all the dough balls.
4. Serve with chutney, pickle or sambal.

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Enter for a chance to win a Sri Lankan Spice and Tea Hamper!

India shipping only!

I’ve bought back a ton of goodies from my trip to Sri Lanka and have put together a hamper for you!

One lucky winner will receive this gift hamper containing:

1. Red rice string hopper flour – so you can enjoy this Sri Lankan specialty at home
2. Unroasted curry powder – use it to make a curry for your hoppers
3. Roasted curry powder – perfect for Sri Lankan curries
4. Sri Lankan cinnamon – fat sticks of fragrant cinnamon from the island. A little goes a long way
5. Deviled cashew nuts – careful, they are hot!
6. Hand made paper bowl
7. Balisur Tea Book – Authentic Sri Lankan tea in a tin shaped like a book. You get your choice of black tea or Ceylon green tea with bergamot
8. “Rice & Curry ” a Sri Lankan cookbook by acclaimed writer, S.H.Fernando¬† – so you can put your goodies to good use :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If the Rafflecopter is not working, simply leave a comment below and you are entered!

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Comments

comments

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Hiru March 25, 2014 at 5:15 am

Curry Powder it is!!!

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2 Rosa March 25, 2014 at 5:16 am

A wonderful place to visit! Great food and gorgeous landscapes.

Cheers,

Rosa

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3 Siri March 25, 2014 at 5:40 am

What a lovely post Sala. I would do anything to get that hamper. :D Beautiful pictures as always.

Siri

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4 Thangalakshmi March 25, 2014 at 5:52 am

Cinnamon..Love its mellow flavours in desserts and bold punch in curries!

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5 Karishma March 25, 2014 at 6:29 am

So many, many similiarities with Kerala cuisine! We have the exact same roti, called Orotti. Also same string hoppers, called idiyappam. And a sweet just like wattalappam, minus the egg, called kalathappam. Its so amazing and nice to see how similiar we are! Lovely writeup and pics…

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Sala @ Veggie Belly Reply:

Very true, there are a lot of similarities between Sri Lankan and Keralan food. They also have pittu (puttu), kiri hodi (similar to ishtu), Aappa (appam). And Sri Lanka looks exactly like Kerala too!

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6 Aishwarya March 25, 2014 at 8:00 am

A teardrop in the Indian ocean – Srilanka…The similarities of the cuisine to our very own kerala clearly show a deep connection that’s way beyond just trade ties from bygone days. Fascinating showcase of a beautiful country through your lenses Sala. Would be thrilled to win the hamper.

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7 sathya March 25, 2014 at 8:36 am

I fell in love with your pictures sala .Hope you had a nice trip to srilanka.

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8 sathya March 25, 2014 at 8:36 am

I fell in love with your pictures sala .Hope you had a nice trip to srilanka.Fantastic rotis too

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9 Rashmi March 25, 2014 at 9:48 am

Lovely writeup.. The pictures looked very refreshing..

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10 Linsy Patel March 25, 2014 at 11:00 am

Kashmiri red pepper powder is my favoirte

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11 Ranjani March 25, 2014 at 11:03 am

These pictures are so inviting. Hope i visit Sri Lanka. Is there any resort or place that you recommend to stay there?

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12 swedhana March 25, 2014 at 1:23 pm

wonderful post and a good insight on srilankan vegetarian delicacies.

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13 Emma March 25, 2014 at 3:29 pm

Ace pics! I would love to visit Sri Lanka some time! I hope we see some more recipes inspired by your travels, the coconut Roti look fab!

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14 Krithika March 25, 2014 at 3:47 pm

Cardamom mmmmmmmmmmmmm

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15 Shreelekha Gogate March 25, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Great post. Always have loved the beauty that nature has bestowed on Lanka.Nice to know about veggi food and plenty of options. Informative post.thanks.

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16 Priya March 25, 2014 at 6:28 pm

I had been to Sri Lanka last year and absolutely loved the food. I wish to go back to Nuwara Eliya with my husband again and try my hand at some more SL food! The hamper looks drool worthy! :) Very very nice pictures. Thanks for sharing!

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17 Anu March 25, 2014 at 6:43 pm

I love your pictures!! Would love to win the hamper so I can try my hand at this yummy cuisine !

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18 Georgette Helton March 25, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Thanks for your time….Nice giveaway

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19 Manju March 25, 2014 at 8:44 pm

Lovely post and some amazing pictures!!!
The Sri Lankan cuisine looks like a close cousin of Kerala’s….everything looks delicious.
The roasted curry powder sounds very interesting …..

So many exotic locations close home that we never would have imagined!!!!

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20 Hemangi March 25, 2014 at 8:45 pm

Good Post.

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21 Ashika March 25, 2014 at 10:17 pm

This post makes me wanna go to Srilanka. Sigh.

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22 veni March 25, 2014 at 10:26 pm

Wow…beautiful location, recipe and pictures..
you rock in this Srilanka trip..

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23 Sini March 25, 2014 at 10:50 pm

Nice post..My favorite is cardamom :) .. Thanks for the giveaway!

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24 Babitha costa March 25, 2014 at 11:41 pm

love to visit there soon

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25 Uma March 26, 2014 at 2:56 am

Hi Sala, loved reading your article, Vegetarian Sri Lanka. Reading it really took me to Sri Lanka and back, I felt like I was there. The pictures are stunning and well captured. I love the one with the lady in the sari. Really great idea and nice of you to giveaway the free hamper full of Sri Lankan goodies. I’d really like to win it. Its nice to get something free!

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26 Saniel March 26, 2014 at 5:54 am

Cumin makes everything better. Love it thanks.

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27 Patricia March 26, 2014 at 7:19 am

What a beautiful trip you had to Sri Lanka! Thank you for sharing the coconut roti……love that they are gluten free!

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28 Chaitra March 26, 2014 at 12:16 pm

I love Cinnamon to the core. I can’t tell you how restless i feel if i do not have my daily dose of cinnamon green tea flavored with honey.

Love

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29 Jaya March 26, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Cardamom is my favorite!

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30 Dharani March 26, 2014 at 10:01 pm

Is it safe for Indian Tamils to go to Srilanka ?
Hope you made a courageous trip.

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31 Bernie B March 26, 2014 at 10:24 pm

Great Post! The Pol Roti looks great. What about some recipes for the sensational Singhalese Eggplant curry? I also love the Tamil food..Rasam, Sambar, Dosa, Dahl – will these be coming soon?
Thanks, Bernie
Melbourne

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32 Laavanya March 27, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Sounds like a lovely trip Sala and the pictures are awesome…. the food reminds me of Malaysian food quite a bit :)

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33 Anu March 27, 2014 at 9:20 pm

Hi Sala!

My favourite spice would have to be Cardamom… And that rice plate with the curries shows the perfect portion control in my opinion :)
Srilanka is on one of my must visit places :)

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34 pavithra March 28, 2014 at 6:25 am

Lovely writeup and beautiful pictures as always :) coconut roti reminds me of my favorite akki roti .definitely going to try your recipe soon…my favorite spice would be green cardamom and white pepper :)

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35 Hippy Mom March 28, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Wow, welcome to the OM Dome Vacation. How beautiful…

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Hippy Mom Reply:

i love the spice spirulina, kelp, garlic and more….

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36 Stephanie March 29, 2014 at 3:21 pm

Your photos of Sri Lanka are breath taking! I would love to explore this beautiful country’s culture and food!

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37 kum March 29, 2014 at 8:13 pm

Wow! Sri lanka is so beautiful…

Coconut roti is so similar to akki roti(rice flour rottis), which are very popular in Karnataka cuisine. Yesterday, I had Akki rottis with coconut chutney for brunch…

Blog : global vegan fare

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