Sri Lankan flavor

Sri Lanka is a unique island country that oftentimes lives in the shadow of its larger neighbor India. In terms of cuisine, a lot of people like to make blanket statements that Sri Lanka’s food is basically just a version of Indian food. That is… sort of true, but not quite. There is a lot of overlap with southern Indian cuisine, in the form of dosas, hoppers (called appam in India) and rotis/parathas/flat breads/rice. There are definitely common elements, like the prevalence of different rices, rotis/flat breads, and curries, but they are definitely different. Sri Lankan food is unique in that the food is not (overall) especially hot (like it can get in certain parts of India), but it’s extremely “in your face” with its flavors. Just on our first day, we had a number of different sambals/sambols (a spicy coconut one called pol sambol, a caramelized onion one called seeni sambol, and a spicy chili one known as lunu miris!); different types of vegetable curry with complex flavor profiles; a Jaffna curry with the crab we had at Mayura hotel; kiri hodi, a thin coconut curry that you can dip hoppers into. The variety of sambals is more akin to the variety and types we enjoyed while in Indonesia.

Sri Lankan food’s base is definitely rice, coconut, and local fruits and vegetables. Similar to East Asian cuisine, Sri Lankan food, unlike Indian food, uses pandan leaves in its curries and sauces, which I found both refreshing and delicious. Sri Lankans also love using vegetables in pickles and quick curries and stir fries; I noticed morning glory (or kong qing cai, also known as water spinach), a common East Asian leafy green vegetable with hollow, crunchy stems) being sold ubiquitously all over Central Market’s produce stalls. Sri Lankan food also uses another unique component in a lot of its dishes: Maldive fish. I later found out that this is not actually fish from the Maldives, but bonito tuna that’s been boiled and dried in the sun, then shredded. It’s added to various dishes to add a level of savoriness to each bite. I saw endless piles and bins of dried Maldive fish all over the markets and streets of Kandy.

Unfortunately, outside of Sri Lanka and Staten Island in New York, which has the largest Sri Lankan population outside of Sri Lanka, it’s nearly impossible for us to find Sri Lankan food and groceries. I did befriend someone on Instagram who happened to be married to a Lankan, and she told me that Melbourne, Australia, actually has a suburb where you can easily find not only Sri Lankan restaurants, but food and grocery. This got me excited for our next trip back to Melbourne and further exploring the delicious world of Lankan flavor!

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