Sri Lanka: regional cuisines

Sri Lanka is an island nation of over 22 million people, yet somehow, until very recently, I knew very little about the cuisine. I think if the average person were asked what Sri Lankan cuisine was, they’d have no idea how to even respond, which is so sad considering how rich, varied, and scrumptious it is. I knew about some of its overlaps with south Indian cuisine, in the form of hoppers, rotis, and parathas, but I knew nothing else prior to this trip. Like in a lot of cultures around the world, Lankan cuisine is one of those that can be frustrating because a lot of what native Sri Lankan people love about specific dishes… is specific to the recipes/methods their mothers, grandmothers, and family members have. While sambal may be a common accompaniment to meals in Sri Lanka, the flavor profile can vary greatly from one restaurant to another, one household to another.

One of the places that is especially renowned within Sri Lanka for its cuisine is Jaffna, the capital city of the Northern Province of the country. It’s where the complex and delicious red jaffna curry that came with our crab at Mayura Hotel originates from. And given its coastal location, Jaffna is famous for fresh seafood mixed with lots of aromatic spices, plus tons and tons of freshly grated coconut and coconut milk. Although we didn’t have a chance to visit Jaffna, having that crab curry at Mayura Hotel was definitely a tasty hint of what we could expect on a future trip there.

One place we had a late lunch at during our last full day in Colombo was Culture Colombo, a relatively new, modern Sri Lankan restaurant that attempts to showcase multiple regional cuisines under a single roof. One of the most memorable dishes of our entire trip was another crab curry we had here, which was called kakuluwo Negombo kramayata. The description read: freshly caught crab (350g) marinated and slow cooked according to a unique recipe of an authentic household in Negombo. Negombo is a city that is about a 6.5-hour train ride north of Colombo. It’s also a popular beach destination that is known for super fresh crabs. The Negombo crab curry we had at Culture Colombo was just as delicious, if not more, as the jaffna crab curry at Mayura hotel. This was really light, silky, and extremely aromatic. It almost has a floraly, grassy flavor at the end. I could also tell that it was lightly spiced with cinnamon, which was a slightly sweet touch. Chris said he could just drink this curry broth/soup endlessly and not even eat the crab!

Sri Lankan cuisine is lesser known and under appreciated. Although many of the flavors overlap with parts of India, it’s clearly its own cuisine. I hope we will have more opportunities in the future to taste more of what this beautiful country has to offer for our tummies.

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