A guide to Sri Lankan Street food – here’s what to eat on your Sri Lanka tour
True discovery of a place arguably lies in the exploration of its cuisine – from home cooking to contemporary fine dining and the little snacks you can savour on street corners.
Sri Lanka’s street eats are somewhat unknown – though we contest they are some of the country’s hidden gems. Considering the vast amount of food options that are available on the island, it is no wonder all the unique little delicacies on the streets are often missed. When we travel we love to taste as much of the local food as we can. And having explored most of the hidden corners of Sri Lanka’s large cities and dropped by the little cafes in rural hideouts on every possible journey, let us say we have a fairly good knowledge of the ‘yummiest’ of all of Sri Lanka’s snacks and street eats!
So what can you expect to see and taste during a private tour of Sri Lanka? Serious foodies might consider our new itinerary – Sri Lankan Food Trail – with its dedicated focus to the culinary delights of Sri Lanka. If your tour of Sri Lanka has a more general focus, here’s a quick guide to ten of the must try Sri Lankan street foods, so that you can look for them on your travels.
10 Sri Lankan street foods too sink your teeth into
Wadai comes in many varieties, however the base is always a type of lentil or legume. Two of the popular types are Prawn Wadai – ‘Isso Wadai’ and Lentil Wadai – ‘Parippu Wadai’. A street food not to be missed and widely found in any large city or small city. The embellished prawns in the Wadai (lentil cake) makes it appear like a piece of gem studded jewellery minus the glitter. For great wadai it’s all about the crunch.
#2 Koththu Roti
Quintessentially Sri Lankan is the Koththu Roti – a firm favourite of the locals and never to missed. The essence of Koththu Roti is really in the making of course. A thin pancake made out of wheat flour is shredded into pieces and mixed with vegetables, eggs and meat. A thick creamy curry sauce is poured into the mixture while the chopping continues. The excitement is in the process as the chef/ roti maker splashes and chops rhythmically on a metal board creating a lively loud rhythmic sound. The Koththu bursting in flavour is served steaming hot. If you are not really up to the spiced-up version go for the milder, cheesy version – ever so delicious.
#3 Chinese Rolls
Sri Lankans love their snacks – generally referred to as short-eats – and Chinese rolls are among the favourites. Well there is nothing really Chinese about it, perhaps the idea may have originated from spring rolls. The Chinese roll is a stuffed pancake (generally the stuffing is a mix of canned tuna and mashed potatoes stir fired in a mix of spices and curry leaves). The pancake is rolled up with the stiffing and the corners sealed, covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried. We love to eat this with a splash of tomato sauce.
You will find that local homes take pride in serving Chinese rolls for evening tea along with other short eats.
#4 ‘Patis’ – Pattie
Yet another favourite short-eat and very unique to Sri Lanka. Pastry generally filled with tuna fish and mashed potato mix though there is a vegetarian version or a meat option, especially beef and mutton variations. The patis is either deep fried or baked to perfection and served hot as it comes out on the frying pan.
No trip to Sri Lanka is complete unless you try hoppers. Appa, as the locals call it, is generally served in homes for breakfast or dinner and to be found on street food corners as the clock turns 5.00 p.m. The cooks swirl the pancake mixture in a small heated wok. It is definitely one of those highly skilled jobs and not something everyone can do. The hoppers have a couple of variations, plain, egg– firm favourite of ours – and honey hopper (Panni Appa). The plain/egg hoppers must be devoured with combo of relishes (Coconut relish, Lunumiris – a thick paste made out of onions and chilli) and the curries of course- dhal, chicken or any type of meat. We particularly like the dark curried dishes as it rejuvenates the mild creamy flavours of hoppers. A drizzling of honey or sprinkling of butter and palm sugar is another unique option. Many hotels offer a Sri Lankan breakfast option and hoppers are likely to be among the choices. If you don’t get a chance to try a hopper when you are out and about be sure to order it for breakfast one morning at your hotel.
#6 Fish buns
A Sri Lankan fish bun is a pastry baked with stuffed tuna and potato curry mix. Any local bakery across the country will have a range of fish buns in varied shapes and sizes. In larger cities you are likely to come across more healthy variations, i.e. made of wholemeal flour. These are great for a snack on the go, especially if you are looking for a light lunch coupled with some fruits.
#7 ‘Coco’ bun or ‘Kimbula’ bun
Kids love this quick snack. It is the Sri Lankan version of a Vienna roll. Soft inside and crispy outside with a good sprinkling of sugar crystals that tend to melt away in the heat of the afternoon, making it caramelly and gooey. Once again it is available in local bakeries and great as a filling snack on the go.
#8 Tea buns
Sri Lankan tea buns are readily available in most places including local bakeries and the supermarkets. Soft and sweet, it is an ideal accompaniment with a cup of good, strong Ceylon tea. We love all the variants including the ones embellished with sultanas and the cream buns (two smaller buns married together with a thick buttery cream). A good option to keep a few in your bag if you are travelling within the country between destinations.
A truly Sri Lankan delicacy made the old-fashioned traditional way. You may not find this everywhere and if you do get a chance to taste, you will not regret having a few of them for sure. Simply put it is a wrap made out of rice flour and stuffed with a delicious mix of coconut and honey. However, the making of Laveriya is much more complex than our description! If you are travelling into rural Sri Lanka, make sure to look for this delicacy or perhaps even ask your hotel if they can prepare this for you to taste. We promise you won’t regret it!
One of our firm favourites and healthier than some of the other options too. Once again you may not find this everywhere as it is a traditional Sri Lankan food that was part of breakfast or afternoon tea. Made out of millet flour and stuffed with a combination of coconut and honey and then wrapped in a locally found leaf and steamed to perfection.
These Sri Lankan street foods can be found quite easily in local bakeries and local restaurants. Bakeries are easy to find and quite common in Sri Lanka, especially the bigger cities. They are great as snacks on the go or to give you energy and fill up between meals. In our experience, these snacks are generally prepared on the morning they are sold at the bigger bakeries. And for most street vendors you can see them being prepared. For more information about eating in Sri Lanka and health tips – visit our Sri Lanka FAQs page.
You may also like to visit our Hotels We Love page to find out what are the best hotels in Sri Lanka. And our Sri Lanka travel blog covers topics from wildlife to beach stays to eating in Sri Lanka.
For foodies our other blogs – A guide to eating in Sri Lanka and Here’s why you should add a Sri Lankan cooking class to your itinerary – may whet your appetite for a tour of Sri Lanka.
Additionally, those that are keen to explore the street snacks of Sri Lanka, ask us to include our insiders city tour – our Colombo Street Food Walking Tour – in your customised Sri Lanka itinerary.