Some Like it Hot: Foods of Sri Lanka and The Maldives

Standard Sri Lankan foods are spicy and it is advised to approach curries with caution - while all seafood is a staple of both the Maldives and the Sri Lanka.

Some Like it Hot: Foods of Sri Lanka and The Maldives

Food Facts

Tastes: Hot, hot, hot!
Tea, fish, rice flavoured with chilli, coconut milk & aromatic spices
Top Dishes: 
Seeni Sambol – a sweet curry made with dried tuna fish. 
Serving Suggestion: 
Order your curry mild and washed down with raa, a coconut toddy.

Standard Sri Lankan foods are spicy and it is advised to approach curries with caution! There are many vegetables, fruits, meats and seafoods in store for the intrepid traveller. Continental, Chinese, Indian and Japanese menus are often available in Colombo. A specialty is basic curry, made with coconut milk, sliced onion, green chilli, aromatic spices such as cloves, and nutmeg, cinnamon and saffron and aromatic leaves.

Fish and rice are the staple foods of Maldivians with meat and chicken eaten only on special occasions. National dishes include fried fish, fish curry and fish soup. Arecanut (an oval nut chewed with betel leaf, cloves and lime) is the equivalent of an after-dinner mint. Alcohol is only available in tourist resorts. The local brew is raa, a sweet and delicious toddy tapped from the crown of the palm trunk. Apart from coconuts, there are very few fruits and vegetables grown on the islands, so most of the food served at tourist resorts is imported.

Tea remains a major export for Sri Lanka. It grows on a bush and is pruned back to about one meter in height. Groups of Tamil tea pluckers (all women) move through the rows of bushes picking the leaves and the buds. These are then ‘withered’ either in the old fashioned multistory tea factories or in modern mechanised troughs. The partly dried leaves are then crushed, which starts a fermentation process. The art in making tea is knowing when to stop the fermentation, by ‘firing’ the tea to produce the final, brown-black leaf. Tours of tea plantations and factories are readily available all over Sri Lanka. Popular factories you can visit include The Dambatene Tea Factory, the Labookellie high grown tea factory and the Pedro Tea Estate which are all situated up in The Hill Country.

Seeni Sambol is one of the region’s rare dishes that is both sweet and hot. Although Sri Lankans like their food to be spicy, sugar (seeni) is added to Seeni Sambol to give it that special taste, and to take the sting out of the hot chilli.

Recipe for Seeni Sambol


Sliced Onions 200g
Maldive Fish 200g
Green Chillies 4
Ground dry Red Chilly 1 tablespoon
Coconut Milk 300ml
Coconut Oil 4 tablespoons
Sugar 2 tablespoon
Bay leaf


1. Add the chopped green chilli and onion to the warm oil and fry.

2. Add the Maldive fish and continue heating.

3. Add the coconut milk, red chilly garlic salt and sugar. Heat until most of the coconut milk has evaporated.

4. Serve with rice.

Note: Maldive fish is a tuna fish preserve made in the Maldives. It should be available in your local Maldivian, Indian or Sri Lankan shop. If Maldive fish is not available you can try dried prawns. However it’s possible to prepare this dish without it. Dairy milk can be used instead of coconut milk, but the real Sri Lankan flavour usually comes with the coconut milk.

More Information

Asia Sri Lanka
Recipes for numerous classic national curries


Portal to various commercial Ceylon tea websites

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