Lush, tropical Sri Lanka was once a main stop along historic
spice trading routes, and its culinary heritage generously blends
Indian, Portuguese, Dutch and British influences as a result. No
wonder, then, that the country is still regarded as a destination
for the adventurous gourmand. To learn more about the basics of Sri
Lankan cuisine - as well as the dishes that all travellers simply
must try - we spoke with Dharshan Munidasa. A Japanese-born, Sri
Lankan chef, restaurateur behind award-winning eateries Ministry of
Crab, Kaema Sutra and Nihonbashi, and television host of popular
series Culinary Journeys, he's quite the local
luminary…and has no shortage of tips on what to sample when
visiting the 'Pearl of the Indian Ocean'.
Chef Dharshan Munidasa (centre)
opened Ministry of Crab with cricketing legends Kumar
Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene © Ministry of
While many people assume that Sri Lankan and South Indian
cooking are almost synonymous, Chef Munidasa cautions against such
generalisations. "Sri Lankan cuisine is the distant cousin of South
Indian cuisine, but the curries are not as heavy. Our cuisine is
original when it comes to the spices used, as well as our dishes:
crab is our speciality, and the hopper (bowl-shaped pancakes made
with coconut milk and palm batter) is one dish that's unique to Sri
The hopper is a dish that's
unique to Sri Lanka © Ministry of
Hoppers and string hoppers (nests of rice flour noodles)
certainly rank among the local classics, as do dokottu
rotis (chopped up pancakes fried with meat and vegetables),
pittu (flour and coconut funnel cakes) and the
Dutch-influenced lamprais, which consists of boiled
eggs, aubergine, Dutch-style meatballs, and chilli. And a friendly
word of caution: Sri Lanka's fiery curries, which are typically
made from coconut milk with a variety of spices and chillies thrown
in, may test your pain threshold.
Any tour of Sri Lankan cuisine
simply must include chilli crab © Ministry of
If your weakness is seafood, a must-try is the local clay pot
prawn curry, served with traditional wood-fired kade
bread; chilli crab, daubed in spicy peppers, is another good bet.
And for those eager to try a local favourite, pepper crab is a fine
choice - particularly as black pepper is native to the island.
Coconut-based pol sambol is a
supremely popular side dish © Ministry of
And don't forget about the condiments and side dishes.
Coconut-based pol sambol is an excellent accompaniment -
it's a richly flavoured mix of shredded coconut, chilli powder,
lime juice, onions, and salt. Maldive fish (salty, sun-dried tuna)
is also used in many dishes, though make sure to be sparing, as
it's quite potent. And for a popular snack - particularly when
enjoying a tipple - turn to Sri Lanka's so-called 'devilled'
dishes, which see your protein of choice prepared with a
relentlessly spicy sauce filled with chunks of onion and
Garlic prawns are redolent of
flavour and spice © Ministry of
For those looking to really dig into Sri Lankan seafood staples,
Chef Munidasa's restaurants are an excellent starting point.
Ministry of Crab was founded in partnership with cricketing legends
Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene and, true to the
restaurant's name, Sri Lankan Lagoon Crab is the must-order dish.
At Kaema Sutra, Chef
Munidasa's newest restaurant, the focus is on contemporary Sri
Lankan cuisine, featuring a bounty of locally sourced ingredients.
Fish and coconut, not surprisingly, make regular appearances on the
As for Chef Munidasa's personal recommendations? His favourite
place to eat in Sri Lanka is the Galle Face Green stretch, which he
describes as "a kilometre-long line of vendors, where you can
sample an array of Sri Lankan street food and watch the
Sunsets and seafood? You don't have to preach to the choir.