First time in Sri Lanka? You will love these Sri Lankan seafood dishes!

Best Sri Lankan seafood dishes
Photo by Jérôme Decq

Sampling freshly-caught Sri Lankan seafood during your holiday in Sri Lanka is every foodie’s dream come true — this island nation has some unusual and scrumptious eats!

It’s relatively easy to find vegetarian and vegan-friendly food in Sri Lanka too, but travellers tend to come in numbers from all parts for the world-famous Sri Lankan seafood dishes that have impressed globally-renowned celebrity chefs, including the likes of Anthony BourdainMarco Pierre and Peter Kuruvita.

Sri Lanka’s cuisine varies from region to region and the island’s different ethnic groups have their own takes of what may look like similar dishes to visitors.

Freshly-caught wild tuna, prawn, crab, lobster, seer fish, cuttlefish, and many other types of seafood are cooked up in a multitude of ways, bringing out the tropical island flavour in each dish.

Here are some of the best Sri Lankan seafood dishes, which you’re sure to enjoy.

Jaffna Crab Curry

Spicy and messy to eat, foodies must knock this divine-tasting crab dish off their list of top things to eat when in Sri Lanka. Jaffna, the once war-ravaged city in Sri Lanka’s Tamil-dominated northern province, was off-limits to visitors for many years. Since the end of the conflict however, the bullet-scarred city has opened up to the world, and has seen considerable development and improvement to the lives of Jaffna’s residents, with tourism helping local businesses thrive. There’s no better place to try this iconic dish than in Jaffna, but it is also served at a number of Tamil-owned establishments in Colombo, including Palmyrah Restaurant, Yarl Hotel and Yaal Restaurant.

“Although it has an astonishingly complex flavor—numbingly fiery with a touch of sweetness—Jaffna crab curry is made of humble ingredients such as mustard seeds, green chilies, black pepper, and fennel seeds, which are ground together to make the flavor base for the tamarind-laced gravy. A few sprigs of murunga (drumstick) leaves are added for texture and a bit of bitterness.” — Vidya Balachander

Hot Butter Cuttlefish

Hot Butter Cuttlefish in Sri Lanka
© Chinese Dragon Cafe

A favourite amongst Colombo’s residents for decades, hot butter cuttlefish was first made popular by restaurants that serve Sri Lanka’s version of Chinese food, mainly in the island’s economic capital. This crunchy, spicy and salty deep-fried and then later stir-fried cuttlefish dish is popular island-wide these days. It’s served at pubs and consumed as a snack too. We recommend visiting Flower Drum or Chinese Dragon Cafe in Colombo to enjoy hot butter cuttlefish with prawn fried rice and a side of chilli paste.

Isso Vadai/Prawn Fritters

Sri Lankan prawn fritter
© Jérôme Decq

Galle Face in Colombo between 4-6 pm, as you watch the sunset, is perhaps the best place to try this deep-friend prawn and lentil fritter, which is served warm after a dip in hot oil and topped with diced raw red onion and a spicy, tangy lime and chilli sauce. This inexpensive snack is sold by hawkers at Galle Face daily.

Crab Kottu Roti

Crab kotthu roti in Sri Lanka
© Kaema Sutra

The crab kottu roti (aka kotthu roti) at Kaema Sutra is made with crab stock prepared using an entire sea crab, infusing into every piece of shredded roti delicious crab flavour. Kottu roti, a favourite amongst locals, is similar to fried rice but made with chopped roti instead of rice. Each establishment has their own take, with shallot, green onion, leek, carrot, egg, green chilli, and numerous combinations of spices and sauces going into their own versions of this chopped roti dish.

Fish Cutlets and Ambul Thiyal Sandwich

Sri Lankan fish cutlets
© Royal Bakery

Fish cutlets are spicy tuna (mackerel is used occasionally), onion, green chilli, garlic and mashed-potato balls that are dipped in egg, rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried. They can be found across the island at bakeries and eateries that sell snacks known as short eats. Royal Bakery in Colombo is a great place to pick up fish cutlets and short eats, like fish cutlets, prawn buns and an array of other seafood pastries and mini pies. Try Royal Bakery’s unique sour fish curry (fish ambul thiyal) sandwich.

Fish Ambul Thiyal

Sri Lankan fish ambul thiyal
© Upali’s

Ambul thiyal is chunks of blackened, spice-coated locally-caught wild tuna. It’s a sour and dry dish, and usually eaten for lunch with a spread of other curries on rice. The Matara Maalu Ambul Thiyal served at Upali’s by Nawaloka, and the lavish lunch spread on offer at the restaurant, is a highly-recommended Sri Lankan lunch experience.

Devilled Prawn

Sri Lankan Devilled Prawns
© Pot Biriyani

Served at eateries and pubs across the island, this spicy and mildly-sweet, stir-fried dish goes down well with an ice-cold cocktail or beer. Pot Biriyani, who are renowned for their excellent biriyani, also cook up an excellent devilled prawn dish, which can be ordered for delivery in large portions that serve four or more people. This popular prawn dish can be eaten by itself or with cripsy paratha roti, and fried rice too.

Sri Lankan Seafood Platter with Lobster

Seafood platter with lobster in Sri Lanka
© King Coconut

Locally caught, typically from the day’s catch, grilled lobster in Sri Lanka is accompanied with fresh lime (instead of lemon, like in other parts), which enhances the amazing flavour of the fresh lobster. There’s no better way to try lobster when in Sri Lanka than in a mixed seafood platter. Negombo, a city by the sea, where Sri Lanka’s Bandaranayake International Airport is located, is home to many seafood restaurants, and likely your first stop after landing in Sri Lanka. King Coconut Family Restaurant, as well as Lords Restaurant, Seaview Restaurant and Sunny Restaurant, all located in Negombo have excellent seafood platters and other fantastic seafood treats. Many hotels and resorts across the island have seafood platters on their menus, and don’t be surprised to find the platter on some room service menus too.

Claypot Prawn Curry

Sri Lankan Prawn Curry

Ministry of Crab in Colombo combines two types of prawn to infuse intense flavour in their claypot prawn curry. Lap up the delicious gravy with crusty bread (included), which is freshly-baked in a wood-fired oven.

Dry Fish/Karawala Curry

A delicacy amongst Sri Lanka’s masses, karawala is fish that is salted and sun-dried, which preserves the fish without the need for refrigeration. It is uncommon to see karwala served at upscale eateries and tourist hotspots, and requires a venture out to one of the many small street-side eateries at lunch time to taste. The salted fish is also regularly deep-fried and eaten as a condiment in a Sri Lankan lunch spread. From anchovies to tuna, many types of fish are salted and sun-dried and cooked up into fabulous curries — they are all flavourful dishes and best enjoyed with rice or crusty bread.

© Island Life