15 vegan dishes tourists visiting Sri Lanka should try

Vegan food in Sri Lanka
Photo by ultraBobban on Flickr

Many of Sri Lanka’s delicious curries, sambols and other traditional dishes are vegan-friendly, as coconut oil and coconut milk form the base of Sri Lankan cuisine, instead of butter, cream or yoghurt that is often used elsewhere in the region.

It’s not uncommon to see the island’s inhabitants consume as many as five vegan-friendly vegetable dishes in a typical Sri Lankan lunch.

A majority of restaurants in Sri Lanka will have vegan and vegetarian options available, even though menus may not explicitly outline them as vegan.

The vegan Sri Lankan curries below are best-consumed with rice, roti, string hoppers, pittu or bread.

Here are 15 vegan-friendly foods in Sri Lanka you must try during your stay there.

1. Parippu – Lentil Curry – පරිප්පු

Vegan lentil curry from Sri Lanka

This split red lentil curry, which us islanders call parippu, is a Sri Lankan favourite. What sets Sri Lanka’s version of this dish apart from lentil/dhal curries found in other Asian nations is the use of cinnamon, sautéed curry leaves and coconut milk.

2. Mallum – Chopped Salad – මැල්ලුම්

Vegan Sri Lankan food
© H Assaad

Mallum, also known as mallung, is similar to a chopped salad. Mallum is made using green, leafy vegetables ranging from spinach to kale to gotu kola, as well as cabbage, as the primary ingredient. While most mallums are prepared with finely chopped fresh leafy greens, tossed with lime juice, onions, green chillies and grated coconut; a stir-fried version of this dish exists too.

3. Dhel Kirata – Breadfruit Curry – දෙල් කිරට

Dhel curry is breadfruit cooked in a mild coconut milk-based yellow curry sauce, which transforms the breadfruit into a delicious creamy potato-like consistency. This dish is right up there amongst the top foods to try when in Sri Lanka.

4. Beetroot Curry – බීට්රූට් කරිය

Sri Lankan beetroot curry

This reddish, deep-pink coloured curry is sweet-tasting. The combination of curry leaves, garlic, onion, an array of spices, and coconut milk, compliment the flavour of beetroot to produce an excellent dish.

5. Cashew Curry – කජු කරිය

Vegan Sri Lankan cashew curry
© B Halgolla

Locally-grown cashew nuts are stewed in coconut milk and spices (cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, fennel, turmeric, curry leaves and pandan) to produce this unique-tasting and rich curry. The unroasted nuts themselves are soft and chewy, while some will even retain a mild crunch. Cashew curry is a delicious accompaniment to any Sri Lankan meal.

6. Ash Plantain/Green Banana Curry – අළු කෙසෙල් කිරට

Also known as ash plantain curry, this dish is often prepared mild (not as spicy as other Sri Lankan curries). The tough green banana transforms into a creamy potato-like consistency and is eaten with rice, mostly for lunch.

7. Parippu Vadai – Lentil Fritters – පරිප්පු වඩේ

Vegan lentil fritters
© Sugeesh

This deep-fried snack is a popular street food. Although they are best enjoyed freshly-fried and served hot, which can be ordered at the many Tamil restaurants across the island that serve south-Indian-style vegetarian cuisine; Sri Lankans can be seen purchasing this crunchy snack from vendors on trains and also hawkers along the beach to consume room-temperature fritters on the go.

8. Pol/Coconut Sambol – පොල් සම්බෝල

Sri Lankans love pol sambol so much that they even enjoy it in sandwiches (between buttered bread) and consume it with roti, string hoppers, rice or bread at any time of day. The freshly-squeezed lime juice, crunchy raw onion and freshly-grated coconut makes this dish addictive.

9. Kola Kanda – Porridge – කොළ කැඳ

Vegan Sri Lankan porridge
© Peter Kuruvita

The direct translation of the word kola is green (or leaf) and kanda is porridge. This porridge has been a breakfast favourite for many years, and decades ago it was even distributed free by the island’s government to school children, as it is considered highly nutritious. It is traditionally prepared with gotu kola (asiatic pennywort), but different leafy greens (like kale or spinach) can also be used. “This creamy porridge of Gotukola, brown rice and coconut is a staple in many Sri Lankan households,” explains Australian-Sri Lankan restaurateur, chef and author Peter Kuruvita who recommends enjoying kola kanda “steaming hot with a piece of jaggery (palm sugar).”

10. Hoppers – ආප්ප

Sri Lankan hopper
© A Wilczek

A bowl-shaped crepe made of fermented rice flour and thick coconut milk, this crispy delight is generally served after 4 pm. It can be eaten with your choice of curry, or with a side of spicy lunu miris/katta sambol or the sweet seeni sambol (ensure none of the accompaniments contain dried tuna flakes known as Maldive fish). “What makes a hopper so delicious is the slight sourness and combination of textures: the crisp outside, tapering down to a spongy centre, perfect for soaking up the [curries],” owner of a popular British eatery that serves the now trendy hoppers tells The Telegraph.

11. Wattakka Kalu Pol – Pumpkin Curry – වට්ටක්කා කළු පොල්

Sri Lankan vegan pumpkin curry

The sweet-tasting pumpkin is stewed in a broth of roasted/toasted ground spices, rice and grated coconut, as well as thick coconut milk, to cook up this scrumptious curry. Many steps go into preparing what may at first glance look like a simple vegetable curry — this dish is a favourite amongst both locals and visitors to the island.

12. Wambatu Moju – Eggplant Pickle – වම්බටු මෝජු

Wambatu Moju is eggplant prepared in a manner you may perhaps have never seen before. It is a very unique dish that is sweet, spicy and tangy, with a hint of bitterness too from the caramelised eggplant.

13. Polos Ambula – Sour Jackfruit Curry – පොලොස් ඇඔුල

Vegan jackfruit curry from Sri Lanka
© Ji-Elle

This sour-tasting unripe jackfruit dish is a Sri Lankan delicacy and a favourite amongst the islanders for its chewy, meaty texture and distinct tarty taste, which comes from the use of goraka. Polos ambula is loved by first-timers to the island and it’s a top pick amongst vegans and vegetarians.

14. Thalana Batu Curry – Thai Eggplant Curry – තලන බටු කරි

Thalana batu or ela batu curry is curried Thai eggplant and closely resembles, both in look and taste, a curry from Thailand (rather than a dish from the Indian subcontinent). Unlike in Thai cuisine though, this Sri Lankan dish contains an unusual combination of spices, including fenugreek, mustard seeds, cinnamon, curry leaves and more (recipes vary).

15. Malu Miris Kirata – Banana Pepper White Curry – මාළු මිරිස් කිරට

© A Perera

Capsicum (aka banana pepper) tastes somewhat like a yellow bell pepper in this preparation. While several variations of this dish exist, the addition of potato is common and excellently compliments the capsicum which, by the way, is not a spicy pepper.

© Island Life