The Essential Ingredients in Sri Lankan Cuisine


The leaves are from a tree related to the citrus family, curry leaves are often fried in oil before using in curries and chutneys. Although also available in dried or powdered form, they are at their aromatic best when fresh. 

Pandan leaves

Sri Lankan households normally grow the plant whose long green leaves are used to perfume curries and rice. Pandan is often referred to as the ‘vanilla of Asia’, such is its beautiful aroma.


A long dark green pod with a slightly bitter flavour that are a popular ingredient in vegetable curries. Discard the outer skin before scooping out the pulp in the soft centre.

Green chillies

Green chillies are renowned for their heat with Sri Lankan food. They use several types of chillies to enchance hot curries and zingy sambols.


A clarified butter made by simmering butter to remove the milk solids. It has a distinctive flavour, heats to temperatures well above butter without burning and keeps for extended periods of time unrefrigerated.

Red lentils

For a partially vegetarian population, these pulses are a key element in the Sri Lankan diet. Dhal is eaten with most meals and always with curry and rice.


The coconut palm is referred as a gift of the gods. Every part of the tree is used in building, for utensils, right down to the milk, the oil and of course the flesh. Finely grated in sambols added to curries and baked into sweet delights, it is the quintessential Sri Lankan ingredient.

Maldive fish

Spiced, dried, smoked and finely shaved bonito, Maldive fish is the shrimp paste or fish sauce equivalent for Sri Lankan cuisine. It is a key ingredient in the essential pol (coconut) and seeni sambols and is also sparingly used as a thickening agent in curries. Store Maldive fish in a screw top glass jar as it’s quite pungent!

Samba rice

A rice native to Sri Lanka, the samba rice grain is about a third of the size of basmati. It has a distinctive flavour and aroma. The rice hard texture results in a denser and more filling meal than most other varieties. 

Chutneys, pickles and sambols

Every meals in Sri Lanka can be without accompaniments. This makes the flavours of curries and awaken the tastebuds. They range from savoury eggplant and tomato pickles, tangy lime and date chutneys to fiery sambols based on salt, lime, Maldive fish, chilli and onion.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is a fragrant cooking oil to be used sparingly due to its high saturated fat content.


A souring and thickening agent unique to Sri Lanka, goraka is a fluted orange fruit whose segments are dried, turning black. It can be soaked in hot water and ground to a paste or added whole and removed after cooking. It is most commonly used in fish curries such as ambul thiyal.


No Sri Lankan curry is complete without these small, brown square-shaped seeds, which add a slight bitterness and have a thickening effect on sauces. They must be heated slowly to prevent bitterness.

Curry powder

Ceylon curry powder gets its colour, aroma and distinctive flavour from dark roasting of its spice components, including coriander, cumin, fennel seeds, fenugreek and cardamom. Sri Lankan curries has three types:

  • white: mild and rich in coconut milk
  • red: rich in chilli powder or ground chillies
  • black, in which powered spice mixtures are given a deeper, richer flavour by pan toasting them until they are blackened.
The Essential Ingredients in Sri Lankan Cuisine
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Indian Cooking Master Class

Indian Cooking Master Class

Take a trip down the trail of spices. The nuanced and complex curries of North India are renown globally for their...

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