How to say “I am vegetarian” in languages spoken in Sri Lanka
Sinhalese: Mama elavalu vitaray
Tamil: Naan oru saivam kannay
Whether it’s sunbathing beside tourist-friendly beachside restaurants or high-tailing it to remote corners of the island, vegetarian food in Sri Lanka is plentiful. Given the country’s devout Buddhist and Hindu heritage, vegetarianism is an age-old way of life for many of the country’s people and an integral part of Sri Lankan culture (although certainly not for all.)
It doesn’t always mean that the vegetarian food is top-quality. Many who visit Sri Lanka expect meals similar to those in southern India – fresh, coconut curries served on banana leaves with juicy, tropical fruits for afters. It’s just not the case. Unfortunately, I must confess I found the food in Sri Lanka to be a little lacklustre.
Sri Lankan curries – one of the better vegetarian meals I ate in the country
It should be noted that on my journey, I avoided any tourist resorts and ate mostly in local restaurants and on the street. Consequently, I saved some serious cash. I’m sure that some high-end restaurants that cater specifically to tourists serve some spectacular vegetarian fare, but that wasn’t the Sri Lankan table I sought to eat at.
Here I’ve compiled a set of tips, both as a basic vegetarian survival guide, and a helping hand to get the most out of your vegetarian experience in Sri Lanka. I’d love to hear your comments (in the section below) too!
The word “roti” takes on many forms throughout the world but in Sri Lanka it’s in the form of a triangle-shaped curry parcel. It’s Sri Lanka’s ubiquitous food, found at street stalls and shops everywhere throughout the country. The curry inside the roti comes in many forms, is often on the spicy side but it’s almost always guaranteed to be vegetarian.
Variations on these snacks are often available alongside the common roti and these are mostly vegetarian, such as samosas, coconut dhal balls and savoury doughnuts. Check with vendors and then experiment to find your favourites… there are some strange varieties out there!
roti and friends, roadside stall
In most hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Sri Lanka, the best (and most freshly cooked) option on the menu is often thali. Thali (as per its Indian counterpart) is a plate of rice served with a variety of curries on the side, with condiments. Sri Lankan thalis can include curried vegetables such as eggplant, green beans, lady-fingers and potato. These are often spicy. Bread (naan, chapatti) and/or pappadams are also served with the thali.
Failing that, fried rice and fried noodles (with or without egg) are available at most restaurants. (albeit a little boring and greasy.)
Travel in Sri Lanka can often involve some long bus trips. Food vendors will often board the bus before departure, but their food may not be to your taste so it’s wise to carry some snacks with you. Peanuts, Bombay mix or fruits such as bananas and citrus fruits are widely available and are healthier options than chips or biscuits. My best tip is to stock up on fruit when passing by any market and carry it with you.
widely available snacks
Surely one of the best tastes in Sri Lanka is tea, and of course, the country is famous for producing some of the best in the world. Usually served in milky chai form (with spices) it’s a definite comfort drink and always uplifting.
Sadly I can’t rave about a particular dish I ate in Sri Lanka, as most of the meals were, quite frankly, pretty forgettable. I do remember a great chop suey I ate at a beach restaurant on Hikkaduwa Beach called “The Drunken Monkey”, obviously though, chop suey is not traditional Sri Lankan fare. If you’re a die-hard vego foodie who travels to eat, I wouldn’t recommend Sri Lanka as a destination, although the good news is that a vegetarian travelling in Sri Lanka will always get by.
If you’ve travelled to Sri Lanka and you disagree, or you found the perfect dish, please comment below, I would love to hear from you!