Healthy Eating in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is full of amazing food, and no, it’s not just the same as Indian food.  Given all of the influence from other countries and various colonizations, Sri Lankan cuisine has evolved into something all its own.

It’s flavorful, not too spicy, and the island is chalk-full of fruit unlike that found in the rest of the world (golden young coconuts? What?).  The only trouble with food here is the amount of fried foods, and the difficulty in avoiding curries and roti, though some can still be plenty nutritious.

The following are some of the best choices for healthy eating in Sri Lanka:

1) Mallum

sri lankan food

Mallum pictured at the top left

Similar to a tabbouleh (but not really), Mallum is made with shredded green veggies called gotukola, shredded coconut meat, onions, and usually some spices and perhaps a squeeze of lime juice.

Gotukla, also known as centella, also known as the longevity herb, is a sort of leaf that has a slightly bitter taste.  The salad is a nice accompaniment to curry.

Skip it: Coconut Sambol.  It’s a typical side dish just like Mallum, although it has way more coconut meat that makes up the bulk of the salad vs. the coconut meat being more of an afterthought in Mallum.

Unfortunately, anything with coconut meat or milk is naturally high in saturated fat.  Though not as healthy, this salad of onion, coconut meat, tomato, and lime juice tastes amazing and is at least worth a try, but in moderation.

2) Wood Apple juice

I had never heard of wood apple before coming to Sri Lanka. The fruit itself both looks and smells pretty funny, but is considered a power fruit and makes some wonderful juice.

Skip it: Fruit shakes. They’re typically mixed with cream, ice cream, or loads of sugar in addition to the fruit.

3) Deviled Kadala

“Deviled” options are on just about every Sri Lankan menu, from veggies to fish to meats.  I tended to find the chicken incredibly overcooked (honestly, I tried it in several places!) and therefore opted for the veggie versions, the best of which was Kadala, or chickpeas.

Deviled is basically the type of sauce the veggies or meat are served in. It consists of onion, curry leaf, chili sauce, tomato sauce, peppers, garlic, and leeks. As long as the sauce isn’t too heavy on the sweet chili sauce, this can be a healthy option.

Skip it: Samosa or fried Roti . So much of Sri Lankan roti can easily be found in the non-deep-fried variety, and is often full of potatoes, meat, or fish, and delicious.  There’s really no need to go the deep-fried route.

4) Dahl 

dahl

Delicious and nutritious!

Dahl is like a thick lentil soup that is common all around the Asian sub-continent.  With a curry-like consistency (and often served as an accompaniment), it is a nice healthy alternative incorporating lots of delicious spices (check out the recipe below!)

Skip it: Curry . I know, I know, it’s heart breaking that I’m telling you to skip the curry!

5) Kottu

Kottu is an excellent vegetarian option incorporating carrot, onion, cabbage, and a flat bread called roti.

The sauce is made up of tomato paste, onion, soy sauce, curry powder, and spices, usually lightly stir fried on a hot plate.

Skip it: Deep fried chicken fried rice. It’s low nutritional value and lots of frying make this a definite no-no.

The truth is, you should definitely try curry while in Sri Lanka, but be aware that it is full of coconut milk which is naturally very high in saturated fat and should not be eaten excessively if you’re trying to maintain a healthy diet.

6) Egg Hoppers

egg hoppers

MMMm!

Hoppers are made with flour of wheat or coconut and coconut milk, which I realize I’ve sufficiently demonized elsewhere in this post.

That said, they are quite thin and either steamed or cooked in a wok-like pan, rather than fried like pancakes typically are.  Plus, eggs are high in protein, making this a pretty decent snack or breakfast.

Skip it: Curd and honey hoppers.  Buffalo or cow curd is similar to yogurt, but is very high in fat.  Couple that with sugary honey or palm sugar and it becomes a highly caloric choice.

Make it at home:

Not traveling in Sri Lanka but still want to try some of the yummy food for yourself?  Give Dahl a try!

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs sesame oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 clove finely chopped garlic
  • 1 tbs finely chopped ginger
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup dried lentils, rinsed
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp tumeric
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper
  • salt to taste

Steps:

  • Heat the oil in a soup pot and add onion, garlic, and ginger over medium heat. Cook until fragrant, stirring often, for about 6 minutes or until onions are translucent.
  • Stirring constantly, add broth, spices, and lentils.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer.  Cook until lentils are very tender. About 20 minutes.
  • Stir in tomato paste and cook until desired consistency.  Add water or broth if too thick.
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