Discover Sri Lankan street food

The essence of Sri Lanka can be found in the amazing range of dishes served by street vendors – from rotis and pickles to vibrant fruit cordials and refreshing coconut water
Achcharu is a street food in Sri Lanka
© BT Images
By Time Out editors |

The way to Sri Lanka's heart is through its stomach. The country's street food is a key part of the culture all around the country – although mostly sold by street vendors, you'll also find some of the most scrumptious snacks available in restaurants as well. Sri Lanka's street food scene is pretty unique and the types and taste of dishes differs depending on the region they're sold in. Isso Vadei, kottu, and pickles are some of the most popular choices, while Saruwath and Thambili (king coconut) are the most refreshing of the beverages you'll find.

Read more about Sri Lankan street food.

Kottu is popular street food in Sri Lanka
© BT Images


A mix; a mash; a dash of colourful veggies, of meat, eggs, a toss of cut up roti or string hoppers all thrown on to a flat sizzling grill, an instigation after which begins the soul sounds of metal dicing blades manually, and to a tune, jumping into action. Kottu is best eaten hawker style.

Mainly a delicacy served up at dinner time, Kottu is a favourite especially with the much loved condiment, cheese. Usually available from early evening to late nights, spices mixed into this concoction of sorts include, chilli peppers, pepper, turmeric, ground cumin, ginger, garlic and aromatic herbs, its distinct whiff parades the air in and around the city, particularly Colombo.

When in Sri Lanka do as the Lankan’s do and have a taste of this spicy, delish and a not so conventional indulgence available throughout the year.

Vadei is a popular street food in sri lanka


Playing a varying role in Sri Lankan cuisine, the vadei in itself comes in many mouthwatering distinctions. Enjoyed as a delightful crumbly dhal or lentil patty; to a savoury alternative to the doughnut made from urud dhal or the ulundu pulse; to an undisputable favourite amongst the locals, isso vadei or prawn vadei, this deep fried, crispy, salty, inexpensive snack, hands down, takes first place in the quick yet delicious fixes in satisfying hunger pangs.

Vadei is also consumed as party chow with drinks, before the main meal, while for vegetarians consider the vadei as a good source of protein alongside other veggie condiments.

Served “hot hot” like the locals say, the vadei is a core component of comfort food in Sri Lanka.

Fried Chickpeas and Funnel Treats is a popular street food in colombo
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Fried Chickpeas and Funnel Treats

‘Bites’ play a major part in the Sri Lankan diet. ‘Bites’ are pre meal condiments usually consumed alongside beverages. They are a welcome treat for guests to feel at home before lunch or dinner parties. Fried chick peas and funnel treats are no exception to being served as ‘bites’ and are immensely enjoyed at any occasion for that matter.

Crunchy, salty goodness refilled over and over again into serving bowls, bites like fried chickpeas typically never run out in local households.

Roasted or fried, salted and/or devilled or spiced on-the-go-snacks of this kind are plentiful in Sri Lanka, especially nuts like cashews and peanuts; and grams/pulses like green peas, popcorn, and even root veggies such as manioc, potato and palmyrah.

Sold in mobile carts by the roadside, funnel treats are served in generous portions in small paper funnels, or cones, designed to make eating convenient. Fried chickpeas also can be conveniently bought at small outlets or mobile carts selling such ‘bites’ in and around the city.

Have some on the go as a snack… you won’t be disappointed.

Hoppers is a popular street food in Sri Lanka
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Hoppers (appa) equals yum. Ask any Sri Lankan, they’ll tell you. Try it plain or with an egg fried into the center, they’ll say or as a sweet treat with coconut milky goodness bubbling right through the middle and of course as pani appa, soaked in treacle… sounds yum, yes?

The hopper is crispy bowl-shaped pancake. Although it’s associated with traditional fast food, the hopper batter is made a day or so prior to allow timely fermentation, which gives the finished product its distinctive, light tangy flavour. 

Hoppers are eaten with katta sambol or fiery red chilli pepper and Maldive fish paste, while some like it with a spicy crab curry, or the milder dhal gravy.

Hoppers are best consumed piping hot right from pan to mouth, which can truly be experienced hawker style. Served for breakfast or dinner the hopper is Sri Lanka in a mouthful.

short eats are a popular street food in sri lanka

Short Eats

Sri Lankan short eats range in their deliciously large numbers. Eaten any time and all the time, bakeries, restaurants and humble food stalls just keep em’ coming. Short eats are so in demand that they’re found anywhere in the country and are usually freshly made day in, day out to keep up with the never ending love affair the islanders have with them.

From crisp fried crumbed rolls (aka Chinese rolls) stuffed with veggies or meat, vegetable roti or elavalu roti; triangular stuffed servings of carb heaven, its cousin the samosa, crisp and flavoursome all the same, malu pan or buns stuffed with fish, vadei made with pulses like ulundu or lentils, deep fried crumbed cutlets, a selection of melt-in-your-mouth puff pastries; meat or veggie, patis; deep fried or baked, the same with stuffed, crumbed capsicum… it goes on!

Where ever travels take you in Sri Lanka and big meals are just too much to think about, order a plate of short eats and your guaranteed to be spoilt for choice, as ‘short-eats’ are never in ‘short-age’ here in paradise. 

Achcharu is a popular street food in Sri Lanka
© BT Images


A tangy sweet, sour and spicy concoction of pickle or chutney, island style, is known as achcharu. Anything and everything that can be pickled is pickled, from fruit, ripe or raw, and vegetables, to meat and fish.

In Sri Lanka fruit achcharus are considered on-the-go snacks, and are in most cases bought from street vendors. Chances are you get the tastiest and the most varied selections of pickles this way. Some popular pickled fruit choices comprise: raw mango, olives, ambarella, woodapple, pineapple, ripe jackfruit, lime; while veggies include: eggplant, young jack fruit and red onion. Meat or fish is seasoned with tamarind, goraka, salt, pepper and cooked to a dry curry, and served with rice.
Roti is a street food in Sri Lanka
© BT Images


Whether a choice of plain roti, egg roti, vegetable roti, fish or meat roti, takes your fancy the ‘roti’ is an all-time favourite. The versatile roti is eaten with an assortment of curries, cut into chunks to prepare kottu, stuffed and fried or grilled with veggies and/or meat but also the delicious staple in itself makes for a satisfying carb rich snack.

Found in hawker stalls prepared with a selection of condiments, the roti is enjoyed by locals usually at dinner time. You’ll surely want to give this street food a try.



A favourite food originating from South India, the originally termed ‘dosai’ has been given a Sri Lankan twist and called ‘thosai’. Served at breakfast or dinner, the thosai, while being delicious when homemade, works just as scrumptiously well hawker style.

Eaten with dhal curry, coconut sambol or chutney, this oil tempered, flat ulundu flour pancake is also a favourite to have with spicy condiments of fish or meat.

The thosai is a quick light feast considered comfort food by Sri Lankans.

Saruwath is a popular drink in Sri Lanka
© BT Images


Oh those colours by the roadside! Over at least ten flavours at a glance, these irresistibly vibrant fruit cordials/syrups are just the thing for a quick refresher in tropical weather.

Thick syrups like rose, lime, lemon, nelli, strawberry, pineapple, any flavour of your choice, mixed with chilled water or with ice cold milk, topped with cubes of jelly and/or casacasa is, hands down, an absolute thirst quencher, made right in front of you. 

Remember, while touring the tropics don’t sweat it, have a chilled saruwath instead.

Thambili (King Coconut Water)

In Sri Lanka, Thambili or King Coconut water is like an elixir that possesses the magical power of vanquishing thirst, since those who know its taste, also know all about the relishing delight that Thambili brings with every sip. It is easily found in almost all parts of the country and are sold by street or roadside vendors.

Thambili is rich with nutrients such as calcium, carbohydrates, potassium, Vitamin E and iron while protein, fat, several enzymes and dietary fibre are also part and parcel of the sweet beverage. As such the health benefits derived from this natural source of wellness is abundant. It is famed throughout the isle as a remedy for various ailments such as kidney disorders, rashes and allergies.

Iced King Coconut water – a more refined version – of this beverage takes refreshment to a whole new level and can be obtained at most of the tourist hotels at request.

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