Sri Lanka’s commercial capital is home to a thriving food scene, and the rest of the world is starting to take notice. Sri Lankan restaurants have been popping up all over the world, on the cobble-stoned streets of London, between the skyscrapers of Hong Kong, and in the inner suburbs of Sydney. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the place where it all began and don’t know where to begin, don’t fret. Local foodie Zinara highlights six essential food spots you have to visit while eating your way through Colombo, from local rice and curry to homemade Italian pizza, as well as the country’s most sought-after desserts and traditional vegan snacks.
Once the childhood home of businessman Upali Dharmadasa, the residence-turned-restaurant is all about serving delightful Sri Lankan cuisine with a homely feel. Visit during the lunch hours for a mouthwatering spread of rice and curry. A bowl of boiled rice is a mainstay on the local dining table and often comes with five to six curry dishes, cooked in thick, creamy coconut milk. Traditionally-cooked curries are usually fiery with Indian Ocean spices, but the friendly staff at Upali’s Colombo will cater to your spice levels. Desserts include the village buffalo curd served with kithul palm treacle. A meal for two usually costs around 3000 LKR (HK$130). Order Upali’s Jaffna crab curry.
Upali’s Colombo, 65 Dr C.W.W Kannangara Mawatha, Colombo 00700
Battaramulla is a greener suburb in Colombo and part of the administrative capital. Next to the Department of Agriculture in Battaramulla, you can find a Hela Bojun Hala. These stalls originated as an island-wide initiative to promote healthy traditional Sri Lankan cuisine and encourage local production. Run entirely by women, Hela Bojun dishes up some rare finds. Savoury vegan options include jackfruit burgers and fried rolls stuffed with ash plantain. For sweets, try undu walalu. This deep-fried snack oozes with sugary syrup and resembles the Indian sweet jalebi. One of the most affordable places in Colombo, a meal wouldn’t cost more than 200 LKR (HK$9) here. Be sure to have a glass of kola kenda, which is a congee made of herbal leaves and rice.
Hela Bojun, Battaramulla 10120
This lovely little pizza place is a local favourite, serving some of the most authentic Italian food in town. Pizzas are made fresh in a clay oven and prepared by a local chef who once lived in Italy. While the indoor restaurant is quite cosy, on a good day, their alfresco dining area is frequented by crowds for its Instagrammable décor and easy-going vibe. Apart from all-vegetarian and meat pizzas, they now have an extensive menu with several pasta and gnocchi dishes. Try their all-meat pizza; served fresh with generous toppings of bacon, beef, and chicken, flavours are balanced perfectly with sliced capsicum, dried chilli, and basil leaves. A meal for two would cost around 4000 LKR (HK$170).
Giovanni’s, 145 Thimbirigasyaya Rd, Colombo 00500
Located close to a vibrant Hindu temple, this bustling hole-in-the-wall is a great place for an early vegetarian breakfast in the city. It’s also easy on the wallet, as a single meal costs only around 500 LKR (HK$22). Sit side by side with locals and order a plate full of South Indian string hoppers. Prepared by squeezing rice flour on a mat into a fine noodle form, these delicate nets are then steamed before they are devoured with curry and spicy condiments. The Southern Indian version is usually thicker and heavier than the traditional Sri Lankan form. At Saraswathie Lodge, it’s served with a bowl of sambar, prepared with dhal and several vegetables. Crunch on a fresh-off-the-pan vadai before you wash it off with a cup of piping hot milk tea. If you have a sweet tooth, try barfi. It’s a popular South Indian sweet rich in milk.
Saraswathie Lodge, 191 Galle Rd, Colombo 00400
A lively restaurant with an outdoor dining area and a large tree-clad garden, VOC is famous for their homemade lamprais. Prepared by the Dutch Burgher community of Sri Lanka, lamprais is a quintessentially Sri Lankan dish consisting of rice cooked in stock, accompanied by a mixed meat curry, frikkadels, a shrimp paste called blachan, ash plantain curry, and an eggplant pickle. Everything is wrapped in a banana leaf then oven-baked, resulting in a wonderful concoction of flavours and a mouthwatering aroma. VOC also serves homemade ginger beer, which pairs perfectly with the authentic lamprais. On Sundays, everything sells out fast, so place your orders early. At VOC, you can dine in for under 2000 LKR (HK$87).
VOC at DBU, Dutch Burgher Union, Thunmulla
Café Kumbuk touts healthy, sustainable living, and uses fresh, local produce for their constantly changing menu. The café space is decorated with rustic furniture, houseplants, photos, and maps from many corners of Sri Lanka, creating a warm communal atmosphere. It’s also a great place to while away some time with a good book or get some work done. For breakfast, order their granola bowl, which comes with fresh tropical fruits and mango curd. There’s also avo toast and vegan-friendly hotcakes topped with tropical fruits and vegan, salted caramel ice cream. Expect to pay around 2000 LKR (HK$87) for a meal with drinks here. Their Open Isso Wrap is a crowd favourite.
Café Kumbuk, 3/1 Thambiah Avenue, Independence Ave, Colombo 00700