The cuisine of Sri Lanka draws influence from that of India, especially from Kerala, as well as colonists and foreign traders. Rice, which is usually consumed daily, can be found at any special occasion, while spicy curries are favourite dishes for lunch and dinner. A very popular alcoholic drink is toddy or arrack, both made from palm tree sap. Rice and curry refers to a range of Sri Lankan dishes. Sri Lankans also eat hoppers (Aappa, Aappam), which can be found anywhere in Sri Lanka.
Much of Sri Lanka’s cuisine consists of boiled or steamed rice served with spicy curry. Another well-known rice dish is kiribath, meaning milk rice. Curries in Sri Lanka are not just limited to meat or fish-based dishes, there are also vegetable and even fruit curries. A typical Sri Lankan meal consists of a “main curry” (fish, chicken, or mutton), as well as several other curries made with vegetable and lentils. Side-dishes include pickles, chutneys and “sambols” which can sometimes be fiery hot. The most famous of these is the coconut sambol, made of scraped coconut mixed with chili peppers, dried Maldivian fish and lime juice. This is ground to a paste and eaten with rice, as it gives zest to the meal and is believed to increase appetite.
In addition to sambols, Sri Lankans eat “mallung”, chopped leaves mixed with grated coconut and red onions. Coconut milk is found in most Sri Lankan dishes to give the cuisine its unique flavor.
As noted above many of Sri Lanka’s urban areas are host to American fast food corporations and many of the younger generation have started to take a liking to this new style of cuisine although it is rejected by many, particularly the more traditional elder members of the community.
Sri Lanka has long been renowned for its spices. The best known is cinnamon which is native to Sri Lanka. In the 15th and 16th centuries, spice and ivory traders from all over the world who came to Sri Lanka brought their native cuisines to the island, resulting in a rich diversity of cooking styles and techniques. Lamprais rice boiled in stock with a special curry, accompanied by frikkadels (meatballs), all of which is then wrapped in a banana leaf and baked as a Dutch-influenced Sri Lankan dish. Dutch and Portuguese sweets also continue to be popular. British influences include roast beef and roast chicken. Also, the influence of the Indian cooking methods and food have played a major role in what Sri Lankans eat.
Sri Lankans use spices liberally in their dishes and typically do not follow an exact recipe: thus, every cook’s curry will taste slightly different. Furthermore, people from different regions of the island (for instance, hill-country dwellers versus coastal dwellers) traditionally cook in different ways. Sri Lankan cuisine is known to be among the world’s spiciest, due to the high use of different varieties of chili peppers referred to as amu miris (Chili pepper), kochchi miris, and maalu miris (Banana pepper) (capsicum) and in Tamil Milakaai, among others. It is generally accepted for tourists to request that the food is cooked with a lower chilli content to cater for the more sensitive Western palette. Food cooked for public occasions typically uses less chillie than food cooked in the home, the latter where the food is cooked with the chilli content preferable to the occupants.
Being one of the largest producers of tea in the world, Sri Lankans drink a lot of tea.There are many tea factories around mountainous areas. Many Sri Lankans drink at least three cups a day. Sri Lanka is also one of the best tea-producing countries in the world and the Royal Family of the United Kingdom has been known to drink Ceylon tea. Tea is served whenever a guest comes to a house, it is served at festivals and gatherings or just for breakfast.
The Sinhala and Tamil new year (“Aluth Avurudhu” in Sinhala, “Puthiyathandu” in Tamil) is a very large cultural event on the island. The festival falls in April (also known as the month of Bak) when the sun moves from the Meena Rashiya (House of Pisces) to the Mesha Rashiya (House of Aries). Unusually, both the end of one year and the beginning of the next occur not at midnight but at separate times determined by astrologers with a period of some hours between (the “nona gathe” or neutral period) being a time where one is expected to refrain from all types of work and instead engage solely in relaxing religious activities and traditional games. During the New Year, festivities both children and adults will often don traditional outfits. But the clothes must be washed and very clean because it should be southam (pure).
Sri Lanka’s culture also revolves around religion. The Buddhist community of Sri Lanka observe Poya Days, once per month according to the Lunar calendar. The Hindus and Muslims also observe their own holidays. Sri Lankans are very religious because the history of the island has been involved with religion numerous times. There are many Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka associated with ancient times. The religious preference of an area could be determined by the number of religious institutions in the area. The North and the East of the island has several notable Hindu temples due to majority Tamil population reside in those areas and ethnic conflict has severely affected other communities living on these areas during the times of LTTE strife. Many churches could be found along the southern coast line because of former Roman Catholic or Protestant colonial heritage. Buddhists reside in all parts of the island especially down south and in upcountry and western seaboard. They are the largest religious group in Sri Lanka.
Languages of Sri Lanka
While the Sinhalese people speak Sinhala as their mother tongue, the Tamil people speak Tamil. English is also widely spoken.
Sinhala is spoken by about 16 million people in Sri Lanka, about 13 million of whom are native speakers. It is one of the constitutionally-recognized official languages of Sri Lanka, along with Tamil, which originates from South India.