Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sri Lankan Spices

Sri Lanka has long been renowned for its spices. In the 15th and 16th centuries, 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--is 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 chillies referred to as amu miris, kochchi miris, and maalu miris (capsicum)and in Tamil Milakaai, among others. It is generally accepted for tourists to request that the food is cooked with a lower chillie content to cater for the more sensitive Western pallette. Food cooked for public occasions typically uses less chillie than food cooked in the home, the latter where the food is cooked with the chillie content preferable to the occupants

Food and Beverages

Sri Lankan food is unique like it's Culture. Most of the Sri Lankans eat vegetables. The specialty in Sri Lankan food is that same food is differently made in different regions. With a large community of farmers the Rice and curry is the main food in Sri Lanka.

An average Sri Lankan meal always consist of leaves and dry fish, and several vegetable curries. They make special sweets with coconut milk, floor and Honey at cultural festivals of New Year, Vesak and Poson.

The curries come in many verities of colors and flavors blended in Sri Lankan Hot Spices. Most of the species has a great ayurvedic value when used in curries.

Rice & Curry

Rice & Curry is the main food of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans enjoy some of the spiciest foods in the world. Meat, fish and vegetables are prepared as curries. Sliced onions, green chilies, black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg and saffron are used to add flavors. Today, rice and curry has shifted from being the popular breakfast to the essential lunch.
A basic rice and curry requires one fish (or beef or chicken) curry, two different vegetables, one portion of fried crispy stuff like papadam , a mallum of chopped leaves and coconut, and a gravy or hodda of spiced and cooked with coconut milk.

The rice is always put on to the plate first and then the curries are selected from the other dishes to mix with it so you have a collection of minor meals around the plate. You eat by mixing the rice with something forming it in to a bite-sized ball and consuming by hand.
There is vast range of flavors and different curry mixes used for different foods. There are regional differences too. even with the same base food the taste will completely be different.


Hoppers are much like sour-dough pancakes or muffins. The batter is fermented in the traditional way with a little palm toddy, which gives the hoppers a delicious liquor tang. The batter is left to rise overnight, then thinned with coconut cream and baked in a round cast-iron pan. The hopper has a soft, fluffy, well-risen center, a golden brown crisp border and is lightly flavored with a hint of palm toddy and sesame oil with which the pan is greased. An egg is sometimes baked into the center, sunny-side up. Hoppers are equally good with hot sambals a hot sharp 'relish' of ground chilies, grated coconut's shallots & cured fish or curries or with jam-the one rule is to eat them hot.

String Hoppers

String hoppers are made from a hot-water dough of rice-meal pressed out in circlets from a string mould on to little wicker mats, then steamed. Light and lacy, string hoppers make a mouthwatering meal with curry and sambol.


Pittu probably came to Sri Lanka with the Malay regiments of the Eruption colonial period. It is however completely naturalized now and is a staple of Sri Lankan cuisine. Pittu is a mixture of fresh rice meal, every lightly roasted and mixed with fresh grated coconut, then steamed in a bamboo mould. It has a soft crumbly texture and is eaten with fresh coconut 'milk' and a hot chilli relish or curry.

Kiribath (milk rice)

Kiribath is a ceremonial specific and included in all special occasion menus .kiribath is translated in to milk rice". The rice is cooked in thick coconut cream for this un sweetened rice-pudding which is accompanied by a sharp chilli relish called Lunumiris or with a tackey coconut and treacle confection called Panipol


The Tamils of Sri Lanka who mainly live in the northern and eastern parts of the island have preserced sone of their on distinctive ethnic breakfast. Thosai is a great favourite, delicious and nutritionally perfect. The base for this lentil pancake is oorid,
(Mungoradiatys), a back-skinned pulse of delicate flavour which is soaked and ground to a smooth batter. The batter is then allowed to rise, flavoured wih fried shallouts, curry leaves, fenugreek and cummin and cooked on a hot griddle greased with sesme oil. Thosai which resembles a tortilla, is eaten with a finely ground coconut and chilly sanbal and is a delicious and satisfying meal.


Uppuma is another favourite meal among the tamils. This is a savoury porridge made of semolina and and flavoured with fried onion, chilly mustard and curry leaves.


The classic partner for thosai is vadai-a triumph of Tamil cuisne. These are small savoury rissoles of ground oorid of dhal- a fine red lentil. The lentil paste is mixed with minced shallot, green chillies, curry leaves and a dash of cummin and red chilli powder, fashioned into flat cakes and deep fried in coconut oil.Oorid or ulundu vadai are always made with a hole in the center-rather like small doughnuts.


Roti is a quickie meal- a little cottagey and easy to prepare. Wheat, rice or kurakkan(Eleusine coracana, a strongly flavored brown millet)-meal is mixed with fresh grated coconut and a touch of oil and baked on a hot griddle in thin flat cakes.
Roti is equally good with chillie relish or with syrup. Shallots, green chillies, curry leaves and Maldive (cured) fish flakes are akked to ring in the changes.

Green Leaves and Ayurvedic Food

It's amazing just how many herbal treatments and cures there are in Sri Lanka. Almost every herb, vegetable and fruit has a wide variety of medicinal properties. In short, there's a cure for every ailment if you know herbs well enough. Herbal medications are also becoming popular exports in Sri Lanka.

One of the commonest herbs with an array of medicinal uses is 'Welpenela'. Its botanical term is Cardiospermum halicacabum and some of its other names are heart seed, black liquorice and balloon vine. It is found aplenty in markets and growing in many a home garden. This small and delicate wiry climber can be used to treat piles, rheumatism, nervous disorders and chronic bronchitis. Its power lies mostly in its leaves which can also be used as a poultice for skin diseases. A paste of the leaves is a dressing for sores and wounds. Crushed leaves can also be inhaled to relieve headaches and the seeds used to relieve fever and body aches.


A popular flavoring leaf that is used widely in Sri Lankan curries known as 'karapincha' is also very medicinal. The leaves, roots, bark, stalk and flowers can be either boiled or powdered together to relieve any type of stomach disorder.

Bittergourd ( Karawila)

The leaves of the Bittergourd plant or 'karavila' can be crushed and the juice massaged into the scalp for a good growth of hair and to help prevent hair loss. The 'karavila' fruit, bitter as it is, increases the flow of milk in nursing mothers, when eaten in sufficient quantities.
Juice extract from karawila is drunk by diabetics and get immedite result.


This is known as Eclipta prostrata botanically, and it is a herb used in many forms to cure various diseases. In Sanskrit it is known as 'kasaraja' which refers to growth of the hair. This herb prevents the hair from becoming prematurely grey. Diseases of the skin can also be cured through this herb.


Cucumber, popular in salads, is a herb which is known to keep the kidneys healthy. Cucumber seeds when roasted, powdered and made into a coffee-like drink have been known to relieve colic. Thin slices of cucumber placed on tired eyes is supposed to have a soothing effect.
For sore eyes, the flowers of the pomegranate (Punica granatum) tree known as 'delun' can give great relief. The buds of the tree are boiled and the infusion given to stop chronic diarrhoea especially in children. The same infusion also relieves bronchitis. Bleeding from the nose can be checked by powdering the flowers of the pomegranate tree and applying it on the bleeding area.


The intriguing jak fruit is extremely nutritious and medicinal. Jak (Artocarpus reterophyllus) comes in two varieties in Sri Lanka. They are soft or 'vala' and hard or 'waraka'. The latter is more popular than the soft. The bark of the jak tree is used mainly for medicinal purposes including sprains and fractures.
Tender jak which is known as 'polos', can be made into a delicious curry and, in the diet of ancient Lankan royalty this was a dish that was rarely absent. Nursing mothers are given 'polos' and boiled jak to increase milk. 'Polos' curry also helps those recovering from diarrhoea, because 'vala' or the soft ripe jak is a laxative which can be eaten as it is. It helps clear the bowels and assists in digestion. It also helps relieve bronchitis when kept in bees honey and given to the patient each morning. 'Waraka' or the hard jak variety is beneficial to diabetic patients.
The leaves are dried, powdered and made into a coffee-like drink to be given to diabetics. According to an ancient recipe the ripe jak leaves are pounded and fried in gingili (sesame) oil and given to the diabetic patient each day. It is hard to imagine that such a simple recipe can be a cure for diabetes but the fact that it has been mentioned often in ancient books is proof of its efficacy.


The delicious mango (Mangitera indica) too has its share of medicinal properties. All parts of the tree can be used medicinally. Tender leaves dried and powdered are given for diarrhoea and diabetes. The smoke from the burning leaves can be inhaled for the relief of throat disorders and hiccups. The ash is an effective remedy for burns. And to remove warts on eyelids, the midrib of the mango leaves is burnt and the ash applied on the wart.
The juice of the mango tree bark has a remarkable effect on the mucus membrane. It can be given as a medicine to stop the discharge of mucus from the uterus, bowels and intestines. Bleeding piles and dysentery can be cured by the juice in addition to the white of an egg and a pinch of opium. The green skin of the raw fruit is dried and powdered and two teaspoons of this powder in half a cup of cow's milk with a teaspoonful of bees honey is another tonic for dysentery and piles. Meanwhile, the white juice that oozes near the stem when unripe mangoes are plucked, can be mixed with lime and applied as a remedy for skin infections or diseases.


An excellent gargle for sore throats is the fruit juice of the 'timbiri'. Known botanically as Diospyris malabarcia, the tree of this fruit is found commonly in the dry zone of Sri Lanka. The ripe fruit is said to contain a high quantity of tannin contained in a gummy juice which is also useful in diarrhoea and internal haemorrhage. A poultice of the bark helps in boils and tumours while a decoction of the bark mixed with ghee is a soothing remedy for burns. A powder of the root bark can be prepared in a manner similar to coffee, which helps cure coughs.

Coral Tree

For an earache 'erabadu' (Erythrina variegeta) and also known as Coral Tree is highly recommended. The juice of the leaves of this decorative tree with brilliant scarlet flowers, can be gently applied in drop form to the ears for relief. The fresh juice of the leaves mixed with a bit of bees honey is a good remedy for tapeworm, threadworm and roundworm and the dosage is one teaspoon once a day. A preventive against worms is the cooking of tender leaves with coconut milk. The juice of the leaves can also be applied to the gums to relieve toothache. A poultice of the leaves can be applied to joints of the body for relief from rheumatic pains.


Another important fruit-medicine is the 'nelli'. This is a small, green sour fruit with a very high quantity of vitamin C.z There is hardly any disease for which the 'nelli' is not used either singly or in combination with other herbs.
The 'nelli' is given to strengthen the retina and improves weak and defective vision. If dried 'nelli' is soaked overnight and the juice extracted and drunk each morning, it makes a good laxative. Leaves boiled and applied on skin eruptions is said to be beneficial. The ground leaves are said to cure eczema. Two tablespoons of 'nelli' mixed with a tablespoon of bees honey, taken regularly each morning helps reduce bleeding piles, while raw 'nelli', sour as it may be, improves complexion. Half a cup of 'nelli' juice twice a week helps keep bowel movements in order.

Kohomba (margosa or azadirachta)

This is useful for certain diseases. It has definite antiseptic properties.

Katukarosana(picrorhiza kurroa)

The roots of this plant have been used to make a preparation for blood purification; it is also employed in cough remedies.

These are medicinal properties of just a few of the many invaluable plants found in Sri Lanka. For every ailment there is probably a plant cure with none of the side-effects that strong synthetically processed drugs on the market have. In ancient Sri Lanka such remedies were commonly and effectively used although down the ages many of these medicinal remedies have become extinct.

Gotukola (sentella asiatica)

This is known as remedy for hey fever and catarrh. It has a high content of vitamin A and folic acid. It's commercially available now as a herbal and in capsule form.

Beverages of Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan Beverages are mainly boiled plant parts which posses an ayurvedic value. People rarely drink fresh drinks. Such as young coconuts, either green or orange color, Oranges, Limes, etc. Tea, with milk or without milk, is the main drink not as a ayurvedic drink but as a day to day beverage for refreshing. However in rural areas there are other kinds of drinks and tea is not popular since tea is expensive.