Eating & drinking in Sri Lanka

Eating and drinking is one of the great joys of travelling and although the cuisine in Sri Lanka is not world famous, like that of Thailand or Japan, it can still be very exciting and incredibly delicious. Below are a few thoughts on what you might expect and where you might like to eat. Welcome to the culinary world of Sri Lanka!

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Eating & drinking in Sri Lanka 

  • Typical dish in Sri Lanka: Fish curry & rice (made with a selection of local spices, hot unless requested otherwise!)
  • Cost of lunch in a local restaurant: US$5-10 per person excluding drinks
  • Cost of dinner in a 4 star hotel: US$30-45 per person excluding drinks
  • Cost of a local beer: Lion Beer 330ml US$3
  • Cost of a bottle of wine: Standard Australian US$25-$40 

Eating out

In the larger cities of Sri Lanka you will find a variety of both local eateries and more sophisticated International restaurants. In the smaller and more remote places you are staying, there will be a more limited choice and you might find yourself eating in the hotel restaurant. You can ask your driver-guide or at your hotel for nearby restaurant recommendations and take a look at our recommended restaurants section for some more ideas of where to eat out.

Being a Buddhist country, a large proportion of the nation’s cooking is meat-free and you will find in some of the more remote places you will be hard pushed to find a restaurant offering meat. Don’t panic! We find that even those with the most carnivorous western palate find themselves delighted with the array of vegetable curries, rotis, hoppers and string hoppers on offer, not to mention the bewildering variety of fruit. In the predominantly Sinhalese south, you will usually find fish and, if you are near the coast, fresh seafood on the menu. However in the north of the country the cuisine is predominantly Tamil (south Indian) with no meat, fish, eggs or alcohol.

Here are a few of our favourite restaurants & bars in Sri Lanka

If you are on a tour of Sri Lanka, you are likely to be spending at least some (often most) of your time staying in fairly isolated locations where you are likely to be eating dinner in your hotel. In the larger towns and cities however, there is a growing choice of different restaurants and we have put together the following list of suggestions based on our own experiences and recommendations from previous clients. Most of these establishments are well-known, so ask your guide or hotel staff for directions and advice on arranging transport.

Vegetarian – As a predominantly Buddhist country, vegetarian food is widespread and in most places you will find a good selection of vegetarian dishes, particularly those specialising in South Indian Cuisine.

Restaurants & bars in Colombo:

Raja Bojun – Right in the heart of the city in Colombo 3, Raja Bojun is a safe place to experience authentic Sri Lankan cuisine. Offering an extensive buffet or an à la carte menu, there are a large range of meat, fish and vegetable curries, hoppers and sting hoppers. The fruit cocktails (non-alcoholic) are also worth sampling. Liberty Arcade 282, R A De Mel Mawatha, +94 11 4716171

Curry Leaf Restaurant (Hilton Colombo) – In the garden of the Hilton in Colombo 2, the Curry Leaf Restaurant has a wide selection of local cuisine, including an excellent seafood ‘market’ where you can handpick your dinner. The restaurant is open-air and set in the hotel’s relaxing landscaped gardens. +94 11 2 492 492

Ministry of Crab – Owned by legendary cricketers, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, the Ministry of Crab has fast become a bit of an institution in Colombo and is housed inside the Old Dutch Hospital, one of the oldest and most recognisable buildings in Colombo Fort. Some good fish, chicken and vegetable dishes are available but really this place is all about the seafood and the crab in particular! , Old Dutch Hospital, Colombo 1, +94 11 234 2722

Manhattan Fish Market – American style fresh seafood restaurant in Colombo 03. The Manhattan Fish Market offers comfort food and casual dining for when you’re ready for a break from rice and curry. 31 Deal Place A, Colombo 3, +94 11 2 301901

The Lagoon (Cinnamon Grand) – The Lagoon is a fine dining seafood restaurant in the Cinnamon Grand Hotel (Colombo 3). For Sri Lanka, this place is pricey but it serves some fantastic seafood in classy surroundings. 77 Galle Road, Colombo 3, +94 112 437 437

Agra – With its stylish interior, Agra is a reasonably priced North Indian Restaurant in Colombo 7 is a great choice for a romantic dinner and has plenty of meat and vegetarian on the menu, including a broad selection of Tandoori options and Kebabs. 100/10 Sri Lanka Foundation Mw, Colombo 7, +94 114 723 333

Chutneys (Cinnamon Grand) – Chutneys is great South Indian jaunt, housed within the vast Cinnamon Grand Hotel complex. Chutney’s has a very extensive menu, with specialities from all over South India and including many vegetarian options. 77 Galle Road, Colombo 3, +94 112 437 437

ShanmugasShanmugas is considered one of Colombo's best options for South Indian vegetarian food. In an atmospheric old building and tucked away in Colombo 6, the meat free menu here is worth venturing away from Colombo Fort for. 53/3, Ramakrishna Road, Colombo 6, +94 11 255920

The Mango Tree – A funky dining experience, conveniently located in Colombo 3, the Mango Tree takes traditional North Indian classics and gives them a contemporary twist. The Kathi Kebabs (Rolls) are a good choice if you’re popping in here for lunch. No. 82, Dharmapala, Mawatha, Colombo 3, +94 11 7620620

Tintagel – Tintagel is a luxurious boutique hotel located in the revered former residence of the Bandaranaike family, famous for their dominance of 20th century politics in Sri Lanka. If you’re not staying here and are in the mood for some sophisticated international food then we recommend making a dinner reservation here. Leave plenty of time to enjoy your surroundings and have a snoop around! 65 Rosmead Place, Colombo 7, +94 11 460 2060

Barefoot Café – This family friendly garden café in Colombo 3 serves well priced international dishes with a particularly tempting desert and cake selection. With a laid back atmosphere and space it is a good place to bring children. 704 Galle Road, Colombo 3, +94 11 2553075

Cricket Club Café – Since its opening in 1996, the Cricket Club Café is a friendly Australian run restaurant and bar has become a Colombo institution. The walls are decorated with a fascinating collection of cricket memorabilia and many international cricketers have popped in for a drink whilst on tour in Sri Lanka. It is a good place to watch live sport and there is a decent ‘pub-grub’ menu. 34 Queens Road, Colombo 3, +94 11 250 1384

In on the Green (Galle Face Hotel) – Western style bar that is part of the Galle Face Hotel, facing out onto Galle Face Road. Shows live sport and has a pub quiz every Wednesday. 2 Galle Road, Colombo 3, +94 11 254 1010

Restaurants & bars in Kandy:

Kandyan Muslim Hotel – Not a hotel at all, the Kandyan Muslim Hotel is a simple eatery and café that serves some delicious Sri Lankan cuisine. Famous for its breads (naan and roti) and very spicy curries (many vegetarian), this is a good option if you wish to eat quick and local. Sri Dalada Veediya, +94 81 2 229129

Flower Song – Decent Chinese food in unpretentious surroundings and at a modest price. 137 E L Senanayake Veediya, +94 81 2 223628

Empire Café –just a 5 minute walk from the Temple of the Tooth, the café is part of the Olde Empire Hotel. Open all day and a good place for lunch or dinner with reliable western and local favourites. 21 Temple Street, +94 81 2 239870

Restaurants & bars in Galle:

The Church Street Social – The restaurant of the stylish Fort Bazaar Hotel is deservedly gaining a reputation for top service and delicious food. The food is Asian Fusion with a distinctive Middle-Eastern twist, and you can choose to dine in the airy dining room or sit out watching the world go by out on the verandah. 26 Church Street, Galle Fort, +94 91 224 2888

Pedlar’s Inn – What started life as a simple Coffee shop in 2004 is now one of the fort’s best restaurants with a wide ranging menu ranging from sandwiches and cakes to fresh seafood., 92 Pedlar Street, Galle Fort. +94 91 22 253 33

Galle Fort Hotel – In the heart of the fort, as well as peaceful accommodation, the Galle Fort Hotel has a fine restaurant and cocktail menu. Sit out on the verandah and enjoy in colonial splendour! 28 Church Street, Galle Fort, +94 91 2232870

Wijaya Beach – A few kilometres south of Galle, Wijaya Beach is a long-standing family restaurant is on a lovely stretch of beach and is a relaxed place to come and spend a day, particularly if you are travelling with kids. The food is Asian and European with an emphasis on seafood and a wood-fired oven producing great pizzas.  +94 77 7903431

Restaurants & bars in Nuwara Eliya:

Sri Ambaal’s – A local favourite. This simple South-Indian style café in the centre of Nuwara Eliya serves cheap and tasty dosas and other vegetarian fare. Ideal for a quick lunch and to make the most of it you might like to go with your driver as there is no English menu. New Bazaar Street, +94 052-2235281

The Hill Club – A former private club for gentlemen during the British colonial times, it remains a member’s club, but overseas visitors can be admitted as temporary guests. A 5 course set dinner or a la carte international dishes are served up and reservations are required. The dress code is jacket and tie for gentlemen (can be borrowed from the club) and ‘formal dress’ for ladies.  29 Grand Hotel Road, +94 0522 222 653

Railway Carriage Restaurant (Heritance Tea Factory Hotel) This hotel inside a restored tea factory is totally unique and has some tremendous views out over the plantations and villages in the valley below. The hotel has a couple of restaurants, the most fun being the Railway Carriage Restaurant where you dine in an old carriage. Spaces are very limited so you will need to book ahead and if not staying at the hotel, arrange transportation there (about 30 mins from Nuwara Eliya). +94 052 5555000

Grand Thai/Grand Indian (Grand Hotel) – Good quality Thai or Indian food in the famous Grand Hotel on the outskirts of town (next to the Hill Club). It is quite pricey, but safe and nice to have a drink in the hotel’s Public Bar before dinner. , +94-52-2222881