Sri Lankan Breakfast

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Sri Lankan curry for breakfast, you can’t beat it. Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day and Sri Lankan breakfast has been the highlight of my early morning eating experiences over the many years of our nomadic travel adventure. (Read more about who we are, what we’re doing and why, here.). We have a post on other breakfasts around the world, but Sri Lanka wins, hands down. Find out what’s for breakfast in Sri Lanka in our blog post.

Sri Lankan breakfast, as served in Sri Lanka for tourists, westernised.
This is a fairly typical Sri Lankan breakfast, somewhat adapted for tourists. The string hoppers, dal and coconut chutney are typical of a Sri Lankan breakfast, with hard boiled eggs, tropical fruit (papaya) and toast, butter and marmalade. Whichever version of a Sri Lankan breakfast you’re served, it’s always pretty good! More traditional Sri Lankan breakfass are down the page . (or watch the video!)

We also have a little video on food in Sri Lanka, including breakfast foods, below.If you let our videos play, we have lots more!

Large amounts of delicious, gently spiced dishes always put a smile on my face in the early morning. A fine china pot of Sri Lankan tea to go with it makes me even happier.

Luckily, my husband ( the Chef) and children share my enthusiasm for Sri Lankan breakfast, so we never had any demands for cereal or toast.

Sri Lankan breakfast with milk rice.
Milk rice is another Sri Lankan breakfast food to try. Here it is served with an omelette and some spicy chutney. The best omelettes in Sri Lanka are masala omelettes, which contain onion, garlic and chillies typically. Again, here we have toast, fruit and marmalade in addition to the Sri Lankan breakfast foods.
Typical Sri Lankan breakfast as eaten in Sri Lanka
This is a more traditional or local Sri Lankan breakfast and most customers at this little restaurant were Sri Lankan. It was so good. String hoppers, dal (curry) 3 types of chutney, with fresh coconut. String hoppers are made from rice flour, fermented and steamed, they’re delicious and a popular breakfast carbohydrate in Sri Lanka.

My second choice for breakfast excellence would be South Indian vada, dosa, idly and sambal, again, curry dishes with interesting carbs. You can read more about Indian breakfasts here.

You can buy these Indian foods in Sri Lanka easily, often as “short eats” or idli can be a part of a sri Lankan breakfast. We probably shouldn’t call them Indian, as they are part of Sri Lankan heritage too, but most travellers would think of these as Indian, I guess.

What Goes into a Sri Lankan Breakfast?

Sri Lankan Breakfast Dishes

Sri Lankan breakfasts vary, no two are the same, but mostly you can expect a selection of the following dishes. In Sri Lanka, breakfast can contain some or a selection of the following dishes.

coconut roti for breakfast in sri lanka
Coconut roti (pol roti) is another type of flat bread you may find for breakfast in Sri Lanka.
  • Meat, Fish or Chicken Curry. Meat curries at breakfast didn’t crop up very regularly during our time in Sri Lanka, but we did see them included in set breakfasts in Kandy. I’m as vegetarian as I can be, so we normally go for meat-free dishes. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t very keen on the fish curries I tried, too many bones and skins for me, the vegetarian curries suited us a lot better. ( We stayed in Kandy for 5 days and had a wonderful time, click here for things to do and see in Kandy)
  • Potato Curry. A mild, coconut-based potato curry, more like a soup, was often included in our Sri Lankan breakfasts. All of the ones we tried were superb, this was the dish that converted my kids to curry for breakfast.
  • Meat, Fish or Chicken Curry. Meat curries at breakfast didn’t crop up very regularly during our time in Sri Lanka, but we did see them included in set breakfasts in Kandy. I’m as vegetarian as I can be, so we normally go for meat-free dishes. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t very keen on the fish curries I tried, too many bones and skins for me, the vegetarian curries suited us a lot better. ( We stayed in Kandy for 5 days and had a wonderful time, click here for things to do and see in Kandy)
  • Egg CurryHard boiled eggs in a similar mild coconut sauce. Another winner with the family.
  • Dahl. Sri Lankan dahl is denser than its Indian counterpart. At first we weren’t so keen, but once we got used to the different texture and spicing we couldn’t get enough. We never saw a breakfast in Sri Lanka that did not include a dal (lentil) curry.
  • Coconut (Pol) Sambol. The sambol was the star of the show for me. We’d watch our hosts shredding fresh coconuts to make the fine coconut base. To this they would add hot red chillies, a little lime and tamarind, salt and chopped onion (find a recipe here). It’s more of an accompaniment really, but I couldn’t get enough of it. The finished dish is dry and must always be fresh.
  • String Hoppers (appam or idiappam). These look like nests of spaghetti and are fine strands of rice flour batter pushed through a sieve or idiappam maker and steamed. String hoppers are served with curries and chutneys as part of a Sri Lankan breakfast.
  • Plain Hoppers. Bowl shaped pancakes of rice flour and coconut milk. You can find every possible hopper variation on the hopper theme in Sri Lanka. Egg hoppers, cheese and vegetable hoppers pleased my kids. Read more about hoppers in “What is a Hopper?” here.
  • Coconut (pol) Roti. Another bread type roti, this one is fairly thick and dense with coconut.
  • Fresh tropical fruit can be on the Sri Lankan breakfast menu. Fruits such as pineapple, papaya and banana can be served. (Photo below).
  • Milk Rice is a Sri Lankan speciality rice dish often served at breakfast time.

Finding a Sri Lankan Breakfast

One of the problems with food in Sri Lanka was the need to pre-order food, hours or days in advance.

sri lankan breakfast dishes
Another, more traditional Sri Lankan Breakfast. String hoppers, plain hoppers, pol roti, pol sambol, potato curry and dahl. So yum! This one was in Ella.

With breakfasts, we almost always had to order the night before.

There were a few exceptions, in Kandy Devon Tea Rooms on the main street did a roaring breakfast trade and everything was ready, set meal or pick and mix from the menu.

Likewise, in Mirissa (our almost paradise) the roti shop on the main road served string hoppers, dahl and sambol to all comers.

When we were travelling around it was, of course, difficult to specify where we’d be eating the next morning.

That said, most guest houses that we used served breakfast, rarely included in the price.

In our previous incarnation as hotel package tourists in Sri Lanka we were served western style breakfasts, fruit, cheese and eggs. We really missed out!

Sri Lankan Food Breakfast
Sri Lankan breakfast for Pinterest

Looking for a place to stay in Sri Lanka? Start your hotel search here.

If you’re off to Sri Lanka or have been, tell me what you thought of the breakfasts, leave a comment, I’m so in love with them I don’t think anybody could not like them. Could you?

Back to our main Sri Lanka travel blog page here for all the information you could possibly need on visiting Sr Lanka.

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About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

28 thoughts on “Sri Lankan Breakfast”

  1. I’m a Hugh fan of the Sri Lankan breakfast…and agree with you that the coconut sambol is the definite star. We had wonderful…Hugh…breakfasts in Ahangamah. The bread there was really good as well. We had to pre order, and when you do they are happy you want the same food that they eat.

    • My favourite! And we now have our own coconut tree and I’ve managed to find the Sri Lankan coconut shredding device to buy online. It’s just called a coconut grater, I was amazed to search that term and it was there.

  2. This is very similar to Kerala cusine a state in South of India very close to srilannka. That is the one place where in India you get seafish beef and pork dishes for breakfast. Stringhopers are a daily affair. Alyson need to explore that.

    • I’ve spent a lot of time in Kerala and yes it’s very similar, but I don’t think we’ve ever managed to track down idiappam there. Maybe it’s just not offered in the tourist places because they all assume we want muesli fruit curd. But there was one place in Kovalam where we found some really cool food, way back from the beach, we may have found idiappan, but my memory isn’t good! But yes, the south of India is another of my food favourites, love it. And now I’m hungry!

    • I agree south Indian cuisine is similar to SriLankan cuisine except in my opinion south Indian is spicier and hotter.

  3. Dear Alyson,
    I am really happy to hear about your love to Sri Lanka and it’s breakfast. As a Sri Lankan, I am really proud. I also missed those delicious food, since we moved out of the country. Thank you very much. Can I share this on Facebook. So my friends and family in Sri Lanka can see?

  4. I married a Sri Lankan so have tried many of the different Sri Lankan foods. Dahl is made slightly different in every region. The family I am staying with right now has made 6 different varieties of Dahl for me. Because I have told them I would like to try different things. Sometimes different lentils are used. Sometimes different spices. Sometimes fried onions and spices in oil are added to the top. They will tell you add curry powder but there is no standard curry powder for Sri Lanka. My husband once brought 13 different varieties of curry powder for me to try at home. We found many places for around $40 a night that served Sri Lankan breakfast you just requested when you checked in. We stayed in a place above Kandy I forget the name something in the clouds. Was a house transformed into charming place had 4 or 5 bedrooms. Air conditioned and not. Two dining areas. You could go on the roof for a stunning view or the city. We were the only guests so had the whole palce to ourselves. Our hostess came in the morning to make breakfast and upon request came at night to make us a wonderful dinner. Lots of gems like that to be found. Once stayed at paradise on the rocks. Charming little hotel that you have to hike to. No air conditioning and very tiny room but so much character. Carved from the side of the mountain. Beautiful view of the ocean. Took tons of pictures so unique. Host was a wonderful British man name Tony. Have so many wonderful memories of the varies places a few dives a few 5 star places but mostly little out of the place gems we found.

  5. Dear Alyson, My name is Ieke de Boer and I am requesting your help for something that would do me a big favour. I am now following the IB MYP4 at the International School Hilversum this includes the Personal Project. For my Personal Project I am investigating the differences and similarities between countries around the world, I will do this by comparing the breakfast meal with the geography, history and economy and other cultural aspects of different countries. I will need many different sources and countries for this project and I have contacted many friend of mine all over the world and I also came across a friend from Sri Lanka. The problem is that this person was on vacation so he was not in Sri Lanka at that time so he could not send me a picture of his breakfast scene. So what I am requesting is if I could use this picture to use it on my website under the country Sri Lanka. Ofcourse your name will be mentioned underneath the picture and in my report to prevent plagiarism and if you want to check this you can access the site in two weeks when I will publish it, I will send the link to you. Kind regards, Ieke de Boer

    • You’re very welcome to use my images Ieke. Thanks for being so polite. Could you just credit me and link back to this page, or our other Breakfast Around the World post? Thank you. I’d be interested to see your project.

  6. I love dahl and I’ve been trying to make it myself many times but it’s never as delicious as the authentic one 🙂

    • Same here Franca, always better bought. I’ll tell you Chef’s theory on this. Chefs aren’t thinking about your health, they’re thinking about flavour, so they’ll throw in as much fat, oil, salt and sugar as it takes. We don’t do that at home, even if it’s subconscious.

    • @Franca, I’m Anjali from Sri Lanka. The dhal curry is not that difficult to make. Wash the dhall,use coconut milk or cream with a little bit of water. Add salt, saffron,1 clove of squashed garlic, 1small piece of Garcinia or Tamarin, 1 green chilli cut intwo(length wise) 2 or3 small onions(chopped) ,a little bit of chilli powder if you want it a bit spicy,6-8 dill seeds. Add everything in to a pan and cook on moderate heat until the lentils are cooked. Adjust salt as needed. And the liquid as the dhall cooks according to your preferance.add more if you want gravy.good luck.

  7. Oh wow, that all looks amazing! I’m not really big on breakfasts, but I feel like this could convert me.

  8. Alyson, I have to agree with you, Sri Lankan food was great and not only for breakfast! It sometimes reminded me a bit of southern Indian food and luckily it was really easy to survive as vegetarian. While the Hoppers were great, my absolute favorite was Kottu Roti, but in the morning I mostly had short eats. They were not only really tasty, but also quite practical to take a way when jumping on an early bus… 🙂

  9. Sri Lankan breakfast are always about hoppers, pancakes and curry. I found it very stodgy and heavy to have it in the morning, but once I tried it I absolutely loved it. We had some egg hoppers filled with chives and veggies once and that was heaven. I was also surprised how cheap the local food was. Sometimes it was way too spicy, but I drank of a lot of water!

    • Hi Agness, yes the kids really enjoyed those filled hoppers, no spice at all. I must admit, we struggled to find god food in Sri Lanka quite often, there was so much bland western stuff on the boring standard beach bar menu that the real Sri Lankan food was forgotten. Plus a lot of the curry and rice we tried was bad. But those breakfasts were always superb, loved them to death. I grew up with a Sri Lankan family , I know how good it can be. It’s there in Sri Lanka, but you have to search for it.

  10. You hit a nerve there Rebel. I’ve only tried Nasi Lemak twice and vowed to never touch it ever again, something about dried fish with sugar doesn’t agree with me. Anchovies I love, those nasty little dried things…blegh! Same with Chef, he hates it too. Malaysia didn’t do it for us food wise at all, other than the excellent Indian food. Glad you like it, Enjoy! Have one for me,

    • Yes I personally don’t know anyone who shares my love of Nasi Lemak for breakfast. My second favourite Malaysian breakfast was the Roti Canai. I’ve added Sri Lakshmi Narayana Bhavan restaurant you went to in KL to my list, so hopefully we’ll get there for a god curry. I hope that’s the right one.

      • Don’t like roti canai either, tastes like curry powder in water to me, I’m sticking with Indian. Actually, we didn’t find any Malaysian food we liked, it just didn’t do it for us. That restaurant was on the next street to our hostel, if you pop over to Little India you’ll find gazillions more, we never made it over there, too lazy with good Indian right on our doorstep. Its all as good as the Indian food in India, love it!


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