A Guide to Dining in Sri Lanka

Dining in Sri Lanka is still a ritual unlike in the West, so understanding the etiquette that prevails will help you get the best out of your meal
Mention the cuisine of Sri Lanka and the majority of foreigners will say they imagine it’s just like Indian food. Such comments completely underestimate the varied, eclectic cuisine that has developed on an island that has played host to different ethnic groups and nationalities. While there is, of course, an Indian influence, there are also Dutch, British, Arab and Portuguese flavours and recipes that vie for attention. Sri Lankan is definitely special!

This has led to a country in which the inescapable rice and curry sits alongside ‘Chinese’ food adjusted to suit the Sri Lankan palate. Numerous bakeries across the island overflow with “short eats” – pastries filled with spicy concoctions, fish cutlets – and freshly baked cakes and biscuits, reminiscent of British high teas. Then there are the wonderful home-grown treats such as kiri bath (milk rice served at all auspicious occasions), pol sambol (fresh grated coconut combined with chilli, salt, pepper, onions and lime), “hoppers” (crispy at the edge and gooey in the middle pancakes) and kavum (dough cakes deep-fried in coconut oil).

It is not only the cuisine that is distinctive, but also the way in which it is consumed. Sit down for a Sri Lankan meal and you must contend with a number of ‘consumption rules’ that are very different to what you might do elsewhere.

Rice & Curry
Rice & Curry

Eating With Your Fingers

Firstly, you have to forget about cutlery and prepare to delve in with your fingers. It may surprise all of the food lovers everywhere that this is absolutely the most delicious way to enjoy a curry. The different curries are mixed with the rice using the fingers of your right hand. This is because of the belief that the left hand is the ‘dirty’ one to be used for trips to the bathroom. Also the food should never work its way above your knuckles, as you should mix only with your fingers and not roll the food in your palms. Then as you are about to eat, the food should be balanced on your fingertips and then given the final push with the back of the thumb. Strangely, licking your fingers is also a no-no.

Don’t worry too much if you cannot master the technique, most hosts will gladly offer you cutlery to help you enjoy the meal.

Although we say “rice and curry”, in the west we often eat curry and rice, in that the rice is an accompaniment to the main curry dishes. In Sri Lanka it is truly RICE and curry. The slightest of Sri Lankan women can put away about three days’ worth of western rice portions at one sitting and that is nothing compared to the men. Also while the west is used to slices of bread, in Sri Lanka they just cut the loaves in half and dig in, mopping up the curry gravy with lumps of ripped apart bread.

A visitor eating a rice and curry should be careful to eat rice and curry rather than curry and rice. It would be embarrassing if a family had made what they felt was enough for them and their guest, only for the guest to ladle four large pieces of chicken, two slices of fish and half the vegetables on their plate and then a tablespoon of rice as an accompaniment. This would be depriving the family of food and also making them lose face.

Spicy Sri Lankan Food

There are other advantages to being sparing with the curries when you first begin to serve yourself. Sometimes, the food can be extremely hot, and by serving yourself a little of each curry you can test which ones you can handle, all tempered by generous handfuls of rice. If you do find you really like something, simply top up your serving as the meal progresses.

Other etiquette includes taking a small gift for your host. If they put it aside and don’t even bother to look at it for the duration of your visit, don’t leave highly offended vowing never to buy a gift for them again. It is actually polite not to make a big deal of a gift in Sri Lanka, since the act of giving is what is important – not the contents. Once you get used to it, it’s actually a great relief not to have to endure fake exclamations of delight when you have presented somebody with a gift they do not like.

There are culinary surprises to be aware of, too. Avocados in Sri Lanka is classed as a fruit, and rather than being served with prawns and mayonnaise or as a guacamole dip, are often blended with sugar or condensed milk to constitute a very sweet treat. Pineapple can be served not in fruit salad form, but with salt and pepper, and unripe mango tends to be dipped in salt and chilli.


How I fell into freelance translation

On this grey overcast morning in Sri Lanka I have been thinking about what to post as my first translation-related blog. Being fairly new to full-time freelance translation I still have a lot to learn and I have learnt some of this through reading other translators’ blogs so  I hope that what I will post in the coming months and years will be of benefit to new linguists joining the freelance translation  and/or localisation profession and other freelancers (work-from-homers) in general.

Freelance translation
Freelance translation

So, whilst thinking about what to write…the pro’s and con’s of Google translation or something about establishing yourself on social media, how to find new clients maybe, it suddenly dawned on me that most translators I know were educated in or trained to do something else and I always find it really interesting to read how they became translators.

Here is my story:

After leaving London (and a very well-paid job) in 2004 to travel, my first stop was Sri Lanka. I had a job in a hotel bar and all was going great until Boxing day, 2004 – the Indian Ocean tsunami. Luckily I wasn’t hurt and I didn’t lose any friends. The tourists all left though so there was no more job. I stayed on and did some voluntary work but soon discovered that my resources weren’t endless and I needed to find some paying work. I went to Holland in 2005 and worked in a restaurant for 3 months but decided I wanted to go back to Sri Lanka and this is when my foray into freelancing started.

Google was my freelancing friend in those early days. I searched endless websites for freelancing work (initially many were scams or pyramid schemes but I soon learned to avoid those). In 2006 many new freelancing websites were beginning to surface or get media attention; elance.com, freelancer.com, oDesk.com to name a few. So I joined them ALL and started building my profile and looking for writing work. Now anybody can call themselves a writer and join these sites so I struggled at first. After dropping my rates to ridiculously low levels I was becoming discouraged and I realised I needed a more marketable skill than just “writing”.

So, armed with my Economics and Philosophy degree I started searching for more specific writing jobs; financial writing, banking articles etc. I joined some essay writing sites such as Essay writers. These paid a lot better but god was the work boring and tedious. Basically students are outsourcing their essays, theses etc. to professional writers because either they can’t be bothered to do their own work or their English is dreadful.

During quiet times I went back to my other freelancing sites and I stumbled across some Dutch to English translation work quite by accident. I really enjoyed the work and started searching for jobs using my Dutch! I am Dutch and speak the language fluently but only then did I realise that because I am truly bilingual – this is an enormous marketable skill!! I was 33 years old and had only just realised this. This was six years ago and I haven’t looked back.


  • Start by joining as many agencies as you can initially (online) and you can then stick with those that have the most work or offer the best rates per word etc.
  • Google your specific language combinations – agencies which specialise in your languages will be more likely to hire you.
  • Familiarise yourself with translation associations and societies.  Even if you don’t join them straight away – they have great resources such as free downloads and useful links on their sites. Here is a comprehensive list of ALL organisations & associations.
  • ProZ.com is a great place to start learning everything about translation and looking for jobs too. I will post more good links soon.

I have been a full-time Dutch => English => Dutch freelance translator and localisation professional for 2 years now and I love it!

Manioc, a Sri Lankan all Time Favourite

Long, tapered manioc tubers are dull brown and rough on the outside. The white flesh of manioc can be composed into floury, sweet and sour mouth-watering dishes.


Cassava, tapioca alias manioc is renowned for its ability to survive extreme droughts and thrive in rainy conditions. A delicious substitute for potatoes and the third largest source of carbohydrates for human food, this tropical root continues to leave its mark in the world of gastronomy. In Sri Lanka, manioc is the next best thing to a staple food (other than rice!) and manioc lovers consume it in all its forms.

Boiled manioc with lunu miris (a tangy chilli paste with onions and sometimes maldive fish) and scraped coconut is a preferred breakfast dish amongst many Sri Lankans. Some prefer boiled manioc with a spicy meat dish and scraped coconut.

Ingredients for boiled manioc (3/4 people):

  • 1.5 kg peeled, cubed manioc
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp turmeric

Ingredients for lunu miris:

  • 1 or 2 red onion chopped very finely
  • 1 tomato chopped very finely
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes (or more depending on how hot you like it)
  • 2 tsp lime or lemon juice
  • salt (some use ground dried fish but this can be an acquired taste)
  • pepper


The yams are peeled, washed and boiled in an open pot for about 20 minutes, with a salt and turmeric to enhance the flavour and add a beautiful yellow hue to the dishes.

The ingredients for the lunu miris are mixed together and ground or in more modern kitchens passed briefly through the blender.

Manioc curry is a thick creamy curry that most Sri Lankans love. The rich consistency of this concoction owes its savoury aroma to the spices that go into making the dish. As is the case with most Sri Lankan dishes, manioc curry preparation slightly varies from region to region. However, the typical manioc curry is a simple and straightforward dish.

Manioc curry
Manioc curry

Ingredients for manioc curry (3/4 people):

  • 1.5 kg manioc
  • 1 ts turmeric powder
  • 1 ts chilli powder
  • 1 ts cumin powder
  • sprig of cinnamon pandan leaves & a sprig of curry leaves (or bay leaves)
  • salt & pepper
  • 500 ml coconut milk (fresh or canned)
  • OPTIONAL: lightly browned onions and garlic (this is called tempering in Sri Lanka)


  1. Peel the tubers, wash thoroughly and cut into fair sized pieces.
  2. Boil until the manioc is tender. Drain.
  3. Add turmeric powder, chilli powder, cumin powder, cinnamon pandan leaves, curry leaves and salt. Mix well and pour over coconut milk.
  4. Boil the mixture until the yams absorb most of the liquid.
  5. Lightly tempered (fried) onions and garlic is also sometimes added to the curry.

This tempting dish is served with plain rice.

Nevertheless, there is one rule that most Sri Lankan manioc fans comprehend – “never take manioc with ginger”. According to popular belief manioc and ginger taken together could cause poisoning.

Manioc chips come in several shapes and sizes; extra thin round chips, thick square chunks, long thin French fry lookalikes and much more. The making of manioc chips is an art in itself.

Manioc chips
Manioc chips

As dusk falls, roadside manioc vendors get ready for their days work. The brown outer layers are peeled off, revealing the chalk white flesh tinged with soft pink. The vendors then grate or cut the tubers with a swift rhythmic movement of the hand. The sliced of grated manioc slices go into a wok filled with boiling hot oil. Yellow chips with slightly browned edges are ladled out of the wok and then piled into partitioned sections of their carts. With the customary chilli powder and salt mix, the chips are sold to manioc lovers from all walks of life. I personally love them as a snack with my sunset beer 🙂

Spicy Prawn Curry (by request)

In this section I will post about Sri Lankan food and recipes. If there is anything you have eaten in Sri Lanka or in a Sri Lankan restaurant elsewhere and you would like to know to know how to make it at home, let me know and I will ask my friends here in Sri Lanka for their version or post from my collection of Sri Lankan cookbooks.

This is a recipe for a Spicy Prawn Curry:

Spicy Prawn Curry
Spicy Prawn Curry


500 g prawns – you can use large king prawns or smaller varieties

1 small stick cinnamon

1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds

Sprig of fresh curry leaves (if not available you can use bay leaves)

1 stem fresh lemon grass, bruised

or 2 strips lemon rind

1 strip rampe leaf (if not available chop up one leek very finely)

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1-2 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp salt or to taste

2 cups thick coconut milk (fresh is best but canned is possible)

Lime or lemon juice to taste


Wash prawns and remove the heads and carefully take out the veins, but leave the rear of prawns with shells intact. Put all ingredients, except the prawns and lime juice into a saucepan. Stir in one cup of water and bring slowly to simmering point. Simmer uncovered for five minutes. Add prawns and lime juice and stir. Simmer for a further five minutes. Add more salt and lime juice if necessary and serve with boiled rice or bread.

This recipe is all about the prawns so I have not included onions or garlic but only spices. Spicy food is loved by most people and the spices blended in this curry will give the prawns a delicious twist.

Relaxation Sunday – my first ever blog

Hello people, I’ve decided to start a blog today for several reasons: 1) I am bored on a Sunday and relaxing at home in Sri Lanka (and I couldn’t resist the lure of the laptop) 2) I live a lifestyle that many will find “different” or “interesting” – basically I live in Sri Lanka for 6 months of the year and the UK (or as many other places as I can go…finances permitting) for the other 6 months. Being Dutch by birth usually means at least one trip to Holland per year too 🙂 3) I love travel, food, recipes, indulgence, trying out new things and general enjoyment of life and why the hell shouldn’t I share my ideas, tips, recipes, views & opinions with other like-minded souls? 4) Although I would really prefer to spend my time writing about 5 star hotels and resorts in the Maldives, the Seychelles, the Andaman Islands (OK you get the picture!)…my actual working life consists mainly of translation and localisation work from Dutch into English and vice versa. So some of this blog will be about working at home, tips for that in general and specific translation blogs too. I will try to categorise everything properly…however this is my first blog so bear with me if I f*ck up. RIGHT – now that that is out of the way I would like to share with you the Sri Lankan concept of a “kade” or a “boutique“… A boutique shop in my local town of Aluthgama is not comparable to boutique shops in Bond Street or the Kings Road. The first difference is that my local “kade” or “boutique” sells everything. Uncle smiles at me as I approach:

My local Kade or
My local Kade or “boutique”

He gets ready to stand up to serve me and nearly automatically hands me a packet of 12 Gold Leaf cigarettes. Customised service if ever there was such a thing. I also buy a bottle of water, some butter (for the fresh bread from the muslim bakery…more on that later), a bag of pop-corn (no idea why, but why not at 20 rupees (about 10 pence), a bottle of mango juice and a DVD. Yes a DVD. I’ll let you know if it works later. Living in Sri Lanka means colour – whether it’s your local “kade”, a beautiful sunset or monks in their orange robes walking down the street. Sundays are my day off from work generally so I lazed about on the balcony and enjoyed the river views. We had parties:

Party boat on Bentota River
Party boat on Bentota River

With 80’s disco music and lots of Bob Marley. And then after a short bout of rain…peace and tranquility:

Fisherman on Bentota River
Fisherman on Bentota River at sunset

One of my favourite things in the world is cooking and trying out new recipes. Being as it’s a Sunday and a Sunday roast is not really applicable to my lifestyle at the moment I will give you two alternative recipes (both guaranteed to make you feel better after a Saturday night out): One the perfect hangover cure...my bloody mary: This is for one long glass so adjust your measurements according to how strong/weak you want it and whether you are serving a pitcher!

  • 2 fingers of vodka (I don’t do measurements)
  • 5 fingers of tomato juice
  • juice of half a lime (throw in a slice or two too if you like)
  • good shake of Worcester sauce (available from most supermarkets in Sri Lanka)
  • half a teaspoon of celery salt or normal salt (if the latter you may want to add very finely chopped celery if you want that taste)
  • pinch of pepper
  • good shake of tabasco (if desired)

The trick to this is really to get the right tomato juice and salt level. I like mine salty and spicy. If you are very brave and hungover add a raw egg. Let me know if any of you try it out!! THE SECOND is a Sri Lankan breakfast dish, which is wonderful in both it’s simplicity and the wonders it can do for a hangover:

Coconut roti with lunu miris
Coconut roti with lunu miris

A Delectable Pol Roti Recipe with Accompaniments:

Sri Lankan Warm Flat Roti Breads with Coconut Pol roti is a Sri Lankan dish which is normally served for breakfast with a chilli paste (lunu miris) or coconut sambol. This warm flat bread made with wheat or kurukkan flour and scraped coconut is a favourite amongst all ages in Sri Lanka. It is usually served with savoury spicy accompaniments (involving lots of chilli!) but can be eaten with butter and jam too. This pol (“coconut”) roti is usually thicker and harder than other roti types and can be made slightly crispy. In this recipe green chillis, onions and some curry leaves are added to give the pol roti even more taste. The ingredients you will need are:

  • 400 g refined flour
  • 1/2 coconut, scraped (you can buy this frozen from Asian food shops abroad)
  • 6  small onions, sliced
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 green chillies, sliced
  • 1 bunch curry leaves
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Salt

Method: In a bowl mix scraped coconut, green chillies, onions, curry leaves and salt. Using your hand nicely mix in the ingredients till juices are released. Start adding the flour and bind the mixture. Add little water at a time and knead the dough. Knead till you get the normal roti dough consistency (thicker than pizza dough). Grease your palm with a little butter. (The idea behind greasing your palms is to avoid the batter from sticking to your palms). Divide the dough into 6-8 equal sized balls. Flatten on a floured board or plate using your palms. If more crispy crust is desired, roll using rolling pin. Cook on a heated heavy bottom pan (or a traditional Sri Lankan flat pan – tawa) until golden brown on both sides under medium heat. Remove from pan and serve hot with pol sambol or lunu miris (recipes below). Alternatively go for a sweet option and have the pol roti with butter and jam. I even have it with butter and cheese! Coconut Sambol or Pol Sambol as it is called in Sinhala is probably the most popular dish in the country. One of the easiest and cheapest to prepare, this dish is served from the humblest adobe by the roadside to the finest five star hotels in Sri Lanka. It is eaten in Sri Lanka as an accompaniment to rice and curry, for breakfast with pol roti or simply with bread. Ingredients:

  • 2 cups freshly scraped coconut (about 1 coconut)
  • 3-4 small red onions (shallots) or 2 red onions, very finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp of chilli powder
  • 1 tsp of chilli flakes
  • 1 green chilli, finely chopped
  • 2-3 tbsp lime or lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper (I like plenty of salt)
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped curry leaves (optional)
  • 1 tbsp of maldive fish (optional) – I am not a fan but others are – try what you like.

Method: Grind the all the ingredients above except lime (or lemon) in a mortar and pestle (wangediya) – or just bang in a food processor ;-). Mix in the coconut, grind some more until the sambol has a red tint. Squeeze the lime juice, mix and adjust salt to taste. Serve straight-away. Very often pol roti is served with lunu miris. This is a very spicy paste made from chillies and onions. You can vary the amount of chilli according to your taste. Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp of chilli flakes
  • 2 or 3 fresh red chillies (optional)
  • Half a tsp of salt
  • 1 or 2 red onions (very finely chopped)
  • 1 tbsp ground maldive fish (optional) – again I leave this out but others swear by it.
  • Juice of a half a lime or lemon (or more)


  1. Grind the all the ingredients above except lime (or lemon) in a mortar and pestle (wangediya). Again you may find the food processor does wonders.
  2. Squeeze in the lime juice, mix and serve when fresh.

What is Maldive Fish? Maldive fish are small dried sprat-like fish from the Maldives. They should be available in your local Maldivian, Indian or Sri Lankan shop. If maldive fish is not available you can try dried prawns or other dried fish.  They have quite a strong taste and hence are optional in the above recipes.

Dried maldive fish
Dried maldive fish

Where to Buy a Coconut Scraper The shop that you buy your coconuts from will probably be able to tell you where to find a coconut scraper. You can also order them from the internet. If you can’t find one try a serrated knife. OR buy frozen coconut pieces from a large supermarket. Good luck. I’ll write again soon. x