Savoring Sri Lanka: A Culinary Journey through the Best Vegetarian Restaurants

by | Feb 20, 2024

Sri Lanka was once the crown jewel of the spice trade. Its cloves, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon tantalised the world. Yet, Sri Lanka’s culinary traditions remained a spicy secret, revealing only to those who came to find it. Today, Sri Lankan cuisine ranges from traditional curries to colonial fusion patisserie. The island is also one of the countries with the least meat consumption. Vegetarian isn’t an option here but a way of life for most. For those wanting to explore local vegetarian cuisine, we are taking you through our top picks for vegetarian restaurants in Sri Lanka. Hopefully, you have a holiday booked here, because you will get hungry!

Traditional vegetarian dishes of Sri Lanka

Kiribath (Milk rice) & Lunumiris

Considered an auspicious food cooked on special occasions, often celebratory, it is the queen of all traditional rice dishes. Sri Lankans make it for the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, preparing and eating it at the same appointed hour.

Usually made from white long-grain rice, thick coconut milk and salt are added to steaming boiled rice. Stirred through and cooked for a while, it yields a rich and creamy texture. Once the coconut milk is incorporated and steamed through, the rice gets lightly flattened on dishes to let it cool for a bit. Then, diamond-shaped slices or squares are cut and served with various dishes. However, the most common and fundamental one is lunumiris.

Lunumiris is a mixture of ground red chillies, onion, salt and lime juice. Maldive fish is a non-vegetarian optional ingredient. Other regional and ethnic variations of kiribath exist. Sometimes, it is made sweet with jaggery, treacle, ghee, nuts and raisins added to the rice. Kiribath can also be cooked with mung beans or stuffed with a sweet sambal of freshly scraped coconut and treacle. All these versions are vegetarian.

Polos curry

Jackfruit, in its various stages, is consumed here. Even its seeds are starchy and tasty. It is a must-try when in Sri Lanka. Mature Jackfruit is boiled and eaten with coconut or cooked as a creamy curry. Ripe Jackfruit is a juicy and sweet-smelling delicacy. Young Jackfruit, also called polos, is peeled, cut into cubes and cooked in coconut milk with aromatic spices. It has a shredded meat texture and pairs with anything from rice to Pittu.

Seeni sambal/sambola

Eaten with Kiribath, string hoppers, or sandwiched between bread, it is probably the most delicious onion fry you will ever know. Onions get fried with curry leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, pandang, and chilli flakes with a little bit of sugar and sometimes tamarind sauce. Spices and ingredients included in the fry can vary from home to home. Non-vegetarian options include Maldive Fish or dried shrimp.

String hoppers (indi appa) and hoppers (appa)

A dough made with rice flour, salt and water gets pressed through a mould that makes thin noodle shapes and woven into circular lattices, then steamed. These get eaten with vegetarian dishes like potato, dhal, seeni sambal or pol sambal.

Hoppers are little pots of pancakes made using a batter consisting of rice flour, coconut milk, salt and a hint of sugar. They are crispy on their wafer-thin edges and soft in the fluffy middle. Sweet hoppers incorporate sugar or treacle into the batter. You can eat hoppers with various dishes, including lunumiris and polos.

Pol sambal or pol sambola

This humble coconut relish is perhaps the most popular and versatile of all dishes. It tastes more intricate than the simple process it takes to make it. Shallots, garlic, red or green chillies, salt, pepper and lime juice are pounded into a paste using a pestle and mortar. Maldive Fish gets added to non-vegetarian sambola. It then gets mixed with freshly scraped coconut. You can add tomato chunks, too, if you like. Sometimes, the mixture gets lightly fried in some oil with curry leaves.

Gotukola sambal/sambola

The Asiatic pennywort is a medicinal herb in Sri Lanka, used for numerous health benefits, from hair growth to better blood circulation. The tiny round leaves and stems get shredded into slivers and tossed with shallots, chilli, tomatoes, freshly grated coconut, and seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Sometimes, grated carrots are used instead of tomatoes. It is a side dish for rice, but to be fair, you can eat it with any number of foods.

Wambotu Moju or pickled fried brinjals/eggplant/aubergine

You will never look at aubergine the same way again after tasting this. The purple and white, long, slender variety in Sri Lanka gets sliced into wedges and deep fried first. A sauce made from vinegar, mustard paste, salt, garlic, ginger, pepper, chilli powder and sugar gets tossed through the fried aubergine and heated. Green peppers, onion chunks, and sometimes carrots also get added. The ingredients create a contrasting colour mixture. It pairs well with rice, yellow rice or fried rice.

Parippu curry or red lentil/dhal curry

A staple Sri Lankan vegan food, it provides protein in many meals. Red lentils first get cooked in thin coconut milk with heaps of turmeric, chilli powder, a hint of curry powder, onion, green chilli, garlic, cinnamon, curry leaves and rampay (pandang). Then thick virgin press coconut milk gets added at the end and cooked through. The fried version also includes these spices, substituting green chilli with dried red chilli. The fry gets incorporated into cooked dhal. Enjoyed with anything from rice to string hoppers, it is prevalent in almost every meal spread.

Cashew curry

This protein-rich, nutritious vegan dish prepared with raw cashews, coconut milk, turmeric and spices is a fancy dish. Usually eaten with rice and curry, it is a beautifully-textured treat.

Pol Roti

This unique Sri Lankan flatbread made using freshly grated coconut, wheat flour, salt, and some warm water is delicious on its own. However, you can eat it with lunumiris, dhal curry, seeni sambal or any other vegetarian side dish. Sometimes, onion and chillies get added to the dough to give it more flavour.

Wood apple

Often grown in the wild in the dry zone, these hard-shelled, round, brown fruits have fragrant, pasty flesh in the middle. You can break one in half and eat it with a sprinkling of sugar, scooping the flesh out with a spoon. It is tangy and sweet. Its tiny seeds are edible and gelatinous. Sri Lankans prefer the thick smoothie made from it, sweetened with sugar or jaggery. This way, you can get rid of the seeds too.

Top vegetarian restaurants in Sri Lanka


Vegan Kitchen by Sulo

Are you after some Instagrammable smoothie bowls? They’ve got you covered. Located in Boralesgamuwa, in the heart of Colombo, they serve lamprais, burgers, cakes and a selection of vegan and vegetarian foods.

Ranbath Organic

Enjoy organic, vegan, gluten-free and authentic Sri Lankan cuisine. Indulge in a yummy rainbow of rice and curry at Sri Sambuddhathva Jayanthi Mawatha, Colombo 5.

Café Kumbuk

On Independence Avenue in Colombo 7, in a shady grove of Kumbuk trees, enjoy wholesome food made with fresh, natural and seasonal ingredients. Sandwiches, coffee, tea, patisserie, salads, brunch and lunch – vegan, vegetarian and dairy-free options are available.

Superfood Express

Located on Kynsey Road, Colombo 7, it offers takeaway and dine-in vegan and vegetarian options. Get tucked in harvest bowls, healthy wraps and vegan desserts.


Soya Centre

Located in the YMCA building on Kotugodella Veediya, Kandy, they serve natural soy-based foods, including soy ice cream, soy milk, fresh tofu, soy curry balls, fried tofu and signature soy roti.

Soul Food

Head over to Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe Mawatha to sample tasty vegetarian and vegan Sri Lankan, western and fusion cuisine with outdoor seating and great cocktails.

Café Banana Chill

To make your own smoothie bowl and enjoy a burst of fresh fruit and plant-based goodness, visit Cafe Banana Chill at Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha.

Nuwara Eliya


Vibe to the mood of the hills at this cosy restaurant with a unique ambience. Vegan and vegetarian dishes, cocktails and outdoor seating are available.

Sri Ambaal

Everyone raves about their dosa. Sample various South Indian vegan and vegetarian cuisine at this humble joint on New Bazaar Street.

Grand Indian and Magnolia All Day at Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel Nuwara Eliya offers a selection of fine dining options. Their restaurants, Grand Indian and Magnolia All Day, cater to vegetarian and vegan diets.


Smoothie Bun

They serve healthy plant-based dishes and drinks made from natural, unprocessed ingredients. Get some good calories in without added sugar to fuel your sightseeing adventures.

Smoky Kitchen

Situated on the Hambantota Road in Tissamaharama, savour traditional flavours and street-food style dishes with vegan and vegetarian options. Watch the chef in action while you wait.

Flavours restaurant

Sample an array of Sri Lankan and fusion cuisine with vegetarian and vegan options. Enjoy a relaxed family dinner atmosphere. The restaurant is on the Tissamaharama-Kataragama Road in Mahasenpura, Tissamaharama.


Aqua Forno

Bakery and street food restaurant in Galle Fort serving fruit platters, salads, crepes, bread, coffee, iced tea and gelato, prepared using traditional recipes and fresh ingredients.

MARU Poke Cafe

Situated on Hospital Street in Galle Fort, they serve a selection of Japanese-inspired vegan and vegetarian poke bowls and tacos.

Lorenzo’s Pizza Bar and Cardamom Café at Jetwing Lighthouse

Have a slice of vegan or vegetarian pizza made from fresh, organic and locally sourced ingredients at this gourmet restaurant in Jetwing Lighthouse. They serve cocktails, mocktails and smoothies, too. The hotel’s Cardamom Cafe also serves wholesome vegan and vegetarian options from its Heart Healthy Menu.


Golden Grill

This lakeside restaurant in the National Holiday Resort serves an excellent Jaffna-style vegetarian meal and traditional vegetarian rice and curry.

Malli’s Seafood Restaurant

Do not let the name turn you away. This stylish restaurant near the famous Galapatha Temple alongside Bentota River offers various vegan and vegetarian options, including soups, salads, curries and traditional mains. Outdoor seating on the lawn by the river and a catamaran float offer stunning river views.

Palm Restaurant

Beach-front restaurant in Induruwa serves a selection of vegetarian fusion cuisine. Enjoy East-Asian-inspired soups, salads, mains and snacks.

Practical tips for vegetarian travellers

  • Learn about traditional and classic Sri Lankan cuisine and fusion food. There are plenty of vegan and vegetarian foods in Sri Lanka, but it is more convenient to familiarise yourself with them.
  • Vegetarian options are always available. Do not hesitate to ask and request veggie options. Specify no eggs, fish or meat.
  • The Hindu diet is mainly vegan. When in doubt, visit a Tamil eatery that offers Indian and South Indian food. These are widely available throughout Colombo and commonplace in North and North East.
  • Traditional rice and curry mainly consist of veggie sides. It is easier to separate the veggies from meat, fish and eggs.
  • Do a quick Google search for vegetarian restaurants in the area.
  • It doesn’t hurt to grab some vegetarian snacks from a local supermarket or patisserie when travelling to remote areas.
  • Rely on fresh fruits, especially the exotic ones.
  • Choose Ayurveda resorts to stay at for a more wholesome vegan and vegetarian experience. An Ayurveda diet mainly relies on herbs, vegetables and fruit.

Experience the depth and width of Sri Lankan cuisine with Blue Lanka Tours!

Sri Lankan cuisine is uniquely flavourful, colourful and vibrant. From ancient traditions to colonial legacies to fusion masterpieces, journey through its diverse culinary creations. Fragrant rice dishes, aromatic curries, dainty fritters, unique pickles, and exotic fruit – it’s all on the table for those wanting to broaden their taste horizons.

Blue Lanka Tours believes in authentic travel that explores the many dimensions of the island landscape, culture, history and cuisine. We believe in investing time and effort in personalising Sri Lankan holidays that meet the highest expectations. How would you like to discover Sri Lanka’s rich culinary secrets?