Taste Sri Lanka: Taste Kottu Roti

This is one of my Sri Lanka foodie posts. And my mouth is totally watering just thinking about kottus and rotis in Sri Lanka.

If you are going to Sri Lanka (lucky thing) you absolutely have to eat kottu and roti (spellings often vary wildly). And you will try them because they are on every street corner.

As I said in this post, there’s not a lot of street food action in Sri Lanka, but kottu rotis are one of the closest things you’ll get to it. As well as wadi wadi, of course, but that’s another story…

What is a kottu roti?

In Sri Lanka they eat a lot of rotis. This is their staple flat bread, made with rice flour and without yeast. It is a thin, flat, greasy piece of heaven.

Rotis are often used to wrap other great tasting ingredients in, in the same way that a tortilla wrap is.

kottu roti

Roti wrap. Photo Credit: SoHome Jacaranda Lilau

But in a kottu (meaning cut) roti dish, the roti is chopped up into strips and is usually served with vegetables and spices all mixed in, like in the photos at the top of this page.

Roti Variations

Mostly the kottu rotis are a mixture of fresh vegetables and the chopped rotis but often other ingredients are added. Chicken kottu rotis are common, with bits of chicken thrown into the mix. And egg kottu rotis are very popular, which is based on veg kottu roti but eggs are added to the stir fry and become scrambled.

In Sri Lanka, especially at the beginning of our trip when we were staying in Habarana and visiting the Cultural Triangle, we lived off kottu roti. They were tasty and cheap. We were initially entranced by how they were made, but the rhythmic drumming sound of the knives soon just became part of the everyday background music of Sri Lanka.

How the kottu rotis are made

I had a video and I can’t find it. So I want you to just take a moment to watch the video on this link. But then come back! Make sure you watch it with the sound up: this is the sound of the streets of Sri Lanka: the noisy banging of the knives on the hotplate coupled with blaring music and people shouting to be heard over the din.

Did you watch it?

In Sri Lanka you will see that many restaurants have an attached roti hut at the front of the establishment (like the one in the video). This is a separate kitchen where there is one person just dedicated to making kottu rotis and other roti dishes. In smaller establishments that specialise in kottu rotis this hut is the only kitchen.

The chef takes his two knives (more like metal plaques), throws all his ingredients onto the hotplate and starts chopping, keeping everything moving so it gets cooked at the same time. Usually the chef himself keeps moving too, in time with whatever poppy sounds he has blaring out. Oh yes, you gotta get your groove on to make a kottu roti!

The kottu roti takes less than five minutes to prepare and no sooner have you started sipping your ice cold ginger beer you have your plate steaming hot and oozing flavour in front of you.

Oh, and one more thing to have in mind: kottu rotis are BIG and FILLING! No one will think less of you if you share!

Where to eat kottu roti

Remember when Vietnamese pho became the trendy thing to eat in the Western world? About the time that food trucks became a gastro-experience and not just somewhere to grab a quick questionable hotdog when you were out of options?

Vietnamese Pho – before it became trendy. Somewhere in the Mekong Delta

Well that’s what will happen to kottu roti (inmyshoestravel predicts). Kottu roti has already made its way out of the roti huts and onto the dining tables of upmarket restaurants at a national level. It’s just a question of time before it is being served up at international fusion restaurants as the latest thing from Sri Lanka.

In my opinion (food snob alert) a food court in Soho is not the place to experience Sri Lankan kottu roti. Just as it is not the place to experience Vietnamese pho.

Have you booked your ticket to Sri Lanka yet?

Where you have to go is to the real Sri Lanka, to the authentic roti hut on the street with the music blaring out and the traffic whizzing past. Likewise, in Sri Lanka itself, if you eat kottu roti at a place full of international backpackers, with not a local in sight and a menu of options as long as your arm, then you’re still not quite there either…

Go to the place down from the one with the backpackers, the one that’s full of locals, the one where they barely speak English and will charge you a fraction of the price of the backpacker place. Go to the place where you feel like your head will explode from the noise of the knives (just don’t sit too close to the hut).

Okay, I’m not saying not to go to the backpacker place too or not to eat from food trucks in your own country. But just make sure you taste the real deal too. Enjoy.

Have you eaten kottu roti in Sri Lanka? How was your experience?

Photo Credits:

Photos in this post by:

See the originals by clicking on the links.

Want to know more about my experience of the food in Sri Lanka? Click here.

Filed Under: asiafeaturedfood and drinkSri LankaStreet Food


About the Author: Based in Mallorca, obsessed with the world and have a lot to say about both... Step into my shoes and join me on a journey...

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