Thought Street Food Didn’t Exist in Sri Lanka? Think Again

Let me introduce you to SHORT EATS: Sri Lanka’s answer to street food.

For me, short eats in Sri Lanka were the most exciting of snacks and the closest thing to street food that the country had to offer.

As I take you, on this blog, through my journey backpacking around Sri Lanka, I am also building up a series of posts about Sri Lankan food. And what better place to start than street food?

sri lanka street food

How I loved samosas in Sri Lanka

Street food in Sri Lanka?

In Asia, though each country has its own style and its own exciting gastronomy, I find that the way of eating is usually similar: freshly prepared dishes or snacks cooked on a primitive gas burner in the street or in some basic excuse for a kitchen, and served fresh, spicy and cheap. Whether it’s curries in India, pho in Vietnam or nasi goreng in Indonesia, the philosophy is the same.

In Sri Lanka things are different. This was the first Asian country I’d been to where street food didn’t form a part of everyday life.

In Sri Lanka, though still fresh, tasty and cheap, meals are a more elaborate affair and they are cooked and served in the home.

Naturally this poses a problem for Joe Tourist who has no home. Of course, there are restaurants, but in some areas these are few and far between.

So most guesthouses also offer meals. Which I’ll tell you about in another post…

Short eats

Luckily for the hungry traveller in Sri Lanka, desperate for a snack, there exists the concept of short eats.

Because of the strong accents of the locals and from corruption of the words, your ears may pick up shorties or sorties. But what they are actually saying is short eats.

There are two ways of consuming short eats: 1. You can pick them up from the side of the street, where they are freshly prepared or; 2. you can go inside an establishment and sit down to a selection of short eats.

Short eats consist of snack-sized savory treats such as samosas or closed rotis with a filling. But you will come across all shapes and sizes of pastry with any number of filling.

Tangalle, Sri Lanka

Short Eats in Sri Lanka

Samosas and filled rotis

Samosas are those deep-fried triangular delights bursting at the seams with curry, egg and potato chunks. Sometimes they have meat or fish in them too. They are usually spicy enough to blow your head off.

Rotis are normally vegetarian, though not always. They often take the same triangular shape as a samosa but are more like a wrap: take a roti (bread like a tortilla wrap) and fill it with a delightful mix of potato, chickpeas and curry and then wrap the roti up in a triangular (or square) shape.

Rotis are not normally quite as spicy as samosas, but they are just as tasty.

Each time I bought a samosa or a roti in the street in Sri Lanka, I thought I’d found the best the country had to offer… Until I went to the next place! They just kept getting better and better. My mouth is watering just writing about them.

Where to buy samosas and filled rotis

When you are walking down the street and are feeling peckish, you can pick up the odd samosa or roti at a street-side stall for 40/50/60rs (around 0.30€) per unit. If you’ve had a big breakfast and are looking forward to a decent dinner, one of each will easily tide you over for a lunch snack.

Toni and I ate a lot of amazing filled rotis and samosas in Sri Lanka, but the most memorable for me were the ones we ate:

  • in Haputale
  • in Ella
  • on trains
  • from the market in Tangalle

Short eats in Sri Lanka

Without a doubt the best invention in Sri Lanka is short eats.

I’ve already mentioned that there is a second way to indulge in samosas, filled rotis and all things tasty pastry in Sri Lanka, and that is with short eats.

Short eats are normally served at breakfast time, but being a snack, you can pretty much order them at any time of day.

How short eats work:

It’s this simple: you go into a bar/cafe/restaurant, you say the magic words “short eats”, you order a cup of tea and you sit down.

In practically no time at all (a lot less time than what it takes for your tea to arrive) a huge tray piled with pasties will appear on your table. Many more than you can possibly eat. And there will be a variety of whatever the restaurant has.

Quite simply you tuck in. You will probably manage two or three of them before you’re stuffed. And when you’ve finished, you just pay for what you’ve eaten. The rest of the pastries on the tray (which hopefully you haven’t touched) are put back in the display or the kitchen until the next person comes in and orders short eats.

I loved short eats in Sri Lanka because it was a great way of trying things without having to worry if I liked it or not. If I didn’t like it I’d just give it to Toni and choose another one off the tray or plate. Note: you have to choose your travel companion well too!

Have you tried Sri Lankan short eats? What did you think? Any thoughts about the whole serving your leftovers to the next customer?

Filed Under: asiafeaturedfood and drinkSri LankaStreet Food

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About the Author: Lisa, born and grew up in England, live in Mallorca, Spain... Have visited more than 20 countries, have twice as many to yet visit, love sharing experiences....

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  1. susan sykes says:

    My mouth is also watering reading this post, I love the sound chick rotis filled with chickpeas mmmm lovely I think the samosas would be a little bit too hot for me.

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