Eating Low FODMAP in Sri Lanka
It was my 5th day in Sri Lanka, I’d informed the hotel of my food intolerances when I arrived and they’d happily nodded. So, I was feeling pretty smug sitting at the table in the morning, awaiting my low FODMAP breakfast. That was, until I was brought out a plain piece of white toast, COVERED in garlic, topped with raw red onion. Hm. Not quite what I’d expected. It turned out that, when I’d explained that I couldn’t eat garlic and onion last night, they thought I’d said that I’d like a huge helping of garlic and onion for breakfast. A prime ‘lost in translation example’. Luckily, that was my only funny incident, I learned from it, and it was actually surprising easy to eat low FODMAP in Sri Lanka.
HOW FODMAP FRIENDLY IS SRI LANKA?
I’ve just got back from 10 days in Sri Lanka. During that time, I had EIGHT curry/local food dinners. EIGHT. And the two nights I didn’t were simply because I was a bit curried out. When planning the trip, I never thought that would be possible. I honestly thought that eating low FODMAP in Sri Lanka would be a tough feat. I imagined myself eating plain rice for most of the trip and having to fill up on packaged nuts from the shop. Well, that certainly didn’t turn out to be the case.
It was surprisingly easy to eat low FODMAP in Sri Lanka. Firstly, a lot of their dishes, and even sweet treats, are rice, rather than wheat, based. This makes the carb portion of your meals much easier. Secondly, with most dishes, you are served lots of different curries in small pots. These small portions mean that even quantities of ingredients containing FODMAPs are so small that they are low FODMAP. Thirdly, the people are INCREDIBLE. They are so friendly and so happy to cater to your needs. Everyone that I informed about my dietary requirements (well, minus one slightly grumpy lady) was very happy to try and make something that I could eat. They clearly wanted to make something delicious that I’d be happy with.
WHAT TO EAT
I’ve pulled together a list of the dishes/foods that I found that were low FODMAP in Sri Lanka. If you look out for these whilst your travelling, you should be safe.
Most places that we stayed at would ask us what time we wanted breakfast in the morning and then bring us an amazing freshly cooked breakfast! They were delicious and home cooked and I never went hungry. In fact, I normally had the opposite problem. My favourites were:
Fresh fruit -this was everywhere! I was seriously amazed by what a healthy country Sri Lanka is. There was fresh fruit sold everywhere, all over the sides of the road. We also got served a lovely platter and a fruit juice at most of our breakfasts. The ones that were in abundance and are nice and low FODMAP were papaya and ripe bananas (the pineapple and passion fruit was also amazing, but stick to small quantities). They are so sweet and delicious as well. I think I had a papaya shake every single day of the trip!
Hoppers -these guys are probably the most famous dish in the country, and I see why. You’ll see street stalls selling them at any time of day, but they are traditionally served for breakfast. They are the lightest little pancakes, shaped like a bowl, made from rice flour and coconut milk. This makes them delightfully low FODMAP. You can put fried egg or curries in them and eat them with your hands. They’re so light and delicious, you could eat them all day.
Most of these are actually traditionally served for breakfast, but you’ll now find them on dinner menus everywhere.
Potato/Pumpkin/Aubergine Curry- these are all safe and delicious veggie options. Obviously, ask for them to be made without onion and garlic, but everywhere that I had them, this wasn’t a problem. They didn't actually contain onion and garlic anyway, which surprised me as they tasted incredible. I normally find potatoes bland and boring. However, I had a potato curry almost every day in Sri Lanka and loved it.
String Hoppers (Idiyappam)- a form of rice noodle, consisting of rice flour pressed into noodle form and then steamed. They’re served in a ball shape and make a great carb option if you’re sick of plain rice.
Pittu/Puttu (still not sure on the correct spelling..)- a solid tube of rice with a slightly crumbly texture, made from shredded coconut, coconut milk and rice flour. The amounts of coconut in this aren’t large enough to make them high FODMAP. That is, if you stick to a normal portion size, which is hard, as it’s delicious. This would be served with a selection of curries, and is a delicious alternative to rice.
Kiribath- made from rice, coconut milk, and salt, and served in sticky mounds. I would describe it as a savoury version of the rice part of mango sticky rice. It’s quite salty and has a ‘wet’ texture.
Curry, with requests- as mentioned, I managed to have a low FODMAP curry 8 times on this holiday, just by asking for one to be made without onion and garlic. Give it a try!
Lawariya -these were awesome. They’re string hoppers (little rice noodles), wrapped around a mixture of shredded coconut and sugar. They look a bit like a rolled up pancake, with the filling stuffed in the middle. They were served to us for breakfast in a few places, but can also be bought from bakeries and stalls around the country. There’s about 1/8 cup of shredded coconut in each one (1/4 cup is low FODMAP, according to Monash), so you could technically eat 2, but even one is enough of a treat! Just check they haven’t added honey into them, which I know a few places do.
Wandu -I didn’t discover these until near the end of our trip, but I was so glad that I did. They were given to us at breakfast by one of the hotels we stayed in. They were made by a 75 year old lady in the mountains who is clearly an insane cook. We were told that they are a very traditional treat, but the younger generation don’t like them so they’re not served in many places any more. They look like little muffins and are made from red rice flour, coconut milk and sugar. I loved the red rice flour. It gave them a unique, nutty taste, but also meant that they are really high in fibre. This made them my ideal sweet treat, as I struggle to get enough fibre when I’m travelling.
WHERE TO EAT
I’ve listed out a few places that were incredibly helpful with regards to the things I couldn’t eat. They really went out of their way to prepare me food that didn’t upset my gut and was absolutely delicious. There were other places that also accommodated my low FODMAP requests, but these were the best.
LAVENDRA PARADISE, ELLA
This B&B, aside from having the most incredible view, brought us a freshly prepared, home made breakfast, every morning. I told them about what I couldn’t eat when we arrived. They then made us a different local breakfast spread for 3 mornings, all completely FODMAP friendly and utterly delicious. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough!
CAFE CHILL, ELLA
This is a very popular, traveller bar and restaurant. I ordered the Devilled Fish curry there and they made it for me with no garlic & onion. It wasn’t the most delicious meal of my trip, but they were happy to make adjustments for me.
ELLA VILLAGE RESTAURANT, ELLA
I had my best ever dinner at this place. I sheepishly asked for the curry platter with no garlic or onion. The owner said he’d see what he could do and came back with an amazing platter of different curries for me. They were so tasty, I couldn’t believe they had no garlic and onion in them. He also clearly knew what was in every single dish, as he knowledgeably informed me of the dishes my fiance had ordered that had garlic and onion in, just in case I wanted to try them.
THE SLIGHTLY CHILLED LOUNGE, KANDY
I was a bit curried out when we got to Kandy, so actually ordered a grilled fish dish. It was really tasty and the bar was very happy to tailor the dish for me. They gave me a different sauce and they took the onion out of the salad.
ULAGALLA RESORT, NEAR ANURADHAPURA
On our trip, we met up with some friends who were staying here and had dinner with them at the restaurant for 4 nights. I can’t describe how accommodating the staff were. They made me almost every single curry dish on the menu completely from scratch, to ensure it had no garlic and onion in it. When I initially asked them, they apologetically told me that I’d need to wait about 40 minutes for me food. I didn’t mind at all as it made me so happy that they were making me a fresh meal that would make my gut happy. Also, it gave me more time to devour their gluten free bread.
AMANTA BEACH RESORT, NILAVELI
This place was so picturesque. It’s a little boutique hotel situated right on the beach. The owner puts a board up every morning showing you the dish that’s on the menu for dinner that night. He then goes to the market, buys the ingredients and prepares it fresh. I told him about my food intolerances and he happily made me a whole different garlic and onion free version, which tasted incredible. He’s also happy to do veggie options. This was my best non-curry meal of the trip.
TOP TIPS FOR EATING LOW FODMAP IN SRI LANKA
Now I’ve talk about what to eat and where to eat, I thought I’d give you some general tips for eating low FODMAP in Sri Lanka.
1. NO ONION, GARLIC, MANGO OR HONEY
These are the high FODMAP ingredients that I found were used the most in Sri Lankan food. Let restaurants and hotels know that you need to avoid these things (and obviously anything else you know is a major trigger for you)
Most places we stayed at prepared us a fresh individual breakfast, rather than just having a buffet selection. This is awesome for us low FODMAPers as it means they can easily tailor the food to your requests. However, it can also make for an awkward start to your day if you can’t eat anything they’ve freshly prepared for you. With that in mind, make sure you tell your hotel about your requirements when you check in.
3. MEAT IS RISKY
With curries, the meat ones are normally slow cooked or marinated for a long period of time. This means that it will be very difficult for a meat curry to be made for you without garlic and onion (I talked a bit more about this in another post). Safer bets are fish, seafood, veg and chicken (I realise this is a meat!) as they are normally prepared much more quickly.
4. AVOID COCONUT CHUTNEY
This was served with almost every meal. Beware of it - it contains a lot of onion!
5. USE GOOGLE TRANSLATE
Something that really helped me overcome language barriers was translating ‘I’m allergic to…(insert worst offenders)’ into the local language. I did this on Google Translate and then just took a screenshot on my phone and showed it to people at restaurants & hotels. It really helped.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this! If you’re travelling to Sri Lanka soon, or have been recently, and have any other tips, please comment below.