Save on food in Sri Lanka; Five tips to eat and drink on a budget.
With a kitchen beyond imagination, Sri Lanka is a paradise for food lovers! Fresh rice, curries, and seafood, as well as fresh fruits, vegetables and spices, the country offers more than enough to keep your taste-buds happy. In another post, I wrote all about Sri Lanka’s most sense-tingling dishes. As food and drinks usually add to the travelers’ bill, this post will help you to save on food in Sri Lanka. Without cutting down the experience.
1. Eat local
The first, straightforward tip to save on food in Sri Lanka is to eat locally. Enjoy the authentic taste of Sri Lanka from the street vendors spread around in cities, parks, and beaches or go to local restaurants for tasty curries and rice that will surely blow your mind away. Another great way to save on food in Sri Lanka is to buy fruit that’s in season. Mangosteen for instance, or super sweet pineapples, juicy, deep orange papaya or exotic rambutan. Coconuts are available all year round 😉
2. Bring a water filter
Although the World Health Organization has written that drinking water is covered in 94% of the country, most travelers to Sri Lanka wouldn’t dare to drink the tap water. A quick survey amongst locals and travelers taught me that although the water is generally safe, a difference in micro-organisms might lead to stomach issues for those not accustomed to it. To prevent spending a lot of money on bottled water and to reduce your plastic footprint at the same time; bring a water filter or purifier to make sure you’ll have to save tap water. Another way to filter the water is by boiling it before drinking.
3. Buy alcohol in ‘wine stores’
With prices for beer reaching up to 600 rupees in most places, drinking alcohol can easily add to the travel bill. A great way to save some travel money is to buy your alcohol at the liquor stores instead. Price differences can easily add up to 50%. Find local ‘wine stores’ in every single town. Also, most locals know where to find them. Besides a variety of cooled Sri Lankan Lion beer, you will most likely find Carlsberg, Corona and a large variety of local and international liquor. For even cheaper deals get some imported alcohol tax-free at the airport at your arrival. Because drinking in public areas is not generally accepted, be mindful about where you drink. In my experience, the beach is always a good place to open up your beer.
Unfortunately for the ladies among us, Sri Lanka has a pretty backward law that bans women from buying alcohol. Although more touristic restaurants and cafés are likely to serve beer, the wine stores are probably not that flexible. And require a more creative approach.
4. Check the MRP and never get scammed again
Another great way to save on food in Sri Lanka is by simply checking the Maximum Retail Price. Offering fair pricing for everyone, the Sri Lankan government demands manufacturers to print a Maximum Retail Price on products and services considered community essential. Think about manufactured food, drinks, shampoos and (Ayurvedic) medicines and other products. Often scammed by salesmen, unaware travelers pay double or even triple the regular price of products. Some shop owners place their own price-tags over the retail price, but most salesmen just overcharge tourists.
The worst example I’ve experienced was in Negombo, where a retailer placed his own price tags over ALL the maximum retail prices in his shop. Asking as much as 380 rupees for a bag of chips that cost only 99(!)rupees. Yikes! So whenever you buy snacks, chips, drinks or chocolate from any vendor, shop or minimarket be sure to check the MRP to avoid overpaying.
5. Include local breakfast in your homestay
Last but not least, do yourself a favor by including breakfast in your guesthouse or homestay. Most of the best food experiences we had in Sri Lanka came from super friendly mothers, daughters, and wives who prepared some of the most delicious local breakfasts for us. Expect coconut-sambal honey pancakes (a combination that goes extremely well!) string noodles, curries, roti, omelet, and fresh juice. Or occasionally rice and fish. It might feel a bit unusual to eat rice or noodles for breakfast, but the taste is totally worth it and beyond anything you’d find in a restaurant.
In fact, for the tastiest food experience, I recommend ordering dinner also at the guesthouse if they provide it. Prices for breakfast are usually equal or cheaper compared to restaurants while dinners are often equal or more expensive.
Read Eight Transportation Tips to Travel on a Budget for more low-budget, Sri Lanka travels inspiration.