12 Sri Lanka foods visitors have to try

Willie Grace | 10/28/2014, 6 a.m. | Updated on 10/28/2014, 6 a.m.
Making liberal use of local fruit, such as coconut and jackfruit, seafood and an arsenal of spices, Sri Lankan cooking ...

(CNN) -- The Teardrop of India or Pearl of the Indian Ocean are among many nicknames for Sri Lanka.

But a more accurate description of the gorgeous nation might be the Island of Rice and Curry.

Making liberal use of local fruit, such as coconut and jackfruit, seafood and an arsenal of spices, Sri Lankan cooking delivers an abundance of incredible dishes.

Here are some you shouldn't miss.

1. Fish ambul thiyal (sour fish curry)

As you'd expect from an island in the Indian Ocean, seafood plays an important role in Sri Lankan cuisine.

Fish ambul thiyal (sour fish curry) is one of the most beloved varieties of the many different fish curries available.

The fish -- usually something large and firm, such as tuna -- is cut into cubes, then sauteed in a blend of spices including black pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, garlic, pandan leaves and curry leaves.

Perhaps the most important ingredient is dried goraka, a small fruit responsible for giving the fish a sour flavor.

Ambul thiyal is a dry curry dish, meaning all the ingredients are simmered with a small amount of water and cooked until the liquid reduces. This allows the spice mixture to coat each cube of fish.

Originating in southern Sri Lanka, it's available throughout the country at restaurants that serve curry, and is best eaten with rice.

2. Kottu (also, kottu roti)

Over the traffic and noise at a Sri Lankan market, you'll likely hear the clanking of metal on metal and know kottu isn't far away.

Kottu is Sri Lanka's hamburger -- everybody's favorite go-to fast food when craving something tasty and greasy.

It resembles fried rice, except instead of rice, it's made with a type of roti known as godamba roti (a flat, crispy bread).

The roti is normally fried at the beginning of the day, piled into stacks and served as it's ordered.

When you place an order, the kottu chef will fry and chop the roti with a selection of ingredients you choose.

The result is a tasty mixture of salty pieces of fried dough, lightly spiced and extremely comforting.

Kottu is served with spicy curry sauce, which you can either use as a dip or pour over your entire plate.

Some of the most skilled kottu chefs compose their own unique songs, singing while they rhythmically clank their spatula and knives against the metal frying surface, slicing the roti with each clank.

3. Kukul mas curry (chicken curry)

Simple to make, chicken curry is a common household dish in Sri Lanka.

There are many variations depending on region and taste preferences.

Spices like fennel seeds, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon sticks are tempered in hot oil before being combined with chicken and spices like chili powder, curry powder, turmeric, pandan leaves, lemongrass and curry leaves.

Coconut milk contributes to the rich base of the curry gravy. Depending on the recipe, a puree of tomato is often included.

The chicken is stewed for an hour or so until the essence of the spices is infused into the chicken.