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Sri Lankan Chicken Curry

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This Sri Lankan curry is packed with the delicious flavours of Sri Lanka.

When I travel to Sri Lanka, I love trying the different curries like this Sri Lankan chicken curry or Chicken Ceylon curry. There are so many amazing curries there and they all have their own distinct flavours.

This is an easy chicken curry and a good place to start if Sri Lankan cooking is of interest to you. I have a lot of amazing Sri Lankan curries and other Sri Lankan dishes on the blog for you to try!

Sri Lankan Chicken

What is special about Sri Lankan chicken curry?

You will find that Sri Lankan chicken curry is absolutely delicious. Sri Lankan curries have a flavour all their own because of the ingredients used. 

Popular ingredients that are used in many Sri Lankan curries are leeks, cinnamon, lemongrass, pandan leaves, coconut milk and kokum. 

What is kokum?

Kokum is a purple berry that is dried and used as a souring agent in a lot of Sri Lankan cooking. It is very popular in fish curries but also works really well in this Sri Lankan chicken curry.

You can purchase them at specialty shops and also online. The berry is also used a lot in south Indian cooking.

In Sri Lanka, they not only dry the berries before use but also smoke them which adds a delicious smoky flavour to the curry. So try to find Sri Lankan kokum if you can.

Is there a substitute for the kokum?

Yes. Kokum is a souring agent. It has its own unique flavour but you can add a nice sourness to you Sri Lankan chicken curry by adding tamarind concentrate or lemon/lime juice to taste.

Can you work ahead to prepare this Sri Lankan chicken curry?

Yes. In fact, like most curries, it actually gets better if you prepare it a day or two ahead of serving. The flavours develop and it tastes even better than the day you made it. 

If working that far ahead isn’t what you want to do, you could also prepare all the ingredients and place them in the fridge until you are ready to get cooking. 

How long does Sri Lankan chicken curry keep in the fridge?

You can store this curry, covered in the fridge for at least three day. Then just take it out and heat it up in your microwave or better, in a saucepan.

Knowing that you can prepare this Sri Lankan chicken curry a couple of days in advance of cooking is great! If you are having people over and don’t want to be doing a lot of cooking on the day, you only have to take the curry out, heat it up and serve.

Can you freeze this curry?

If you have leftovers and want to freeze them, you can. That said, coconut milk does not freeze well. It will be good enough for a quick dinner from the freezer though.

If you are preparing your Sri Lankan chicken curry to freeze, make it but don’t add the coconut milk. Then let it defrost completely and heat it up in a saucepan, adding the coconut milk as you do.

What do you serve with Sri Lankan chicken curry?

For me, it’s got to be rice. Any rice will do and I have a lot of rice recipes for you here. In Sri Lanka, this Sri Lankan chicken curry would most probably be served with red rice, also known as matta rice.

You might like to try this curry with another Sri Lankan curry or side dish. You can check out my other Sri Lankan recipes here.

Step by step photographs

Ingredients for the Sri Lankan chicken curry recipe.

Get all your ingredients together before starting. It’s a lot easier that way.

Infusing mustard seeds into hot oil in a pan.

Heat the oil over a medium-high heat and add the mustard seeds.

Infusing herbs and spices into hot oil.

When the mustard seeds begin to crackle, add the curry leaves, lemongrass, pandan leaves and cinnamon. Fry for a further minute or so.

Adding chopped onions, garlic and ginger paste and chillies to the pan.

Stir in the chopped onion and fry for about 5 minutes or until soft and translucent. Then add the chillies and garlic and ginger paste.

Adding ground spices to the pan.

Stir everything well and fry for about a minute. Then add the ground spices.

Stirring the chicken pieces into the pan.

Stir in the chicken. Continue stirring and browning the chicken and ensure it is coated with the other ingredients in the pan.

Chicken Ceylon

So good! Give this a try!

Sri Lankan Chicken

Dig in!

Pro Tips

  1. Fresh Ingredients: One of the reasons Sri Lankan curries taste so good in Sri Lanka is that they use the freshest, local ingredients available. Try to source the freshest ingredients you can find.
  2. Taste as you cook: Recipes are suggestions! Prepare this Sri Lankan chicken curry using the suggested ingredients but feel free to adjust those flavours to taste.
  3. Prepare in advance: This curry tastes even better the next day. You can prepare it up to two days before serving with even better results.


Yield: 4

Sri Lankan Chicken Curry

Sri Lankan chicken curry

Coconut fans will want to use coconut oil if you can find it.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes


  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 x 2.5cm (1 inch) cinnamon stick
  • 12 fresh or frozen curry leaves
  • 1 x 5cm (2 inch) piece of leeks, green ends fine
  • 2 small pieces of pandan leaf
  • 1 lemongrass, cut into 3 pieces and lightly bruised
  • 1 medium red onion - finely chopped
  • 4 green chilies (or to taste) - finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp garlic and ginger paste
  • 1 tbsp red chilli powder
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 800g skinned chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 400ml (16floz) thick coconut milk
  • 2 kokum berries or 1 tsp tamarind paste or lemon/lime juice, to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped coriander (optional)


  1. Heat the oil in a large pan or wok over a medium-high heat. When hot and bubbly, add the mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds begin to crackle, stir in the cinnamon stick, leeks, curry leaves, pandan leaves and lemongrass.
  2. Stir these ingredients around in the oil for about 30 seconds
  3. Now stir in the chopped onions and fry for about 5 minutes or until turning soft and translucent. Then stir in the garlic and ginger paste along with the chopped chillies.
  4. Continue frying and stirring for another 30 seconds and then stir in the ground spices.
  5. Add the diced chicken and fry to brown for a couple of minutes and then add the coconut milk. You want the chicken to be just covered with liquid, so add a little water or chicken stock if needed. Add the kokum berries if using.
  6. Bring this to a simmer and cover the pan to continue simmering for about 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and tender.
  7. Remove the lid and cook the sauce down to your preferred consistency.
  8. If you haven't added kokum, add the tamarind concentrate and stir it into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Try it and adjust the spicing to taste. You can also add a little more tamarind or lemon juice if you prefer a more sour flavour.
  9. Serve topped with the fresh coriander (cilantro) on a bed of plain white rice or matta rice.

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 705Total Fat: 50gSaturated Fat: 25gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 24gCholesterol: 256mgSodium: 626mgCarbohydrates: 21gFiber: 3gSugar: 5gProtein: 51g

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I hope you enjoy this Sri Lankan chicken curry recipe. If you do try it, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.



Tuesday 7th of May 2013

I know what you mean about the coconut and chilli - that's a combination I really like, too! I'll give this a whirl!

Tim Collard

Thursday 16th of June 2022

@Dan Toombs, hello Dan, cooking this tomorrow for 8 people prep all done today, however, I am going to use your YouTube recipe as I have the mixed powder and the home made base sauce. Hopefully it goes well 🤞🏻

Dan Toombs

Wednesday 8th of May 2013

Great! Thanks. Hope you like it.


Julie Dunham

Friday 3rd of May 2013

I wish your books were available on Amazon USA. Any chance!

Dan Toombs

Wednesday 8th of May 2013

They are! Go to and type in Dan Toombs. All three are there for download.

Thanks Dan

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