Being from India, I always took notice of Srilanka, the tear drop shaped island just at the South base of my country. Having said that I missed (sometimes even skipped) chances of visiting this emerald island several times in life. Not sure why? May be I thought it’s going to be similar to India in many ways or it’s so close and I can go there anytime. Whatever the reason was it wasn’t justified. This was my wise realization in my recent trip to Srilanka to celebrate 33 years of my life and bring in 2019!
So, what took me 33 years of life to finally decide to explore Srilanka? Well, few reasons but all very important:
- With a 2-year-old (who thinks he can do all), you want a short flight (from Dubai it’s just a 4 hrs flight for us)
- There are very few countries (within 4-5 hrs flight time) that have perfect weather on new year. Summer or mild winters is perfect for us.
- We needed an easy going break after a busy year at work and bringing up an over charged toddler
- I am an absolute tea lover
- Lastly, I was dying to have a vacation with my comfort food “rice and curry”
Oops that ended up being a lot of reasons, but all important ones. In nutshell for all above reasons, we decided to head to Srilanka to the south, east and central parts
(Our itinerary – Colombo – Galle – Tangalle – Pottuvil – Ella – Nuwara Eliya – Colombo)
The idea was to sun bake and have some beach-bums time around Southern through Eastern coast of the island. After the hydra break, head to the tea lands to feel the mild chill in the mountains with a comforting cup of Sri lankan tea.
Sounds perfect ahhhh? Yes, it was!
I was absolutely heartened by all the culture particles of Sri lankan sand, but the one that warmed me the most was their food culture. Srilanka, turned out to be a real culinary experience for me. Through my trip I explored a new family of curries, some spice secrets, the coconut custom, the tea heritage, island fresh produce and most of all it turned out to be a heaven for a vegetarian!
Here are my favorite food things in Srilanka!
The island fosters fresh food everywhere
We drove around 40% of the island coast and several kms of inroads in Srilanka. The physical landscape changed moderately or majorly throughout our drive but one thing was a constant on all of the coast or inroads. There were always shops selling fresh food produce from nearby farms, making your road ride in Srilanka, a colorful memory. It reminded me of India in the 90s, when farming output was much less modified than it is today. Peripherals of each small town are stocked with a wide array of lush vegetables produced by hardworking Sri lankan farmers. Also, every now and then we spotted shaky shops, but wealthy of fresh fruits like pineapples, coconuts, bananas, mangoes that the shopkeepers would cut for you with love. In each fresh bite I could feel the soul of Srilanka and its food.
Dream coconut and you get it
Well a beach vacay ends up being a lot of sun and beer. You may resonate with this one; ) But to keep it a bit healthy and balanced you got to take more liquids than just beer hydration. Well this part is easy in Srilanka! This is a wonder island where you have fresh coconut water available for you wherever you may wish for it. Whether you are on beach, in a restaurant, enroute to your next destination, you just have to look around and you will find fresh king coconut! It’s like coco dreams come true.
Try the splendid Srilankan breakfast
You may be familiar with the concept of “heavy breakfast”. Have ever experienced lunch for breakfast? Well Srilankan breakfast is just that. But let me be clear – I am not so unhappy about this one. This is an overeating I would happily do for what it offers. Let me plate this up for you – A basket full of string hoppers, milk rice, appams or pol rotis served with at least 3-4 curries including meat or veggies and a couple of dry sides like coconut sambol, potatoes, beans etc. Not to forget the poppadums! They are always there. By the bite you manage to taste all the delicacies in this breakfast platter and a repeat bite of your favorites – you will feel full for lunch. My favorite bites from Srilankan breakfast are:
- Milk rice with kiri hodi and spicy onion pickles
- String hoppers with any veg curry
- Coconut roti with dhal curry and coconut sambol
Happy heavy Srilankan breakfast to you!
For most Indians tea is an everyday essential drink. Mostly we can’t manage a day without it. I can safely say that we are as passionate and habituated of tea as the coffee drinking brigade of the world.
In a way we share our tea drinking culture with Srilanka, as for both countries the tea plantations were established during the British rule. Also, both the countries have fondness for slightly stronger tea. Having said that there is a major difference – Indians mostly have their tea fully boiled with milk, however Srilankans may go milk free or with very little milk. I noted these commonalities and differences through the tea making and tasting experience I had in Nuwara Eliya tea plantations. I would say if you are a tea lover or not, if you are in Srilanka, you must take time to drive to the tea plantations spread around the central mountains in Srilanka and experience their tea tastes. I am sure you will find something of your liking. If you visit Nuwara Eliya, I recommend you to visit Pedro or Mackwoods.
Take a cooking class
I believe if you want to deepen your culinary experience in a country, go for a cooking class. Getting our hands dirty in a local kitchen is the best way to discover the nuances and details of a country’s taste. Quite fortunately, Srilanka offers a lot of cooking classes. Also, most of them are quite authentic, as they take you in their real home or restaurant kitchens to show you what goes in making that delicious plate of curry & rice. Sometimes, they may also have a spice garden that they may like to show you around. Just go with the flow and you will surely find a class even if you are not looking for it actively. I took 2 classes during my trip to Srilanka and would love to share some details in case you would like to sign up for them.
Rice & Curry, Tangalle
Firstly, go there for great food – simple, authentic and delicious curries. It’s a small restaurant in Tangalle, with just few tables placed in a hut type balcony setting, overlooking the Tangalle road. They mostly offer just 3-4 curries depending on what fresh catch and veggies were available that day in the market. Each curry is served with a colorful array of sides like, stir fried beetroots, beans, potatoes, dhal curry, tomato curry, coconut sambol, eggplant pickle and buttered samba rice. I completely drooled over their food, I could go back for it anytime.
The best part is that they are happy if you want to pee ka boo in their kitchen or take a cooking class. For free – you can just pay for the food. Mostly, they would teach you whatever you loved on their menu. Just ask for it.
Ella Spice Garden, Ella
Alert, this one’s is not just taking a steal into a kitchen. This is a real class. Be prepared to attire in an apron, treadle the knife and stain yourself. Here you start with a detailed tour of a lush spice garden. Your class begins with the introduction of the Srilankan spices – their use and benefits. Then you proceed to the kitchen where your teacher sets-the class up to train you on Srilankan ingredients, techniques and combinations with absolute precision and practice. I would highly recommend this class if you are genuinely interested in trying Srilankan cooking back home. This is 3 hrs worth your time. Just call them to book in advance, as they have a small kitchen and only accommodate maximum 8 people in a class.
Hope you were appealed by my taste trip in Srilanka. If you are planning to go to this Asian paradise sometime, do try my recommendations, through your taste journey in Lanka. I bet, the flavors of Srilanka will call you back. I feel called back already. I am slurp smiling right now ; )