This tiny little island nation is a powerhouse of fruits… both fruits of the land and of the sea. One of the favoured destination of many Indians, its a favourite during Diwali holidays. Check out some of the flavours we enjoyed during our trip.
As the world is discovering the beaches of Sri Lanka over Goa or kerala, I as an Indian we intrigued by the culinary culture of this country. Both of us neighbours share the same palate and almost the same flora and fauna but there’s some intriguing differences in our cuisine that made me write this blog.
We traveled to the hills north of Kandy at a height of about 1100 ft above level to the sea touching lands of this island nation and discovered a vast arena of fruits on our palette. Mangoes grow mostly in winter season unlike in India where it’s a summer fruit. October onwards the fruit is seen hanging from the trees. Not as fragrant as the Indian ones but these a just pure sweet heaven though the peel stays green outside. Passion fruit is a great find in this tropical country.
As an Indian, am not too excited to see Papaya or Coconut but the orange coconut is definitely much sweeter than their green brothers.
While the whole world including us Indians go to Sri Lanka to eat their seafood, its important to know whats local and hence different from the Indian produce. One can see tons of prawns all across the seaside restaurant but I insist on trying their Tuna. The country has some of the best and the biggest Tuna produce. One can see large chunks of this red fish cut and displayed in fish markets. Find a restaurant where the chef knows steak and get a tuna steak medium rare ordered and according to me that’s the best way to try this fish. Sri Lanka is one of the largest exporters of Tuna in the world.
Another seafood to try is calamari, in here you won’t get the big sizes as the ones from the Indian shores are but these are much softer varieties and whiter in colour.
Forget about the kingfish, try the red snapper in Sri Lanka, a sweet fish with bright red skin, this fish comes in relatively small sizes but makes a great dish as a fry or a simple grill. Also this fish is not so expensive and makes a good Sri Lankan curry as well.
No fish eating Indian will leave Sri Lanka without demolishing a crab there. The most popular joint Ministry of Crab based in Colombo does serve a whole range of preparations. For the lack of knowledge most tourist end up there and nobody has been ever disappointed. The best way to end a Sri Lankan trip is to come back to Colombo, do a lunch or a dinner at this joint and then head to the airport. The mud crabs from this region travels to Singapore for its famous chilli crab preparation. Even though these crabs are big in size but these are soft shell as compared to the southern Indian crabs so the shells can be even broken with bare hands. One must try them in the chilli crab version or the Sri lankan pepper flavoured version. The sweet and white meat balances the spices of the Sri Lankan cuisine very well.
For most Sri Lankan, breakfast is the most important meal before they leave for work. There are many traditional Breakfast places where one can find a full 5 course rice meal for breakfast. There will be one lentil soup (dhaal curry), pol sambal (coconut relish) some fish curry or mutton curry. The country doesn’t grow wheat but one can find multiple varieties of white flour (baking flour) flat breads. Because of being a British colony they have inherited the habit of making breads and pastries with baking flour but haven’t inherited the habit of eating wheat flat breads like their neighbours.
Another great breakfast option is egg hoppers though this a popular evening street side snack.
In the cold hills of Kandy, one can find more meat options. Because of a healthy beef eating population they have some amazing beef preparations. We tried some noodles on the street side and it was spicy but delicious.
Places to eat
If you want to enjoy some Muslim cuisine, try the Muslim Hotel in the heart of Kandy town. No frills place but serves the most authentic beef pancakes and beef fried rice. End it with some avocado or wood apple shake.
Another great place to eat some modern cusine with local ingredients is Old Empire Café just outside the main gate of the Tooth Relic Temple. Its moderately priced and is known for its mix of east and west cuisines. Try their Tapioca chips and the curry platters are a huge hit.
One more place which we can never forget is the food at Wijaya beach, a few kms south of Unawatuna is this small beach resturant which is also a hotel. They maks some really good steaks with Tuna. Though am not a pizza person but they insisted on us trying their woodfired seafood pizza. Once it landed on our table, I was more than happy to have a pizza loaded with the freshest seafood and a right balance of the tangy sauce. We ended our meal with a desert, something I rarely do but even that was par excellence. For such a faraway place, a tiny little joint by a small beach, this place really surprised us with its simple menu and perfect cooking.
Last but not the least is the Teas of Sri Lanka. One of the must dos in the itenary should trying a high tea session in one of the old world British setup hotels in the hills of Kandy. And some of them a really good value for money. We tried one in the Grand Hotel in Nuwara. Apart from devouring pots of orange pekoe… their finest variety of tea we also munched into a many bites of tea cakes and sandwiches.