Food in Sri Lanka is heavily influenced by Tamil Nadu and Kerala in India. There are a lot of similarities yet unique tastes in their local food and why eat anything else when you can have authentic Sri Lankan cuisine. Sri Lanka has many roadside eateries serving deliciously warm breakfast; while most of them are restaurants, there are several shed-like structures run by women serving up colourful food for cheap prices that would definitely not burn a hole in the pocket of a tourist in the country.
The distinct accent made it difficult for us to get the local names but we did get the translated version of most. Breakfast includes a Tender cutlet (SLR 25) made from sweet jaggery and batter-fried crisp with a little spice. It was followed by the Idiyappams (SLR 20) – rice flour noodles garnished with curry leaves to lend a spicy flavour; it was served along with Sri Lankan sambol (an orange dry chutney made from coconut and chilli powder). Sweet Hoppers (SLR 20)are crisp pan-fried appams filled with sugar and can be eating plain without any accompaniment unlike the savoury alternative. Ulunde Wade(SLR 25) are the Sri Lankan equivalents of Medhu wadas only a spicier and served with a delicious white coconut chutney.
Usually, Sri Lankan’s apart from beverages like coffee and tea, like to end their breakfast with Beli Mal – a brownish detox drink made from ground beli (a local flower) and water; the bitter taste from the drink is cut off with a small piece of jaggery served along with it.
Eating local food brings out the true essence of a place but looking for the right restaurant is important because most and usually overpriced if the city is visited by tourists; especially Colombo. We stopped by a restaurant that had a lot of people lined up waiting to eat their lunch and were lucky to get a table soon enough to eat our meal. Since we were ravenously hungry we didn’t mind sharing the table with another local.
We savoured a plate of fat rice that was served along with a spicy radish side-dish, a French bean preparation rich in coconut and a thick dal gravy we really relished. The meal is also served with the Sri Lankan sambol chutney on the side to make a deliciously wholesome meal. We were also served fried fish (resembled a Pomfret), a dry chicken dish and a prawn chilli fry on the side. While most look for the non-vegetarian food, the vegetarian food is an absolute delight. Interestingly, the whole meal turned out to be only SLR 130.
Meals are incomplete without a sip of alcohol for most people and we thoroughly enjoyed exploring drinking Arrack. The drink almost tastes like black rum but is not as strong and has a strong flavour of coconut in it. However, the prices of the bottle differ from place-to-place and is anywhere between 230 – 350 SLR for half a litre.
Tip: Eat only local food as it is really cheap and the flavours are worth the money
Get off the beaten track to experience Sri Lanka with a difference
Itineraries are an important part of every holiday and while most people may choose to go by a tour, it is important to make a personal list on-the-go so that interesting places aren’t skipped for the lack of time.
Sri Lanka has many popular places to visit but it is ideal to stick to the central, south and south-west region as it is said to be safer than the rest of the country. These particular regions have so much to offer that missing out on the upper-half region won’t even cross your mind.
Our itinerary included Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Bentota and finally the capital city Colombo but we did visit many places en-route including Kalutara, Kosgoda and Balapitiya; the latter opens out to the sea and subsequently 18 islands in Sri Lanka.
Places to visit in Sri Lanka
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage Travelling from Bandaranaike Airport in Negombo, the closest sight-seeing spot is the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in the village by the same name.We were lucky to witness the elephants religiously going for their daily bath across the street to a nearby lake. The 25-acre coconut plantation houses the Asian elephants in captive breeding and also takes in any elephant that has been orphaned by its herd in the nearby jungles. Interestingly, many shops have sprung up on the route the elephants take and have different kinds of accessories being sold made from elephant dung. The accessories include books, calendars and other stationery.
Situated in central Sri Lanka, the city of Kandy should be on the list of every traveller looking to visit Sri Lanka. It has an old-world charm in its architecture with a mix of hills and a sparsely populated city. Spending an afternoon around the lake in the centre of the city is certainly relaxing if you want to take things slow. The city also has the Royal Botanical Garden, a Gem Museum and the Temple of the Tooth Relic Of The Lord Buddha; all of which can be done only if there is an interest but otherwise may not impress many younger travellers.
Nuwara Eliya While the weather in Sri Lanka is very similar to most parts of India, it is Nuwara Eliya that makes for a perfect hill-station in the country like north India or Munnar and Ooty in the south among others. The resemblance to colonial-style structures along with the lush green fields engulfed us even before our driver told us it is fondly called ‘Little England’ by the locals. While it has a golf course and various other sight-seeing spots, a visit to the local bars is mandatory if you crave for some spirits to keep you warm. Enroute the hill-station, a visit to the tea plantations is a must because of the flavourful tea served and the fact that Sri Lankan tea leaves are commercially sold in many countries under different brand names.
Bentota While we spent most of our time at the Hotel Eden, a beach resort with a beautiful view, there is a lot more that the town has to offer if one sets out on foot including local eating spots and a lot more. However, the resort town is popular for its water sports and the boat safari; the latter is a must when in Sri Lanka for the most unique experience at sea around the 18 islands off the Sri Lankan coastline.
Speeding through the surrounding Madu Ganga river, the boatman will take you through the breathtaking mangroves and move over to Cinnamon island to see the making of various products from cinnamon trees including cosmetics and cooking masalas. He will then take you under the bridge leading to the largest inhabited island of 300 people and drink coconut water for Rs 100 from a man in a shop on the waters. Among the many islands, a Ganesha temple is the smallest island surrounded by a mystery that you have to be lucky to be told by the guide. Ending the safari with fish pedicure is also a relaxing experience after a two-hour-long tour.
Kosgoda Travel to south-west of Sri Lanka to Kosgoda to visit an interesting Turtle Hatchery and Conservation area. The farm houses a variety of turtles -big, small and handicapped from the fishing nets. A tour around also enlightens tourists about the effort being taken by the locals to preserve the turtles that come to hatch every year on the closest beach, The small town also has a beach that not many know about as it is guarded by trees but is a must-visit for some quite time and escape from the cacophony of the city. Driving back would also reveal a train track running across the road and you would be lucky to spot the occasional train going from station to station, to complete a fulfilling experience.
Colombo The capital city should ideally be left for the last as it turns out to be as crowded as any other metropolitan in the world. Clearly, the shopping district in Sri Lanka, it can keep you busy for a whole day if you’re a shopaholic. Restaurants serving local food are easily available and definitely worth a try because the food is absolutely delicious. For the devout, the city also has many churches around (both catholic and orthodox).
Other places to visit
While we covered most of the important places during our five-day trip, we were left with a need to see more as we hadn’t had enough of the country yet. It would be best to visit Sri Lanka for at least 10 days to make the most of it. I, personally, was really disappointed we couldn’t visit Galle which is further south than Kosgoda because it is known to be a famous Dutch colony and hence piqued my interest. The Portuguese and British influences along with the local setting make it an interesting spot to visit.
This is the second article in a series about my Sri Lankan travel experience. Come back for more on the food and culture and my personal experiences.