Sri Lanka On My Plate: 6 Lip-smacking Dishes From the Island
What should you eat if you are travelling to Sri Lanka? Find out right here!
When I landed in Colombo a few months back, I was suitably armed with all the knowledge one could garner on the internet. The world wide web had pointed towards hoppers and curries, and as an out-and-out foodie, I had my must-eat list in place.
But Sri Lanka refused to be boxed into internet lists. Like its people, the cuisine of the emerald island enchants you with unfamiliar flavours and leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling in your tummy. Which may or may not be traced to the spice quotient of the food.
A Royal Breakfast
On a more serious note, Sri Lankan cuisine, like its Indian counterpart, is not for the faint-hearted. Almost always redolent with spicy flavours, the curries and veggies are usually balanced out with generous helpings of coconut milk, goroka (black kokum), and of course, rice.
Take the traditional breakfast for instance. Little did I know as I ordered one in that bright sunny morning in Anuradhapura that string hoppers, the Sinhalese version of idiyappam, is a complete meal in itself.
The milk-white rice-flour noodle cakes come armed with dhal curry (split masoor dal with a bite in a godly combo with coconut milk), pol sambol (a staple Lankan accompaniment made out of grated coconut, red onion, chillies, garlic and lime juice), and ambul thiyal (a hot and sour fish curry) – at eight in the morning.
Oh, and it’s addictive.
Let’s Go Fishin’
Rice of course, is served at every meal. And along with all the meats, the Sinhalese are big on beef and pork along with the regular chicken and mutton – a wide variety of fish and vegetables are staple in the kitchen.
A traditional lunch or dinner at any local joint would bring to the table a kingly feast of at least four kinds of vegetable curries apart from dhal and fish or / and meat. And being a true-blue Bong, I was super excited to find melt-in-the-mouth versions of plantain flower (stir-fried) and raw jackfruit (curried and called polos) on the menu in a small restaurant on the floating market in Colombo.
In the Mood for Pickles?
For me the stand-out dish was the wambatu moju or eggplant pickle. The brinjal here is cut lengthwise and deep-fried. It’s then cooked into semi-dry consistency with onion, chilli powder, vinegar, a host of spices and is garnished with curry leaves and green chillies. Trust me, all you eggplant haters out there, you will change sides once you dig into this.
The Hoppers Way
Then there are hoppers or appams of course. I sampled some at the Raja Bojun restaurant in Colombo.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not eaten for breakfast but rather for lunch or as an evening meal. And they come in various combinations – sweet, milk, onion, chicken and of course egg, which is easily my favourite, the savoury buttery yolk mingling with the slightly sweet and crispy hopper. Yum!
Prawn Cakes, Anyone?
For small hunger pangs, follow your nose and you’ll end up in one of the delectable local bakeries. From Kandy to Colombo to Galle, these corner establishments – and they are numerous – dole out breads and cakes and patties in eye-popping assortments.
And if you are brave enough, which in all honesty I wasn’t, you could try one of the shrimp or crab vadais selling on the Galle Face Green in Colombo or even on the local trains.
The kottu roti is another exquisite Lankan snack. Made of shredded Godhamba roti (itself made with dipping the dough overnight in coconut oil) stir fried with veggies, spices and sometimes egg or cheese. Soft yet crunchy with a spicy smack, this one is best gobbled up hot.
Dine in Style
If you are looking for a break from the traditional cuisine however, drop in to the Old Colombo Dutch Hospital complex in Colombo or the Queen’s Hotel in Kandy. The Colombo Fort Café and The Ministry of Crab (owned by cricket legends Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara) at the Dutch hospital complex boast of impeccable delicacies, while Queen’s in Kandy is all about comfort food at great prices, whether Sinhalese, continental or oriental. The historic Galle Fort of course has numerous options.
And no matter what you eat, don’t forget to wash down everything with pints of bitter-sweet Lion beer. How else would you survive so much goodness?
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