When I first started planning my Sri Lankan sojourn, I wondered if I could possibly have enough to do for eight days. But now I know, I shouldn’t have worried. Our gorgeous neighbouring country, famously known as the Pearl in the Indian Ocean, surpassed all my expectations. It’s small in size but is a giant of experiences. From its never-ending beaches, wondrous waves, enchanting wildlife, aromatic tea leaves, indulging history, ever-smiling people, enigmatic architecture to delish dishes, Sri Lanka is a charmer. Among its many attractions, food features prominently.
While the world celebrates Sri Lanka for its tea, I will always adore it for its local delicacies. Food is my weakness and I believe that one actually relishes a country through its spices and flavours. It is never about the ingredients but the historical, cultural, neighbouring influences and many other factors that go in shaping the cuisine of a country, that give it an identity. When I think of the capital city of Colombo, the rows of small eateries that line the busy streets of Fort Area, Pettah and Galle Face Green instantly come to mind.
The rice curries, Egg Hoppers, Kottu, Pol Roti, Coconut Sambol, Wood Apple Shake, sea food and its arsenal of spices defined deliciousness to me. While travellers from South India might find similarities between their cuisines and the Sri Lankan ones, for someone like me who has been born and brought up in North India, Sri Lankan cuisine was about interesting characteristics, verdant flavours of rice, fermented doughs, fresh coconut and liberal use of spices.
Here are some of the dishes that left me hungry and you must try on your next visit...
HOPPERS (Indi appa or idiyappam)
The string hoppers served with Sambol or curry made for a great breakfast. The Egg Hoppers were equally delighting for the taste buds. String Hoppers are nothing but South Indian Steamed Noodles made of rice flour. Unlike String Hoppers, Appams (Hoppers) are made from fermented batter and can be topped with eggs, chicken, cheese or more. The bowl-like shape makes it sturdy and crunchy enough to hold some curry, cheese, egg and more. This incredibly simple yet delicious dish can be eaten at any time of the day.
The discussion about Sri Lankan food would be incomplete without Kottu. Kottu means chopped bread in Sinhalese. It is virtually on every Sri Lankan menu that serves small and quick bites. A flaky flatbread or Godhamba Roti is roughly shredded and fried with vegetables, egg and/or meat, and spices. Kottu Roti is definitely Sri Lanka’s favourite street food. I found it very interesting as it makes a mashup of many things. One can experiment with the ingredients and use different kinds of breads or roti (main ingredient). The end product is always delicious. Also you will love the rhythmic tune that goes into the making of it. I loved it best with scrambled eggs.
PARIPPU DAL CURRY
On my quest for stable food of the tea country, I learnt that Dal curry makes for the most loved choice in every house. Masoor dal or red lentils are cooked with spices and coconut milk. They are savoured with both breads and steamed rice. I am sure this reminds you of Kerala in India. Sri Lanka has its own unique and tantalising version.
Pol Sambol is something that you will surely get addicted to. Finely grated coconut with onions, chili powder, lime juice and some coconut milk it makes a very refreshing treat for every plate. Coconut is a very important and commonly used ingredient in Sri Lanka and this spicy relish makes for a great side dish. It is also one of the most versatile dishes — it can be eaten with anything and everything. I always looked for it as an accompaniment with rice and String Hoppers. I had the best Pol Sambol at Upali’s by Nawaloka, a local restaurant.
SAGO DRINK (Tapioca)
Sri Lankans love to drink Sago in coconut milk, sweetened with palm jaggery or sugar. I had only eaten sago porridge but for the first time, I drank a warm glass of sago, a local health beverage, at a roadside stall in Colombo. It is a popular street drink of Sri Lanka. At first, I found it bizarre but later it came out to be different and delicious. It was filling and satisfying too. I liked its unique flavours.
WOOD APPLE SHAKE
This was a real discovery for me because until I travelled to Sri Lanka, I had no clue that there was a fruit called wood apple. My first encounter with it was in the form of Wood Apple Shake and I quite liked it. When I was told it is a wood apple, I actually went looking for it in the market. For the uninitiated, I must share that it is a fruit with hard brown shell. Once it ripens, the pulp is used to make wood apple drinks and shakes. The fruit is known as “divul” in Sinhala. It is available throughout the year.
Some of the best curries and sea food happened to me in Sri Lanka. One may find many variations depending on region and taste preferences but the fresh catch and Sri Lankan spices do the magic everywhere. Everywhere that I ate, the meat was ultra-juicy, accented by a marinade and savoury. One cannot miss the famous restaurant ‘Ministry of Crab’ if sea food is your weakness.
SRI LANKAN ACHCHARU (Pickle)
If you thought only Indians loved to perk their meals with pickles, then our neighbour loves it too. Sri Lankan pickle (Sinhala Achcharu) is prepared with a medley of vegetables and a myriad of spices . Polo Achcharu (baby jackfruit) is a favourite. It is believed that Malay influence and their pickles led to this easy condiment preparation in Sri Lanka. The locals prepare it in many varieties and love it with every meal. One can easily find them in local street food markets.
If you are a foodie, you will rejoice in the incredible variety of food and spices that Sri Lanka has to offer. Colombo offers all world platters too. No international cuisine is unachievable here and especially for Indians, it is a haven.