This summer I travelled to Sri Lanka for what turned out to be a trip that would change my mind about a lot of things – spiced cuisine being no exception. I taught some wonderful children, rode an elephant, made some brilliant friends and consumed at least two curries a day.
To give you an insight my Sri Lanka Foodie Experience, here is a day-to-day diary of my mealtimes.
Day 1: My first taste of Sri Lanka
After a four hour drive to what would be my home for the next two weeks – the sleepy fishing town of Ambalangoda – I was more than a little bit peckish. The time had come for my first encounter with Sri Lankan food. I had no real preconceptions of what a traditional Sri Lankan meal looked like but I did know that I was ready to eat a lot of it. Before long our lovely cook bought us our lunch in, thankfully, in gargantuan serving bowls. We tucked in. We weren’t disappointed. This stuff was good (even though my mouth was aflame).
[Our first lunch consisted of Mangnoch which is made with chilli powder, Turmeric, curry leaves, Maldives fish and mustard leaves, Okra seasoned with dried flaked chilli, red onion, curry leaves, Maldives fish and mustard seeds and rice.]
Day 2: The meat-eating Vegan
On day two of my trip, I was lucky enough to receive a crash course in the typical Buddhist diet. Buddhism is one of the most prevalent religions in Sri Lanka and I was intrigued to find out more. Buddhists do not believe in contributing to the deaths of any living being, including killing poultry for food, so many follow a strict vegan diet.
Initially I took this news fairly well, it was fascinating to experience the food of the locals… but then I remembered something I was trying to supress. I’m a raging carnivore. Perhaps this was going to be more challenging keeping my stomach happy than I first thought.
[Dinner on day two looking just a tad familiar…and no meat in sight.]
Day 3: Falling in love with tiny bananas
On my third day of eating nothing but veggies and rice, a strange thing happened. I fell in love with Sri Lankan food in all its meatless, spicy glory. No, I wasn’t experiencing heat stroke… I had discovered Sri Lankan fruit, and it was wonderful. Sweet, succulent and in the case of the bananas, really rather tiny. Breakfast in the east was a pleasure – we all had several of these yellow beauties whenever the chance came.
Day 5: Tea- tastic
As an avid tea-drinker this new love affair was cemented and posted on twitter when I discovered Sri Lankan spiced tea on a visit to a spice plantation in Kandy. Was this heaven?
Day 7: Wondering back to the west
After consuming curry twice a day without fail, I had began to develop a rice-hating complex. Also, I had realised two universal truths:
- 1. Meat cravings are a very real thing.
- 2. As are pizza cravings.
‘Western Meal Wednesday’, colloquially known as ‘Pasta Day’ amongst my volunteer house, thus came as foodie saviour, shining with the promise of a sacred rice-less meal once a week. Sometimes this meal was pizza.
The final day: I am most certainly lovin’ it
All too soon my time in Sri Lanka, and my food experience, was coming to an end. Arriving back in London my heart was set on what I saw at that moment to be culinary perfection: a McDonald’s chicken nugget meal. Yes, I did buy one at Victoria station. The only frustrating thing about the food in Sri Lanka: sometimes you just fancy a McDonald’s. Western food cravings were a common affliction among our group, but greasy comfort eating proved pretty hard to track down. That time we really wanted a TGI Fridays but 3G failed us. That other time we very nearly travelled two hours to the country’s capital Colombo “just” for a Pizza Hut cookie dessert (you know the one).
Nevertheless as I look back on my Sri Lankan food journey I have no regrets about (for the most part) sticking to the local diet. Each dish proved to be as flavoursome, filling and as delicious as the last. So should you ever find yourself in Colombo debating whether to stick to a portion of chips or to risk a chickpea and yam curry, I’d advise going for the curry first and facing rice-induced fury later, especially if you are a meat-lover who doesn’t do well with a Jalfrezi.
Image Credit: Wishard Of Oz via Flickr