With ‘rice and curry’ as the national dish, Sri Lankan food, at first glance, doesn’t reveal much to the foreign palate. But this is no anglicized chicken korma affair. Think of a jackfruit curry with a surprisingly meaty texture, or a lentil dahl spiced with sweet cinnamon and cooked in coconut cream, piled on top of sweet, yet ever so slightly charred, soft roti bread.
These, along with many other dishes, form a cuisine that is both richly spiced yet soothing and comforting, which at each meal allows itself the chance the present three or four dishes, made to be shared and eaten in company. I was lucky enough to head to Sri Lanka on a two week holiday with my mum and sister.
After arriving in the countries capital of Colombo after a long flight and unsure whether it was lunch, breakfast or dinner, the three Bidmead’s ordered a distinctly odd array of dishes for our first bite to eat. Porridge for my mum, a banana roti for myself and a vegetable kottu for my sister.
By far the most interesting of all three, kottu is chopped up roti bread (a roti is similar to a flatbread) mixed with either egg, fish, meat or vegetables. It’s similar to egg-fried rice if the rice was replaced with small slices of flat bread, and the whole thing was bursting with spices.
With just a day in Colombo, I made sure we made it down the Galle Park pier for sunset. An expansive stretch of green on the sea, this charming spot fills up on a Sunday evening with families, couples and kite flyers, but more to my interest…a truckload of food vendors too. Selling typical street food, known as short eats, it was the perfect place to gain more insight into Sri Lankan cuisine.
Fresh crabs and fried prawn cakes filled the glass cabinets of the street food carts, as well as richly spiced fruits (think pineapple with chili and mango with salt) sold from huts behind.
As we sat down at a barbecue shack with tables and chairs, I admired their fresh seafood, marinated in a wealth of spices, ready for the barbecue. The meaty menu options caught my eye too; my offal enthusiasm seemed to be shared by the Sri Lankans, as waiting to hit the grill were trays of tripe, prepped in herbs, onions, and spices.
After having a rest from a day walking in the fierce sun and heat, we decided for our first dinner we’d opt for a taste of the North. We sadly wouldn’t have time to make it up to the Jaffna, one of Sri Lanka’s biggest Northern towns, but thought as second best, we’d at least be able to give the cuisine a go.
Famous for their curried crab, Yaal Restaurant was a very casual, low-key local diner, where no dish cost over £4. Knowing we had to order crab but otherwise feeling quite overwhelmed by the amount of dishes to choose from, options ranged from savoury curried porridge to devilled kidneys and livers.
Fiddly to eat (as all crab is), we wasted no time in cracking, sucking and biting our way into this curried crustacean. A hot and spicy dish, the crab was slightly cooled by the rich coconut milk in which it was cooked, and this sauce had us all slurping away to the very last mouthful. Along with the crab, we ordered a cuttlefish pitthu, with bears some resemblance to egg fried rice, yet instead of rice the grains are actually made out of rice flour, mixed with spices and steamed in a banana leaf.
The wraps were parata flat breads filled with crispy prawns and served with dahl and a curried coconut sauce and were a great mix of crunchy prawns wrapped in the soft, doughy bread. Northern Sri Lankan food is typically spicier than that of the south, and for a first meal in Sri Lanka, I realised I would have to get my spice tolerance up for the duration of the trip!
From Colombo, it was onto Galle, an old Colonial town down in the South. Keep reading for the next Sri Lankan Travel BidmeadBites!