Sat high up in Sri Lankan’s hill country, the air in Ella feels different to the warm breeze on the south beaches, and a world away from the thick hot smog of the capital Colombo. A cooler climate and rolling green hills make Ella a popular stop for tourists, keen to sample the country’s finest tea and hike up into mountains where it is grown.
Home stays are popular all over Sri Lanka and in Ella, staying with a family is the perfect way to explore and taste the town. Friendly families arrange everything from your climbs to your meals, and the whole experience feels far more personal than that in larger hotels or guest houses.
We stayed at Restful Inn and were the sole occupants – it has only one room! Upon arrival our host family helped us head straight out to a green tea plantation, where we learnt about the process of making green tea – did you know it comes from the same leaf as your regular cup of builders? Both green and black tea originate from the same plant, but what differentiates them is the process used to obtain the tea we drink.
As well as trips around the town, the family catered our evening meals for us and served up a typical Sri Lankan breakfast. As seen in my previous post, hoppers are thin, bowl-shaped pancakes which are often eaten alongside lentil dahl in the mornings. The hoppers at our home stay were by far the best of the trip. The came either plain, wafer thin with a sweet, coconut flavour, or with egg, a combination of the perfectly cooked egg inside this thin delicate pancake.
Eating al fresco, staring out into the wild greenery and nature that surrounded the house, I’ve certainly had breakfast in far uglier places. First meal of the day down, surely in a few hours it’d be time for a snack?
When elevensies called, we took a stop at The Curd Shop. An uninspired name but doing exactly what it says on the packet, this was supposedly the best place to sample the Sri Lankan sweet of choice – curd and treacle.
Much like Greek yogurt and honey but with a tarter yogurt and sweeter honey, I ate a lot of curd in the two weeks away. Some of it veered dangerously towards a distinctly savory feta-tasting cheese, with a questionable, slightly clumpy texture, although on the whole the thick creamy curd was a favourite dessert or morning snack of our holiday.
Another culinary highlight of Ella town was our lunchtime stop at The Downtown Roti Shop. Roti is a soft, buttery thin bread similar to a flatbread. Pol roti, made from coconut flour, is a popular breakfast item, yet the larger and thinner pancake-type rotis are seen more commonly; perfect for scooping up curry or for wrapping around a whole array of fillings.
At the Roti hut, you could see the dough being stretched out and made right in front of you. This would be the rotis used for all the wraps, with a variety of fillings, from beef and prawn all the way to veg-friendly avocado and cheese. As well as roti wraps, another popular plate here was kottu; day-old roti, cut up into thin strips and cooked on a hot plate with vegetables and eggs, with the option to add in meat. My sister chose a vegetable kottu while I went for a chicken roti – a doughy yet crispy roti, filled with slightly mashed curried potato, mixed in with strips of chicken.