A Beginner’s Guide To Sri Lankan Food

I know it’s been a month since I was in Sri Lanka so this is a very tardy post. I’d like to say I’ve been spending that time perfecting the Sri Lankan dishes in my own kitchen but I’ve just been lazy (and it’s coincided with Celebrity Masterchef and OITNB so I haven’t done much of anything recently; I thought I’d best get writing now before The Bake Off is in full swing and Strictly gets started otherwise it’ll be Christmas before it’s written).

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I was slightly apprehensive before embarking on my Sri Lankan adventure, as although I love tasting new food and haven’t encountered an Asian cuisine I didn’t like, I wasn’t sure how Kings and Greens friendly it would be. As anyone who has holidayed with me before knows (Faye and Ric, I’m looking at you) I’m not at all a fussy eater but like to be in control of what I’m eating and do my research before leaving the comfort of my avocado, kale and nakd-bar filled kitchen.

I’m quite an adventurous eater and will try more or less anything and although I’m not a huge fan of meat I will happily eat anything to not offend a host (I must get that from my dad, who despite being veggie for longer than I can remember, once forced down a duck dish against his will in order to avoid insulting the host at a dinner party years ago).

Luckily there was no forcing down of any unwanted poultry and the food was AMAZING. We were so lucky that we had real home-made meals each night cooked by our wonderful and very hospitable host teachers so we got a real feel for true Sri Lankan home cooking. I hadn’t needed to worry about the health aspect either as everything was so fresh and made from local ingredients which involved lots of fruit and veg. I actually enjoyed the lack of control and just tasting all the delicious food that was prepared for us. One night we ate at the hotel (we stayed at the amazing OZO hotel in Kandy) and decided to take a break from all the curry and rice, only to be craving it again the next night.

Before going, I thought I’d come home and be glad to be back to my usual eating habits, but I’ve actually come back with a load of recipe ideas, although I’m doubtful whether I’ll be able to cook them as well as our host teachers (or if I’ll ever get round to it with my busy autumn/winter 2015 TV schedule).

Here’s a list of some of my faves that I will be trying to recreate…

1. Brinjal curry

This aubergine curry was a staple each night and I piled my plate high with this every time. It was so tasty and the great thing was that every one was slightly different, some were quite dry and others were more saucy, but every one was just as good as the last.

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2. Lentil dhal

Again this was one that we had most nights and it was amazing. This would take me forever to make and would be the star of the show, but the host teachers were such amazing cooks that this was just a side dish alongside other amazing dishes.

Lentil dhal with a plantain and a cashew curry

Lentil dhal with a plantain and a cashew curry

3. Roti

We had two versions of these over the course of the week. The coconut ones were the perfect addition to every spread and were the perfect food for mopping up the last bits of brinjal and dhal. We had the egg versions for breakfast on the first morning which set the bar high for the week ahead.

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4. Hoppers

These are little pancakes made from rice and coconut and are eaten for breakfast or dinner. One thing I liked about Sri Lankan cuisine is that they made a lot of foods quite interchangeable between meal times, eating similar things for breakfast, lunch and dinner and these were a perfect example of this. The best ones we had were the egg hoppers that had a fried egg in the middle, served piping hot alongside a variety of curries on our first evening.

Picture taken from Pinterest

Picture taken from Pinterest

5. Pittu

Being the greedy guests we were, we made the mistake of piling this coconut/rice cylinder on our curries and diving straight in. We were then informed that it’s usually served as a sweet dish served by pouring coconut milk and jaggery ( an unrefined sugar substitute used a lot in Sri Lankan cooking) on top for it to soak in, but it tasted great nonetheless.

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6. Chick pea balls

Ok this isn’t the official name for them so maybe my Sri Lankan friends can help me out with this one! These falafel-esque balls were a real treat following a white-knuckle ride up to Lipton’s Seat one afternoon. They were served with a chilli paste and roti and were the perfect mid afternoon snack following a jungle adventure.

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7. Rambutan

I don’t think you can say you’ve properly experienced Sri Lanka until you’ve mastered how to open this hairy, lychee-like tropical fruit. As if getting into it wasn’t fun enough you’re rewarded with a really tasty snack. Our lovely hosts kept us in regular supply of these.

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8. Mangosteen

I think you’re only allowed to try to open one of these once you’ve mastered the rambutan so it was only towards the end of the week this bad boy came into my life. Even trickier to open than the previous one, it’s well worth it once you get your teeth into this sweet and tangy fruit.

Picture taken from pinterest... too busy trying to get into these to take a picture

Picture taken from pinterest… too busy trying to get into these to take a picture

(I don’t think I’m over-reacting about how hard these fruits are the get into as the second google result for both of them is a step-by-step how to crack into them)

9. King coconut

There’s nothing better than sticking a straw in a coconut on a hot day. The king coconut found in Sri Lanka is well-known for it’s rehydrating properties, which was the perfect refreshment after the first morning teaching in school

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10. Tea

No list of Sri Lankan food and drink can be complete without mentioning the famous ceylon tea. Anyone who knows me well enough will know that aside from green and other fruit/herbal teas, I’m a strictly coffee gal so this is big news. I read up on Sri Lankan food and drink before I went (old habits die hard) and read that the coffee isn’t great and the tea is the real star so I approached it with a ‘when in Rome’ attitude and loved it. It probably helped that it was so fresh and made locally, plus the addition of jaggery to sweeten every cup. I can officially say I am now a tea drinker and I have Sri Lanka to thank for that.

Anyone for tea?

Anyone for tea?

Tea factory

Tea factory

I could go on all day about loads more amazing food and drink, but instead I’ll leave you with some more pictures of the best of the rest…

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A slight step up from a nakd bar and a brew at breaktime

A slight step up from a nakd bar and a brew at breaktime

Can't remember what these were called but they were so good! They look savoury but were sugary and coconuty.

Can’t remember what these were called but they were so good! They look savoury but were filled with coconut and jaggery

Our usual hotel breakfast

Our usual hotel breakfast alongside…

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Local market stall

Local market stall

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Pastries that put Greggs to shame

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