A Taste of Sri LankaFood and drink on the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.

Max Hepworth-Povey


6 months ago in Sri Lanka

The colourful cuisine of Sri Lanka is among the most creative on the planet and a reason to visit the country itself. The curries will knock your socks off and the rotti’s will rock your World.

Sri Lankan dishes have picked up little bits of influence from all of its neighbours, immigrants, colonisers and friends. Consequently, it boasts a blend of global flavours that confuse and excite, all at the same time. Meals are included on our trips and we even take a local cooking class on our tour, but if you can’t wait until then, let me whet your appetite…

Bea getting real local grinding coconut

History

Before we delve into the dishes, let’s take a brief look at the history and cultures. The Portuguese were the first to the party in the early 1500’s. They were followed by the Dutch in 17 something. Then, (cue national anthem) the Brits did that lovely thing we do called colonising from 1802 – 1948. The majority of Sri Lankans now are Sinhalese Buddhists and Hindu Tamils. There are also Muslims of Arab origin, as well as Malays and Chinese. In addition, it’s also worth remembering that its neighbour India is only 30km away. That’s a lot of culture in an island smaller than Scotland.

Rice & Curry

Firstly, “Rice and Curry”: the national dish. Forget India, Sri Lanka is the birthplace of the make-you-cry-curry. They love cooking with the hottest chillies they can find, usually cooled down with coconut milk. A typical Sri Lankan Rice and Curry is a buffet including several small (powerfully spicy) dishes made from a variety of vegetables, chicken or fish (go for fish- it’s as fresh as you’ll find). These are served with pappadoms, chutneys, coconut sambol (shredded coconut with more chilli added) and plenty of rice.

Yet, despite being served absolutely everywhere, from roadside rickshaws, to high-end hotels, the dish is never the same. You may get aubergine, dahl, green beans, beetroot, okra, jackfruit, seaweed, boiled eggs, even the national speciality Crab in some places. Just go with the flow. The best in the South West has to be Mama’s in Midigama, overlooking a great right hander.

Naturally, you’ll want to wash down your inferno supper with a refreshing, cold beer. However, I’m afraid the only two choices are either Lion Beer or Carlsberg Special Brew, neither of which are ever served cold enough, but the local Arrack (fermented coconut and who knows what else) goes down quite well with Sprite and ice.

Roti

Rotis are eaten at all times of the day by all, smothered in hot sauce (or honey sometimes) and are essentially a flat-bread made with shredded coconut. There are a few variations, all of which are delicious and fill a hole. In recent years the Sri Lankans have got creative with extra fillings, catering to Western needs, including chocolate and coconut, tomato and avocado, cheese and onion, but the classic spiced vegetable found at all street venders is my favourite. We get taught how to make roti on our traditional cookery class (recipe at the bottom of this blog) but No1 Dewmini Roti Shop in Mirissa does the best in the South West.

Kothu

A Kothu is a chopped roti, usually of more substance with added extras including fish, meat, egg and / or vegetables. The traditional chopping sound of a Kothu shop can be heard from streets away. This isn’t a scientific fact, but I’m sure they expand in your stomach after wolfing them down so go slow, or share a kothu between two. It will be the cheapest, yet most filling dinner you’ll ever have.

Hoppers

These things are a great, semi-nutritious, extremely tasty, cost-effective snack, perfect for eating in between surfs. A hopper is a crispy, bowl-shaped pancake made with rice flour, usually with a fried egg cooked inside, then topped with chutney, sambol and a load of hot sauce. Two of these washed down with a Milo are great post surf fuel. They cost pennies.

Cake

Sri Lankans also have a seriously sweet tooth. Their cuisine boasts a variety of cakes and sweet treats that would impress the most hard-core dessert enthusiasts. The common dessert of wattalappam, is brown sugar, coconut milk, egg and cardamom. It has the consistency of a custardy cake and is absolutely delicious. Kitul syrup is like treacle and is amazing with buffalo curd. Nonetheless, my favourite is love cake, which is a normal looking cake of Portuguese descent made with semolina, cashews, honey, nutmeg, cinnamon and rosewater. It’s almost as good as their pastel de nata…

Tea

Sri Lanka’s famous Hill Country has the perfect conditions for growing tea, as the British soon found out. It’s here that a majority of the world’s tea is produced. As well as surfing, we take our groups on traditional tea factory tours, where everyone is shocked to hear that the tea we like to drink as actually the dust at the end of the production line. Cuppa tea mate?

To sample all these goodies for yourself, join me this coming season!

Traditional ‘Pol Roti’ recipe

We learned how to make these from a lovely old woman in Arugam Bay so are as authentic as you can get. Try them out as a cheaper (yes cheaper) option to bread for breakfast dishes, or an accompaniment for any dish that requires an edible shovel.

  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 3 minutes
  • Total Time: 13 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups rice flour
  • 1 cup grated coconut (you can use frozen left to thaw out)
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 pinch of salt

Instructions

  • Sift the flour into a bowl, add the grated coconut, salt and mix all together
  • Add the water gradually and mix either with your hands for a few minutes until everything is combined
  • Place the dough on a table dusted with flour and knead for another few minutes
  • Make one small doughball at a time, flatten the ball into a disk around 10cm in diameter
  • Heat up a pan over medium heat and grease it with butter or coconut oil
  • Place your dough-disk / roti on the hot pan and grill for a minute or two, or until you see that it has golden brown spots on the bottom. Flip it and grill on the other side for another minute.
  • Job done, enjoy with pretty much anything

(You can fire the roti up by adding finely chopped up onion and chili to the dough mix)

To eat your way through Sri Lanka, join us this season. More info on trips and tours here.