Where else in the World would be more fitting for the Cinnamon Fiend to visit than the country known as “Cinnamon Island”. Sri Lanka not only has the best quality cinnamon but it exports around four-fifths of the World’s total output.
Adding to the cinnamon factor brownie points is the fact that almost all Sri Lankan food is naturally wheat and dairy free – *bliss*. Below I will share with you what I ate along my travels around the island, what I helped prepare at a cookery lesson and some delicious Sri Lankan street food I sampled.
As in India, where I spent five unforgettable weeks last July; dotted along every road are lots of little wooden fruit and vegetable stalls that are ideal for grabbing healthy snacks on the go.
The taste of fruit in Sri Lanka is phenomenal because it is so fresh and organic.
Breakfast often consisted of delicious Sri Lankan fruit and omelettes, containing fresh chili, tomatoes and onion, seasoned with salt and pepper but in some hotels we were also spoiled with Sri Lankan traditional eats such as fish curry, string hoppers, sambal and various bean dishes.
Lunches and dinners for me consisted of nothing but the delicious Sri Lankan staples of rice and curry! I usually chose the vegetable curry option, sometimes sans rice as I’m not the biggest white rice fan but often brown or red rice was available which was a welcome surprise. As we spent almost every day travelling to new locations the curries I had varied depending on the region and what vegetables were available.
At The Golden Star hotel in Colombo, the head chef very kindly allowed me into the kitchen with him and his team to learn first hand about some traditional Sri Lankan delicacies and of course probe him with questions! I was also very lucky that the kitchen prepared a special tasting of some vegetable curry dishes for me, including a jackfruit curry (which I have attempted to replicate twice already in the week since I have returned home), an eggplant curry, a tempered cabbage dish and some dahl. The jackfruit was my favourite but I loved the sweetness of the eggplant dish thanks to the sticky tamarind they cooked it in.
One of the highlights of the trip was visiting a traditional Sri Lankan lake-side village and meeting a beautiful lady who taught us how to make roti breads from millet flour. Cooked over an open fire using no oil they were delicious ate with coconut sambal, which we also helped prepare, using freshly grated coconut, red chili and salt.
Our little dish was then served on a lotus leaf (picked from the lake on our way to the village) with a coconut-shell cup of coriander tea and a jaggery-sugar cube.
Matale Spice Garden
En route to one of our destinations we stopped at a herb and spice garden which was really interesting learning about everything from turmeric to cocoa to wild pineapple!
While there we visited their “Herbal Hospital” – Sri Lankan’s, like myself, believe in Ayurvedic treatments of illness or ailments; i.e.: the natural approach to what we consume and put on our bodies. We got a mini-massage, some fresh tea and the opportunity to buy some of their lovely fresh spices, creams, lotions and potions. Having got a little sunburned on day one I bought a wonder-cream of sandalwood, jojoba, turmeric and aloe vera which helps heal skin, reduce the appearance of scars and balance pH. It cleared up my skin in two days good as new! Winner.
Sri Lankan Street Food
Vadai – deep fried lentil fritters usually with some curry leaves or spices. Picuted here is me enjoying mine with some sambal at a tiny hole-in-the-wall local eatery and with sambal and chutney while exploring the streets of Nuwara Eliya.
Laddu – a ball-shaped sweet made from chickpea flour, raisins, sugar and cashews. Not the healthiest but definitely worth trying. Here is me eating one wandering around the second biggest city of Kandy.
More traditional sweets on display in a Kandy sweet store
Jaggery Dodhal – I had this jelly-like delight at two different locations. First in Kandy at the same store I purchased the laddu pictured above and secondly at a tiny village at the foot of Adam’s Peak. Made from coconut milk and jaggery sugar – which although yes is a sugar, it has a slower release than white sugar so provides more sustainable energy – just what I needed climbing the 5,558 steps of Adam’s Peak! Different options are available, including my favourite with cashews and extra coconut milk which makes it taste even creamier.
Coconuts – Sri Lanka is teeming with beautiful coconuts in all kinds of varieties and vendors line the streets with their bicycles laden down with these thirst-quenching bad boys. After 4 hours whale watching and swimming with wild dolphins in Mirissa we stopped to enjoy the view of a Buddhist temple constructed on a little island while drink some King coconuts.
Chickpeas – In almost every town/city we visited small wooden carts selling spicy, plain or coconut chickpeas can be found, costing between 20-50rupees a bag – that’s about 13-30cent or 1-2dirhams! A perfect healthy, filling snack to grab on the go when travelling for a number of hours on the bus. The spicy version with onions and chili was my favourite (seen below).
Pittu – most commonly found in cylindrical form these can be eaten sweet or savoury, often acoompanied alongside curry dishes. Made from layers of steamed rice flour and coconut I picked two up in the town of Negombo on my way back to the aiport. They came with some ground coconut on top so at the airport I grabbed a cup of green tea, some honey and cinnamon at a coffee bar and had a delicious sweet treat before bidding Sri Lanka adieu!
Fresh fruit juices/smoothies – you can find these everywhere and they provide a welcome healthy cool-down from the hot sun. My favourite was a banana, coconut milk and kithul honey lassi from Aroma Café in Hikkaduwa.
More delicious eats along the way…
Aroma Café in Hikkaduwa, which I mention above, was an absolute gem of a discovery. If you are ever in the area you HAVE to go visit Amardasa, the owner of the restaurant. After travelling the world for 30 years as a chef he has now settled back in this beach-side town opening a very modern and upscale-style café with a secret garden out the back. The food is fresh, healthy and exciting. Strongly Ayurvedic – that food is thy medicine; the menu lists what is in each dish and what it helps with, e.g.: good for liver, kidneys, etc; which makes for an interesting read. Additionally all the owner’s sons are vegetarians and daughter-in-laws vegan so he is fantastic at catering for any dietary requirements!
With just a three people team – himself and his wife in the kitchen and a friend running front of shop you feel like you are in someones home. All of the dishes are prepared fresh to order and you even walk through the kitchen when going from the café to the garden – as you can imagine I spent most of my time hanging here in this alcone asking a million questions, taking pictures and just watching, fascinated, at what was going on.
Some dishes I had on my three visits (in two days!) included: Karapincha soup – made from fragrant curry leaves and believed to cure liver disease, diabetes and heart disease and lower blood pressure.
Fish curry, fried eggplant and red rice – which although I didn’t order, upon chatting with Amardasa before ordering I had mentioned that I don’t particularly like white rice so that he didn’t need to serve any with my order. However, he very kindly brought a big bowl of red rice which he isn’t on the menu but he also favours himself to eat – so sweet!
Green bean curry, fried eggplant (again because it was so good! Fried in mango chutney for a delicious sweet and savory combo), cabbage curry and again a thoughtful (non-ordered) serving of red rice. My dining companion had the mixed fruit pancakes as can be seen the picture below and the following morning we came back for the banana-coconut pancakes with Sri Lankan kithul tree honey (made from coconut milk and cornflour) before departing for the airport.
Karuna’s Cookery Lesson in Unawatuna
My final share from the trip and another highlight of my time in Sri Lanka, was a traditional cookery lesson. Arriving a little early at Sonja’s Healthfood restaurant where the class was to take place, we wandered a few doors down to Jina’s Vegetarian & Vegan Restaurant for a cold, fresh carrot, orange and ginger juice and a sneaky slice of wheat, sugar and dairy-free cashew cake! Just nicely sweet thanks to a middle layer of date paste – it went down a treat! Staff here were super friendly and witty and also let us wander around the kitchen. I would have loved more time in Unawatuna to revisit this little café.
Back down the road – we clambered into tuk tuks and set off to the town of Galle (10min drive) to a local fruit and vegetable market where we had the chance to pick some of our favourite ingredients to later prepare. En route back to Unawatuna we stopped at a roadside stall sitting 20 metres in front of the beach selling beautiful freshly-caught fish.
Back at class we donned our aprons and began by first preparing fresh coconut cream and milk which we would use in many of our dishes.
The class was so enjoyable. With a total of six people in the class we all were able to get involved and take turns prepping dishes, taking down recipes and photographing the experience or just having some banter with Karuna.
Dishes we made included fish curry, pumpkin curry, cabbage curry, dahl with spinach, beetroot curry, eggplant curry – all accompanied with a big bowl of brown rice.
I’m sure you can by now tell that Sri Lanka truly was a foodie’s (particularly health foodie’s) dream – but what made the trip all the more special? The beautiful people. They truly are so kind and generous, so humble and helpful. Combine those fabulous people with the delicious food they offer and a breathtaking landscape and you truly have the ultimate get-away in Sri Lanka.