Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sri Lanka Part 3 - Food

Ok so I dropped off blogosphere for a while cos I was busy at work + ploughing through some textbooks which aren't in understandable English...
I'm sure that you're waiting eagerly for the food post! No trip to another country will be complete without trying their local cuisine. I did my food research before going on my trip and I found this website extremely useful - it introduces 40 Sri Lankan foods. I must say that that guy is really very daring - I'm extremely scared of getting gastroenteritis (especially from ALL preventable causes) and since Singapore food is so clean I'm sure that I don't have the necessary immunity to the more common enteric bugs elsewhere.
Random picture of a lotus flower
Sri Lankan cuisine has some South Indian influences, and yet has it's own distinct taste. The local cuisine is quite spicy, but in the hotels and restaurants for tourist, the spiciness is toned down. 

Just a disclaimer - I might have gotten some of the names wrong since I'm no expert in Sri Lankan cuisine, and I'm just writing about the interesting foods I had when I visited so please let me know if there are any mistakes!
Egg Hoppers aka appam
These are one of their most popular everyday snacks - it's usually eaten for breakfast. The locals eat these with some spicy ground chillies or with onion salsa. I think we have these in Singapore (though I haven't eaten these locally) and has the consistency similar to thosai. 
The edges are nice and crispy, and the bottom has a slightly thicker layer of batter and has a pancake-like texture. It's eaten either plain or with an egg. 
The hoppers are cooked using these metal pans and it's really labour intensive. Each hopper takes a few minutes to cook and they taste best when they're fresh off the stove.
The egg is added last, and sometimes is a little runny, which makes it even more delicious.
Condiments usually eaten with egg hoppers - these include the shredded coconut and chilli and onion sambal. 
String Hoppers
String hoppers are completely different from egg hoppers. If you've had the local version of putu mayam, this is very similar but the consistency is less chewy and slightly drier. String hoppers can be eaten with many different things (usually with curries, sambal and sauces).
It's usually served with this milky yellow sauce called kiro hodi - which is made with coconut milk and curry leaves.
This is one of my favourite dishes - it's called curd (just like curds and whey). It's a yogurt like dish but is less acidic, and is smooth and creamy. It's rather thick and looks like a pudding, but has the consistency of greek yoghurt (or slightly thicker).

It's usually eaten with jaggery (also known as treacle) - which is palm sugar (think gula melaka).
Curd is sold in these brown pots - and you can literally buy these pots from the cold section in the supermarkets. The pots can be reused for cooking too!
Being a subtropical country, Sri Lanka has a huge variety of fruits and vegetables. They have pumpkin, beetroot, rhubarb, leeks, carrots, potatoes and a whole variety of fruits including mini-sized watermelons (not like our local basket ball sized variety, more like a volleyball or slightly smaller) and honeydews, bananas (both the sweet and the cooking kind), guavas, avocados, oranges, strawberries and even durians. 

One of the most intriguing fruits was the woodapple (see the fruits picture - it's the brown thing in the centre). It's this fruit which is available widely in Sri Lanka and can either be eaten whole or blended into juice, and there's even woodapple nectar sold in bottles in the local supermarkets. There's also woodapple jam.

I was looking at wikipedia - the woodapple tree is also used to make thanakha (this whitish paste that's used in Myanmar) and the rind can be made into cutlery cos it's so hard. Quite interesting - see here if you're interested. 
The innards of the woodapple - it's full of seeds. It's really an acquired taste - to me it looks and has a consistency like a chiku fruit cos it's brown and slightly mushy, but has many seeds (which can be eaten). The flesh has a really queer smell which to me, smells slightly alcoholic (like a fermented fruit) and it's pretty sour. I suppose I sound like someone smelling a durian for the first time but my palate really can't get used to the taste - I've tried it in the fresh form (mixed with sugar as recommended by my friendly waiter), in the juice form and in the jam form and in all forms, I think it still retains its distinct fermenty smell.

I suppose that the only way for you to know is to go to Sri Lanka (or other South Asian countries) to try it... The orangey thing on the side is actually rockmelon. It's a mini-sized rockmelon and it was really sweet. They also have mini-sized watermelons. 
Kola Kanda
Kola Kanda is a traditional herbal soup usually taken during breakfast. It has different kinds of medicinal leaves cooked with rice to form a gruel. The herbal taste is quite strong and it sort of reminds me of the thunder tea rice, just that the versions that I tried had a very strong onion-like taste.
Curry and rice
The locals usually have rice with curry for their meals. A very substantial rice and curry meal can cost less than $2 from a local store. The side dishes are usually an assortment of curries and vegetables. The rice in the picture is red rice, which is a semi-polished rice (much higher in fibre and nutrients than white rice).

The green veggies on the left is called mallum and is made with green vegetables, shredded coconut and spices. Actually, this is one of the rare green veggie dishes that was featured regularly during our meals. Most of the other dishes were various curries. 

The orangey things in the middle is curried pumpkin, and on the right is curried snakegourd (a type of vegetable, a bit like a cucumber/gourd).
Beetroot curry
One of the dishes that I particularly enjoyed was the beetroot curry. Actually, it's not really a gravy but more like beetroot with curry spices. 
Beetroot curry again - really like the earthy sweet beetroot. 
Jackfruit curry
 Another of my favourite dish was the jackfruit curry. In the picture, there are 2 kinds of jackfruits - the yellowish strips on the bottom left of the picture is jackfruit curry - this is the ripe fruit cut into strips and cooked in a delicious coconut curry. As this is ripe, the curry is sweet and savory at the same time.
The brown thing just above the ripe jackfruit is actually he unripe jackfruit, which is cooked in a different curry. This is much firmer and tasted a bit like artichoke to me.

The rice here is ghee rice, which reminds me a bit of buttered rice.
 Pappadums -  all these deep fried unhealthy snacks always taste so good, especially if they're freshly fried.

 Another meal with assorted dishes - it's just like eating economical rice/nasi padang.
 Onion sambal - slightly spicy and sweet
Dhal curry - one of their staple dishes 
The dark brown thing at the back is actually a funnel cake called pittu (which I didn't manage to take a photo of). It's very floury and goes well with curry.
 Eggplant curry
 Chicken curry
 Onion salad

 Fruit salad
 My very touristy lunch place :) It's very clean and the food is good!
New Years Sweets at Heritance Hotel Kandamala 
Because it was the Sinhalese new year, one of our hotels had a special sweets booth.
Sweet treats for the new year
Asmi - the white thing at the back which is a bit like fried flour drizzled with jaggery.
Kavum - the UFO shaped brown cake on the left deep fried in oil
I'm not sure what the longish one at the bottome is but it has nuts and sugar stuffing.
Kokis - the flower shaped cracker - it's very similar to the ones we get locally.
Avocado juice at my very nice hotel
King coconut juice - the orange coconut is called King coconut. There's another type of coconut which is green - the locals use the green coconut for cooking and to obtain coconut oil. 
My favourite drink - Elephant House Lemonade - tastes like sprite but it's their local brand of lemonade. The glass bottles can be recycled but if you buy them at the local stores, you'll have to put a deposit for the glass bottle (which you will get fully refunded when you return it) so there's now been a shift to using plastic bottles (since you can go off and not need to return the glass bottles). Their local brand of ginger beer is really good too! Spicier than the Schweppes one.  
There's lots of stalls selling muruku and other fried snacks along the road side. 
Typical stall selling muruku and other fried snacks - the cassava chips on the right, dhal and some other beans. It costs only 35 rupees (about SGD 30 cents) for 100g.
Another stall selling muruku
Not sure what this brightly coloured snacks were
Sweet stall - lots of desserts and sweets but I didn't try them.
Gulab Jamun - this is a Indian and Sri Lanakan dessert where flour balls are deep fried and soaked in a rose and sugar syrup. Very very sweet!
Welcome tea and sweets at Earl's Regency Hotel
Coconut sweets and tea at one of our hotels. Since we went on a tour, all our meals were catered for - and I'm very unadventurous when it comes to eating street food. I must say that the hotel meals were really awesome and every day was a buffet breakfast and dinner.

Of course, being a major tea producing country, there's always a cup of delicious tea.

All you people who only want to hear about the local Sri Lankan food can stop reading here cos I'm going to be talking about the hotel food. Our tour dinners were all in our hotels (fantastic by my standards, since I don't want to risk getting GE and spoiling my holiday... or worse, coming back to Singapore with all the funny bugs and fever...)
Dinner spread at Heritance Hotel in Kandamala 
Out of all our hotels, I really liked the design and layout of Heritance Hotel because the whole hotel was so spacious, faced a huge reservoir and looks like our Capella hotel.
Dinner spread in Heritance Hotel, Kandamala
Dinner spread in Heritance Hotel, Kandamala
Continental dinner at Heritance Hotel, Kandamala
Earls Regency, Kandy
Earls Regancy, Kandy
Freshly churned ice cream at Earls Regency Hotel in Kandy
The most impressive thing at Earls Regency was the freshly churned ice cream - great because the weather is so scorchingly hot.
Grand Hote, Nurwara Eliya
Grand hotel in Nurwara Eliya was really nice - very quaint and old and they have a lovely garden where you can sit and just enjoy the cool fresh air. The dinner there was one of the best that we had throughout the trip.
Grand Hotel, Nurwara Eliya
Grand Hotel, Nurwara Eliya
Sea Bass
Mongolian Fried Rice at Grand Hotel, Nurwara Eliya
Mongolian fried rice - sounded extremely interesting so I had to try this - basically, they let you pick out your ingredients and will fry it on the spot with rice.
Spaghetti with pink sauce, Grand Hotel, Norwara Eliya
I don't usually eat rice for most of my meals so whenever I have to eat rice for most of my meals, I'll miss my noodles alot. Thankfully, most of the hotels we stayed in had at least one pasta dish for dinner. The live cooking station at Grand Hotel included pasta with 3 different sauces - Bolognese, tomato and carbonara. The chef was so kind and allowed me to mix the tomato and carbonara sauce so I had my favourite pink sauce pasta.
Breakfast at Jetwing Blue Hotel
Betel Nut
I was quite surprised that we have betel nut sold in Singapore! I went to Peninsular Plaza to run some errands and I saw a few shops with the whole betel nut works including the lime and the whole leaves.

Dunno what this is but it looks like dessicated coconut with some food colouring.

Roadside stall selling chickpeas and some salad on the side (obviously I didn't try this)
And this is KFC's popcorn chicken and rice! It's 100 rupees (about $1) and since we don't have this locally, I had to give it a try. 
A few months back, my friends were horrified that I did not know the existence of popcorn chicken. The popcorn chicken tastes the same but the rice was pretty dry. I also tried their veggie burger which has a veggie patty made of potatoes and chickpeas (I think) which wasn't that fantastic and wasn't photogenic either.

Of course, being Chinese and being on a tour makes the tour operator feel obliged to give you at least one Chinese meal (I don't know what for!) According to our driver, this was one of the best Chinese restaurants in Sri Lanka, and it gets really crowded so a dinner booking is usually required. The chef is Chinese so the dishes tasted really good - especially the sweet and sour pork - I think it even beats most of our local ones because the pork was so tender and well seasoned, and lacked the annoyingly thick coating of batter. Quite interestingly, our Sinhalese driver really enjoys the Chinese food here! 

I suppose if I stayed in Sri Lanka for a month I'll definitely miss Chinese food, but 7 days is really too short to make me miss it enough to want to eat it!

FIY, the tour operator in Sri Lanka is United Holidays
Tel 0094 11 5220000
(This is not a sponsored ad, and we were very happy with our tour)

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