Sri Lankan Food Trail: Breakfasts and Buffets.
Brunyfire’s recent visit to Sri Lanka, the beautiful spice island once known as Ceylon, was a culinary inspiration. Sri Lankan cuisine is a rich melting pot of international influences, those countries that have colonised and traded have all left their mark – the Dutch, Portuguese, English, Arabs, Malays, Moors and Indians.
Due to its proximity to Southern India, it is not surprising that this has been a major influence, and thus rice, which is consumed daily, and spicy curries form a staple part of the Sri Lankan diet. Although Sri Lankan food appears similar to South Indian cuisine in its use of chilli, cardamon, cumin, coriander and other spice, it has a distinctive taste.
Sadly though, the time was all too short to check out all the different foods on offer, but in the brief time we had, we managed to sample a range of street food, local fruits, restaurant buffets and perhaps best of all, we shared lunch with a local family.
There weren’t many restaurants that were on our list, as eating locally was the main criteria. However, there was one exception……… ………Lords in Negombo is run by British chef Martin Fullerton who is totally smitten by one of Sri Lanka’s favourite pastimes – cricket. The names within the art gallery, wining and dining room complex all reflect this with names like The Batsman’s Restaurant; LBW cocktail bar; The Boundaries Courtyard and Art Gallery and The Umpires Lounge.Whilst the atmosphere was great the food was really only OK – Brunyfire had expected better given the availability of all the fresh fish available.
From Negombo, our next stop was Sigiriya village, and Hotel Sigiriya in particular. Chosen for its spectacular site, things gastronomically got off to a very good start with a decent cocktail served up during a ferocious rain storm – this we enjoyed whilst relishing the view of a group of hapless tourists caught in the open on the top of the Rock. That evening, we had opted for the ‘all you can eat’ buffet, which was quite spectacular. On offer were a choice of traditional curries……….………as well as the usual selection of Western dishes and an extensive array of fancy deserts.Looks are deceptive!! Whilst beautifully executed, with lots of delicate flourishes involving artfully melted white chocolate, these deserts proved to be without much substance and a bit insipid.The fruit platters on the other hand where not only aesthetically creative, but the range of fresh fruits was a far better way to complete the meal – coffee we gave a miss throughout our travels, finally foregoing our caffeine habit for tea in its various forms, which was far more satisfying.However, breakfast the following morning provided an interesting surprise amongst the usual croissant, toast and jam, muesli and cornflakes – kola kanda a generic term for a traditional herbal gruel that is packed full of vitamins, minerals and fibers.
According to Disna Weerasinghe and Anula Ranaweera in their book The Fine Art of Sri Lankan Cuisine: Clay Pot Style & Other Methods………………Gotukola Kanda has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years as it is thought to be not only one of the most spiritual but also one of the most rejuvenating herbs, particularly for pregnant women and children.
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) or Indian Pennywort grows in thick clumps in wet soil, and is an essential part of any Sri Lankan herbal garden.These vegetables are often foraged naturally in rural areas, but in the city, urbanites have to be reminded to keep taking their greens, and it was intriguing to see the following information sheets at the veggie section of a local supermarket in Colombo.Also amongst the unfamiliar range of leafy greens was Neeramulliya – another native ingredient for a medicinal drink……….. …………neeramulliya is another traditional, natural Ayurvedic remedy, said to rid the body of kidney stones.
The following recipe for Gotukola Kanda came from The Fine Art of Sri Lankan Cuisine: Clay Pot Style & Other Methods.
- 2 bunches Gotukola (this can be replaced with parsley or try stinging nettles, watercress or a combo)
- 1 cup freshly grated coconut
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup of cooked red rice or white long grain rice
- touch of salt to taste
Wash the greens and remove leaves from stems. Place leaves, fresh grated coconut, water and salt in blender and blend until until thick smooth paste. Sieve liquid. Place cooked rice in blender, add strained greens/coconut liquid and blend for a couple of minutes until smooth – add extra water to preferred consistency. Heat in pan for 5 minutes, serve in bowls or glass with a piece of jaggery (a natural sugar made from Kitul palm syrup).
Another memorable breakfast, this time in Galle, on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka. Galle Fort Hotel……..…….. is situated in the centre of the old fort that was built originally in 1588 by the Portuguese, then extensively fortified by the Dutch from 1649 onwards. Tucked inside the historic fort, this former merchant’s home has morphed into a boutique hotel. Probably one of the most expensive we’d stayed in during our Sri Lankan sojourn, but well worth every cent.
Breakfast on this occasion were pancakes with Sri Lankan honey.Fittingly, the water lilies that are refreshed daily in a huge clay pot in front of the diners, are alive with bees. Apparently there are three types of Water Lilies in Sri Lanka which are referred to in Sinhalese as the Olu (white), the Nil Manel (magenta with yellow in the middle) and the Nelum (pink and white colors). Back in 1986, the Nil Manel was chosen as the the National flower, and is found throughout the country.Interestingly, en-route to Haputale, a dusty little town in the Uva Province where we were to spend the night, we came across clusters of wild honey bee hives hanging like fruit high above us.
Honey plays a vital role in the lives of Sri Lanka’s indigenous people, the Wanniyala-Aetto, or ‘forest people’, who live in a region of tropical forest to the east of Sri Lanka’s central mountain massif. They are thought to have lived in Sri Lanka for many millennia before the arrival of the now dominant Sinhalese and Tamils and are commonly known by outsiders as ‘Veddah’.
Presentation of honey at the Tooth Temple in the town of Kandy is central to the Wanniyala-Aetto’s participation in Sri Lanka’s annual Esala Perahera festival, and plays a vital role in their religious well-being.
A Post Script:
The Wanniyala-Aetto people were moved from their last forest refuge in 1983 when the Sri Lankan government designated it as the Maduru Oya National Park. They were barred from the forest and banned from hunting and gathering, including the collecting of honey. Crowded together on small plots of land outside the park, many find it difficult to feed their families.
To a migrant Australian, this all sounds horribly familiar……………….