Travel writers like to call Sri Lanka the Teardrop Island because of its shape. Colonists and traders, both of which for centuries, exploited this lush land’s exotic spices, influenced its traditional cuisine.
Now tourism is changing some of the dishes by demanding milder curies, and forcing the introduction of western style cooking. The Portuguese, Dutch, and English were all there and were forced to leave after a while, but left at least, some of their food legacy .
The English were responsible for roast beef and roast chicken (they had nothing more imaginative than these two pedestrian foods), the Dutch their cookies and lamprais (meat balls wrapped in banana leaf and baked) was originally a Dutch recipe that changed over time, and Portuguese sweets that are still popular.
Sri Lankans, a nation of 19.5 million, prefer rice to any other carbohydrate, but tourists need not worry – all types of other western-style breads are available, including the tasteless toast bread.
Chefs in this island country use highly spiced curries liberally for lunch and dinner recipes. Boiled rice is served with curries (beef, pork, mutton, fish, crustaceans, and vegetables)make up the backbone of dinners and occasionally also for lunch.
Generally, Sri Lankan curried dishes are more potent than those from southern India but for tourists hotel cooks opt for milder versions. Chilies, cardamom, cumin, coriander, and all types of spices including peppers flavour indigenous recipes. Int eh 15th and 16th centuries traders cam to Sri Lanka from everywhere to buy and export spices, and some decided to stay, marrying locals, and also introducing their favourite recipes.
A Sri Lankan breakfast without hoppers with egg, or other ingredients should be enjoyed at least once, but hopefully daily. They are delicious and and can be served with sweet or spicy fillings (red onions and spices). You want yoghurt; here it is thick and flavourful served with treacle to take the acid edge.
Coconut sambal (dried Maldives fish, lime juice, ground coconut, and chillies) is swerved with fragrant boiled rice. Coconut milk mellows strong curries. In this sun-blessed country, vegetables taste intense and all vegetables and fruits in the market are fresh in the true sense of the word that they are being offered a few hours after harvest or at most 24.
Sri Lankans prefer to manipulate rice with three fingers of their right hand and consider using cutlery to represent a barrier between the food, the consumer and true enjoyment. It is an art, and can be mastered after a few attempts.
The cuisine offers many desserts like sweet rice, flour cakes, but for my taste the tropical fruits like mangosteen, mangoes, bananas pineapples, rambutans taste better after a meal and aid digestion better than any sweet invention.
When ti comes to snacks (here called short eats) try egg rolls, patties and pastries and vadadhal in specialized stores – an experience not to miss.
Frankly, I fail to understand the logic of travel to Sri Lanka from Europe, Australia, or North America, and insist on western-style meals when you can enjoy a fully satisfying repast of indigenous tasty and truly fresh food, that is less expensive to boot!