WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka Gastronomy
A traveller setting foot on the shores of Sri Lanka will not only be enchanted by the diversity of the country's cultural heritage, but equally by its cuisine. Sri Lanka cuisine embodies the fiery heat of sun-struck beaches, the refreshing coolness of tropical rainforests and piquant flavours of regional specialties. The heart of a country's individuality is in its cuisine, which is why we connect pasta with Italy and sukiyaki with Japan.
The staple food of Sri Lanka is rice. This is boiled or steamed and served with a host of curries. Curries in Sri Lanka are not confined to a curried meat or a fish platter, but include vegetables and pulses as well. A typical Sri Lankan meal would consist of a "main curry" which could be fish, beef, chicken or mutton, as well as several other curries made with vegetable and lentils. Side-dishes would include pickles, chutneys and "samblos" which are fiery hot and made of ground coconut, or onions mixed with chillies, dried Maldives fish and lime juice. This is ground to a paste and relished with rice, as it gives zest to the meal and is believed to increase appetite.
A word of caution to the uninitiated: "sambols" are fiendishly hot and could leave you with a red face, burning tongue and streaming eyes. To counteract these scorching temptations there are the white curries - which are mild and subtle in flavour - and another delightful delicacy called " mallung". This is a dish of finely shredded leaves mixed with coconut (which has been grated), chopped red onions and a dash of lime juice and lightly cooked on gentle heat. There are a variety of leaves which are used to prepare a "mallung", and each has its own distinctive flavour.
Coconut milk is a common ingredient in all curries, whether hot or mild. The combination of hot and mild dishes, subtle and spicy delicacies and cool refreshing accompaniments, creates a perfect balance in the meal, making it enjoyable and memorable.
Sri Lanka has long been renowned for its spices. In the 15th and 16the centuries, traders from all over the world came in search of fragrant and aromatic cardamoms, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Some of these traders settled on the island, and the recipes of their countries were introduced to Sri Lanka, resulting in a delightful bland that gives richness and diversity to indigenous cooking. Sri Lankans use spices liberally in their dishes and this is what gives the dishes the exuberance and the aroma they are known for. There are no fixed measures. A typical Sri Lankan cook would "throw in a pinch of this and that", and a handful of other things according to personal preference. This is why a curry, prepared by two different people, using the same ingredients, never tastes the same. The secret is in the personal touch.
These differences are not only apparent in an individual's cooking, but in regional cooking too. A fish curry cooked on the east coast of the island would taste completely different from one originating from the south, although both would be equally delicious!
The cuisine of Sri Lanka's hill country differs from that of the coastal areas. The Dutch and the Portuguese too have left their stamp on the local cuisine - for example, delectable dishes like Lamprais - rice boiled in stock with a special curry, accompanied by "Frikkadels", or meatballs, all of which is then wrapped in a banana leaf and baked. This is an original Dutch recipe enjoyed by Sri Lankans today. It has of course been adapted to suit the Sri Lankan palate. The Dutch and the Portuguese also bequeathed a number of recipes for various sweets which continue to be made to this day. There are British and Malay influences as well. Roast beef and roast chicken are enjoyed by many Sri Lankans and "Wattalapam" - a steamed pudding made with coconut milk, eggs and jaggery (a sort of solidified treacle extracted from the kitul palm) has become a Sri Lankan dessert, although first introduced by the Malays.
Sweets are popular among most Sri Lankans, although there is a bid to cut down on them by the younger generation, who like their counterparts, are health-conscious. The best known of the sweets is, perhaps, "Kavun". It is a delicious type of oil cake, made with rice flour and treacle and deep-fried to a golden brown. There is another variety of "Kavun", called "Moong Kavun", which is made from green gram - a type of pulse - which is then ground to a paste and shaped like diamonds before frying. This is equally enjoyable.
"Kiribath" (rice boiled in milk) is served at all auspicious occasions like weddings and birthdays or even events like the opening of a store. It is also a must at New Year celebrations. As Sri Lanka is an island, it has an abundant supply of seafood of all types. There are prawns, crabs and lobsters, and a variety of fish including seer, tuna and mullet. There is also the delectable cuttlefish which is a firm favourite, prepared in myriad ways. Pickled fish and dried fish are delicacies worth a try. They have a pungent and piquant flavour. It sometimes takes a little time to get used to their heady aromas and taste.
There is a perennial supply of fruits and vegetables which the traveler will enjoy: succulent mangoes and mangosteens, pineapples, papayas and a whole variety of bananas or "plantains" as they are called. Prickly brown durians are also sold at many wayside spots. Many people find their odour very offensive, but those who are brave enough to actually taste the fruit, declare it to be rich, creamy and absolutely delicious. It is in fact called the "Honeymoon" fruit in South-East Asia because of its supposedly aphrodisiac properties!
A traveller to Sri Lanka must, of course, drink some Sri Lanka tea. Grown at altitudes as high as 6,000 feet above sea level, the tea plantations thrive because of the crisp, cool air distilled through so many hundred feet. The flavour of tea differs according to the area or region where it is grown and the altitude, but each tea has its own unique character and bouquet. The high-grown teas are considered the best, but even the low-grown green teas have their special appeal. Iced tea is the great thirst quencher and teas flavoured with fruits, spices and ginger are available. While tea thrives in the exalted climes of the hill country, there are other thirst quenchers to be found in less-elevated parts. One such drink is that of the King Coconut, or "thambili" as it is called Sri Lanka. This is a popular wayside drink and can be taken in the heat of the day. No need to pour the drink into a glass. You can sip it straight from the fruit through a straw. It is said to be rich saline and is a nutritious drink. You can enjoy a range of freshly-squeezed fruit juices like papaya, pineapple, orange and also pomegranate, a fruit greatly prized in the east because of its medicinal properties. Delicious drinks are also made from "sour-sap" which has a creamy sweet and sour taste and woodapple, a brown fruit which is delicious when prepared with coconut milk and jaggery.
Sri Lanka will entice you, not just with its extraordinary beaches, majestic hills and noble culture, but also with its food. Meals are special occasions in Sri Lanka, and to share a meal with a friend is a high point of hospitality: a chance to spend time together, exchanging friendly banter while tucking into a delicious meal. Even in the most humble homes, a visitor is always welcome, and invited to partake in a meal. To know the diversity and unique quality of the country's cuisine, you have to experience it for yourself - in Sri Lanka.
©2002 Sri Lanka Tourist Board
WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka