6 food tips from Sri Lanka

There’s a lot of really good reasons to travel and food is one of them. I’ve made it my mission to eat my way around the globe. I also enjoy doing a local cooking class. There’s a lot you can learn about cooking from around the world. The best ones are hands on and include a shopping trip to the local markets.

Coconut cream

The Chef at my Sri Lankan cooking class told me you don’t cook with coconut cream. It’s added to curries at the end of their cooking because it doesn’t take well to boiling. Did anyone else know this? Cook with coconut milk and add coconut cream before serving to give richness and body to the meal.

Curry powder

I’m a friend of Keens curry powder. I think it’s misunderstood. Whether you use Keens or another variety, there’s a lot to be said for a combination of spices, the sum is greater than the parts. Curry power is BIG in Sri Lankan curries and so are curry leaves, but that’s another story. We sourced two recipes while we were there but the tip of all tips was that unroasted curry powder is traditionally used for vegetable and fish curries. Roasted curry powder is used with meat and mushrooms curries (the latter being the exception to the rule).

Eggs done a different way

It’s hard to imagine a big breakfast without eggs of some sort. Certainly that’s what Lovely Cathy was grappling with when she faced the curry section at breakfast buffet. On our last morning we discovered the Sri Lanka specialty. We had eaten string hoppers earlier but finally experienced the egg hopper. Apparently there’s no one recipe for the dish, every Sri Lankan family has their own. It is basically a rice flour and yeast pancake with egg cooked on top and served with sambal, dahl and curry. After breakfast we went shopping for kitchen utensils muttering that we’d probably never use these devices again and they’d end up at the back of a kitchen cupboard. Wrong! We’ve already tried them out.

We also carried a kilo and a half of string hopper flour across the Indian Ocean only to read the packet in the comfort of our kitchens. Ingredients: Rice flour.

Curry for breakfast, curry for lunch, curry for tea

Every serve of curry we ate included a meat curry, several vegetarian curries and a couple of sambals. Rice, string hoppers or roti were served with. They were always delicious but there’s something you need to know, ordering a meat curry means a little serve of your chosen meat along with anywhere between 3-7 accompaniments including a number of vegetable curries and dhal and sambals. They were always flavoursome and enjoyable but one serve was enough for both of us.

Step outside the comfort zone

The Lovely Cathy ended up eating curry for breakfast and I got outside my comfort zone with Gotukola Kenda. It’s a traditional soup made of the herb pennywort (you can use curry leaves or coriander), garlic, ginger and red rice and it’s served with a lump of jaggery. A very unusual meal – savoury, spicy and sweet, and a particularly unusual breakfast.

I also chose a crab curry served without a cracker. Waiter! And a water bowl. Waiter! I’ve limited experiencing cracking open crustaceans, particularly served in a sauce but it was worth the effort.

Eating local food is part of travelling. In Australia we’re lucky enough to enjoy a cuisine created by our diverse community. At home we eat food from a range of cuisines each week, pasta, Thai, a Middle Eastern Jewish meal etc. While I’m away I like to enjoy the local food but I also like diversity. We ate our fair share of club sandwiches. They’re the epitome of international hotel food but they’re also good to share when you don’t want a big meal and when you want to eat something a little plainer.

Spices

There are plenty of opportunities to buy spices in Sri Lanka. I’m still not sure whether I got a good deal but part of the sales pitch was quality. The highest quality cinnamon, which is endemic to the country, is tightly coiled and sweet. You can break a bit of bark off and chomp on it. Loose bark however, is inferior.

There are three parts to nutmeg, the shell (outside), fruit (inside) and mace. The fruit is the bit you grate. Mace is also used, in meat curries, by grinding it or by using it whole and removing the spice before eating. The shell you discard. We were sold the dark brown colour of nutmeg as an indicator of quality. So different from what we buy at home. When I was home trying the grate the said dark brown of the nutmeg I discovered it was part of the shell and once removed, the spice looked like every other nutmeg I’ve ever seen.

Here’s a post on 5 foodie observations from Thailand.

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