24 January 2020
I have just returned from a 10 day jaunt to the glorious isle of Sri Lanka, off the South coast of India and consequently feel an enormous sense of calm that has washed over me. Despite its tumultuous history, its original nickname given by the Persians, Seredip, still seems to stand true. The place is quite magical. It is an island abundant in spices, tropical fruit and fresh produce, which lends itself beautifully to this hungry traveller’s diet.
I started to the East of Kandy, staying on the Victoria dam, surrounded by rich jungle and extremely fertile soil. I was taken by my AirBnB hosts on a private tour of nearby tea trails. We walked through the homes of South Indian workers who were brought over by the British to ‘work’ on the plantations (this is still slightly controversial given that it is more exploitation), one of whom was dispatched to walk with my Sri Lankan host to furrow for spices along the route. It was a wonder indeed to see practically every spice you could imagine growing on either side of the path and an education for me to understand how each one grew.
My hosts also had a thriving spice and vegetable garden of their own and took the time to buy from small village dwellers’ ‘stores’ flanking the roads of our adventures, rather than stop off at larger markets, thus supporting local communities. It was at their table that I discovered buffalo curd, a thick, more indulgent version of Greek yoghurt full of probiotics and often served with local ‘treacle’, collected from the sap of toddy palm, an indigenous tree, for breakfast. Delicious.
I then travelled down to the old Dutch colonial picture perfect fort town of Galle. This is a worth a look around if only for the beautifully preserved streets and market place with little shops tucked away. The highlight for me was the fish market just outside the historic town. The island is blessed no shortage of seafood and fish here is as fresh as it comes.
It was in Galle that I stumbled across my first pineapple curry by accident, the staple dish being rice and curry, which involves lots of rice and at least 4 curries, so when you order, you can’t be sure of what will be presented. I often ordered vegetarian curry because they were so innovative with their vegetables – not only using fruit but also other unusual ingredients – pumpkin (with skin left on), beetroot and jackfruit to name a few.
Rice and curry would of course be nothing if it weren’t served alongside a couple of sambols; my favourite made from grated coconut, ground onions, lime, chilli and Maldives fish, prepared beautifully by the chefs at Buckingham Place, a unique gem of a hotel perched between the beach and a lagoon on the South coast of the island. One aspect I found to span across all dishes was the plentiful use of coconut coupled with the use of spices; it wasn’t unusual to find whole cinnamon bark or curry leaves hidden amongst the sauces. None of the food is overly complex either; this may be to do with the abundance of fresh ingredients they have access to; it sort of feels as though they have so far avoided the mass production of food so the flavours are left untampered.
I ended on a high – a stunning breakfast taken at the Galle Face Hotel having been upgraded to a Royal Suite for the final night of my stay. The Hotel is gorgeous and reminiscent of the colonial era, with ocean views and its own saltwater swimming pool. My four course breakfast was spot on – curries generous on the chilli followed by my favourite buffalo curd with treacle and fresh fruit.
The country itself is other worldly, so long as you stay as much as possible ‘off the beaten track’, you will be rewarded with Robinson Crusoe like beaches, wild elephants roaming free in the jungle and jaw dropping views across the landscape. It still feels relatively untouched and I would encourage you to book your escape immediately!