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Rice and curry et al

After much delays in getting my posts up, I thought, finally, I’m done with Sri Lankan travel series. Until I realised that I have not. What about the food? That’s something very important and shockingly, I haven’t mentioned anything about them up until now. Abnormal for a girl who eats a lot and likes to, as much, talk about food.

When I travel, I like to eat what the locals mostly eat. In Sri Lanka, that means many meals of rice and curry. Some were absolutely delicious, some a tad more pedestrian, and most times the portion size was just downright scary. At least I wasn’t overpaying for “foreign” meals. I’ve seen the price of a plate of spaghetti bolognese easily being equal or higher than a meal of rice and curry that could generously serve two.

Rice and curry sounded so simple, but often it had more elements and ingredients than a typical Western home cook would encounter in a week! Rice was, well, rice. Often times they were plain boiled/steamed rice. But the curry! It wasn’t a single curry dish that I would cook at home by throwing 3-4 types of vegetables and/or meat in with some curry paste and coconut milk. We’re talking of typically 3-6 different curry-base dishes to go with the rice. Not unlike the concept of thali in India, or nasi lemak in Malaysia. And oh how good they often were too.

There were never one same rice and curry anywhere that we went. Every restaurant had their own version and it was up to them what were the curry dishes they would served. The number of curry dishes offered also varied (I’ve got anything from 3 to 6-7), but there would certainly be curries of different strength of spiciness. I noted there would always be a mild-tasting dhal, and other variation included vegetable curry, meat curry (usually chicken), fish curry, and at times, dried chilli-fried fish and poppadums. Not forgetting, there would also be some sambal, the hottest component to rice and curry, sometimes served in one of the two varieties – coconut sambol (pol sambola) and chutney-like sambal – and sometimes even both. Tongue shall burn!

Rice and curry are not for the faint-hearted. For one, the portions served were copious – usually good for two people in my estimation. One look at the small hill of rice, followed by 4-5 smaller bowls of curries, I was sure by the end of the holiday I would be putting on a good few kilos. Notable exception was the rice and curry I had in Galle which was a single plate with the components and none of the little bowls commotion. Secondly, for anyone who’s not accustomed to eating spicy food, the heat may be too much to handle, not to mention this could quickly led to upset stomach. Good thing my Malaysian training came in handy here.

Claire had had much less success than I with rice and curry. While I ordered them faithfully in most places that we went to, she settled for other (European) alternatives. Not the she didn’t eat spicy food, but more because she was intolerant to certain spices within the curries. We were not sure which. There were a couple of meals when she polished off the rice and curry without problem, and there were a couple of meals when she had upset stomach very shortly after she ate them (within 15-20 minutes and I was perfectly find despite eating the same things, so we could rule out food poisoning). For the latter part of our trip, she pretty much avoided rice and curry for not wanting to suffer again.

Rice and curry aside, I was also introduced to the joy of kottu, a dish with a type of roti at the heart of it. Known locally as gothamba roti or godamba roti, its texture is not unlike roti canai one could get in Malaysia (or at times known as roti pratha, say in Singapore). To make the dish, the rotis are chopped up and you’ll see pieces now resembling strips of kuey teow (flat rice noodle). Fry them all up with vegetables, eggs and spices, voila!

Traditionally this is a street food (ah the happy reminder to hawker food in Malaysia) but we didn’t have much chance to explore the street food scene here (we were too busy getting from one place to another, and only sit down in restaurants for proper meals for lunch/dinner). I finally ordered chicken kottu when we were in Colombo, and I had imagined I would get a dry dish with shredded chicken with the kottu, but instead I got a heaped plate of kottu plus a big bowl of chicken curry. Calories galore, obviously! (I’m still not complaining.)

What about breakfast then? Given the amount of spices that were liberally dosed into my main meals, could be nice to get a break and get something lighter? No. Way. My favourite thing to eat in the morning were the hoppers. Or as Malaysians would know them as appams. You must begin to see the pattern – I could draw a lot of comparison to Malaysian food! However, when it comes to hoppers, one big difference reins supreme. Hoppers are normally served as something sweet in Malaysia; not so in Sri Lanka. They are served as savouries. Bring on the spices.

Nothing beats freshly-made egg hoppers in the morning. I had had helpings of them with some sambal, steamed potatoes, coconut rice, and to sweeten it up a wee bit, jaggery. One portion at a time of course. Cold egg hoppers are not quite as delicious as the warm ones. At the same time, it also made me miss the appams in Malaysia that are served with ground peanuts and sweetcorns.

Last but not least, possibly the more difficult dish to find among the places that we went, string hoppers. They are all stringy, white, served like discs, and yes, you Malaysians reading this (or people who have been to Malaysia) could have guessed – putu mayam! One of my favourite things to eat, I was really excited to find string hoppers on menu on our first morning in Sri Lanka. Goodie, I thought – I shall be ordering this from now on for breakfast!

No such luck. In fact, I didn’t seen it anywhere else again. Boooo. String hoppers could easily be a mini rice and curry; just substitute rice and string hoppers. I was served coconut sambol and potato curry with it. A tad odd as I’m used to putu mayam that comes with freshly grated coconut and palm sugar. Nonetheless, still so delicious, so I happily chomped the dish away.

All in all, I had had fun eating what a Sri Lankan would eat on a daily basis. I had very good doses of spicy food and in between, I was mostly sipping away at cold Milo in a box (yes, they have Milo everywhere!), fresh coconut and or fresh juices (such a wood apple). The one and only bad meal that I was complaining much about would be our horrible sandwich lunch in Tissa. That was something else, really.

Ps: luckily, no difference in pre- and post-holiday weights :p

Category: Asia, Cuisine, Food & Drink, Sri Lanka, Travel

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6 scribbles & notes

  1. Chloé says:

    definitely sounds like lots of good food out there :) though i must admit after a couple weeks, i wouldn’t be too unhappy to get back to some French cuisine :P hehehe.

    • Lil says:

      well i’m a big fan of having a variety myself, so i’ll be happy to switch to other cuisine after a couple of weeks ;)

  2. medca says:

    hahaha….with all those beautiful scenery photos…almost forgot about food but this really is wow…good thing i can get an easy fix on these back here….love indian food!!! ;)

    • Lil says:

      good thing for me, there’s nice south indian food i can find around gare du nord as well, so anytime i need a fix, that’s the quarter where you’ll find me!

  3. Selena says:

    a post entry next about various gelato flavours available in Paris? ;-)

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