Today I’d like to welcome the first author from a new series of guest articles on Travel With Kat. So let me introduce, Agness, from Poland. Together with her friend Cez, she writes a blog I really love eTramping. She’s here to tell you all about street food in Sri Lanka. I hope you will make her feel at home.
A mini-guide to Sri Lankan street food
Not without reason, Sri Lanka is called the “Tear-drop of India”. Apart from its shape of a tear-drop falling from a face that is India, there is something else – its cuisine – so spicy you may want to cry at some point. Some people love it (my best friend I travelled with – Cez) and some hate it – me, as a mild food lover.
My first thought when trying local food in Sri Lanka was “it is so much like Indian food!” The cuisine of Sri Lanka shows some Indian influence indeed, however its taste, the combination of spices and flavours makes it so unique and different from India and any other Asian country. The more you eat, the more you feel it. Most of the dishes are hot, with spices so strong they are sometimes hard to consume. Nevertheless, you can find mild ones amongst them and if you are spice-loving person, you will be in heaven (or hell some may say).
Rice and Curry
On the plane to Colombo, we met a Swedish guy, who has lived in Sri Lanka for 20 years. He remarked that there are two traditional meals in Sri Lanka: curry and rice or rice and curry. This statement, although a joke, is kind of true.
When I first came to Colombo and asked for some traditional Sri Lankan food I was served a curry with rice. The menu, in this “restaurant”, consisted of fish or vegetable curries with rice – very delicious for fans of mouth-burning food, but way too spicy for me.
Some cooks make curry sweet by adding some coconut milk, flour and honey. There is a great variety of colours and flavours of curry such as fish, meat, and vegetable curries. I had a yellow curry as well, which featured melted yellow peppers and it was very delicious but did not look nice. This kind of food is very cheap in comparison to European prices. You can get a proper curry meal for less than 300 Sri Lankan rupees which is about $2.30 (USD), £1.50 (GBP) or 1.80 euros.
Roti is a very easy to prepare meal served in most restaurants or food stalls. It looks like a pancake, but it is more of a flat bread. Roti can be served with any fruit or melted chocolate as a dessert or with a fish or vegetables as a lunch or evening meal. I am a chocolate lover, so chocolate and banana rotis were my favourite ones!
The way roti dough is kneaded is very much like making pizza dough. The whole preparation is a show. I found it very entertaining to sit at the table and watch it being made. The cost of roti is between Rs 175 and Rs 300.
Hoppers in their shape remind me a lot of tulips and in their taste sour-dough pancakes. They are served mainly for breakfast with a mix of red onions and spices or eggs. They are made from a fermented batter of rice flour with a touch of coconut milk and a dash of palm toddy (alcoholic beverage). These ingredients mixed together give a very sour flavour to the dish, so yeast is often used to make it less sour.
I found many different types of hoppers being served on the streets of various towns, such as egg, milk or string hoppers for a very affordable price of Rs 75 each, which could fill some people up. My favourite one was egg hopper, simple and mild.
Spicy sandwiches and samosas
Whatever the food in Sri Lanka, there is always something spicy in there. Sandwiches and samosas are no exception. The best thing about Sri Lanka is the availability of food wherever you go. Whether you are at the train station waiting for your delayed departure or strolling down the street, you can find samosas and sandwiches everywhere. Each for only Rs 30. I liked the ham and cheese sandwiches as there was not much chilli in there. Just remember to haggle, they will try to sell it with a higher profit margin than usually.
A point to note is that hygiene standards, in most cases, would result in instant business closure in many countries, so try the street food in Sri Lanka at your own risk!
Locals in Sri Lanka drink a lot of sweet tea and coffee. These drinks are way too sweet for me though. I fancied the fruit shakes instead, which are served along the streets in Colombo. I had a banana and mango shake every morning to start a new day full of energy. Moreover, you can get bottled water everywhere.
Good news for sweets lovers. Sri Lanka is the land of cakes and doughnuts. The most famous sweet is an oil cake made with rice flour and treacle, then deep-fried to golden brown colour. There are plenty of pudding-like dishes made from coconut milk. Most of the cakes contain chilli peppers and lots of sugar (what a combination!).
You can also spot small local shops where spicy crisps are sold. They taste like natural potato crisps (very tough) dipped in chilli pepper. What I found really odd in Sri Lanka is that people start their breakfast with something sweet. It is either a sweet coffee or tea served with a hopper or a piece of cake itself.
The tropical climate is a perfect place to grow fruits of many kinds. For this reason, fresh produce is widely available and street markets are the best places to stock up on vitamins. Prices are as low or lower than in South East Asia, so if you do not like spicy cuisine you can indulge yourself in the healthy sweetness of fruits. I saw a yellow coconut in Sri Lanka for the first time in my life but the taste was very similar to Thai coconuts.
How is food in Sri Lankan served?
While trying street food in Sri Lanka it is uncommon to get the purchased delicacies in a western-style plastic bag. Instead, you will get what you bought in a sheet from an exercise book (one that already has been used by a good student) or in newspaper. At first, it was very uninviting but I quickly got used to it. We even got an English test so could see the level of Sri Lankan primary education 🙂
There is no way to be neutral to Sri Lankan street food – one can love it or hate it. Certainly, it is going to be spicy and most likely you may not always want to see how it has been prepared, but the taste compensates for this. As much as it is good to eat spicy food in a hot climate, which results in higher water intake, it is also good for the pocket. It is easy to try several different things and pay less than $5 all day.
Do not worry if you do not like to experiment, western food is available in most places, where at least some tourists go. However, prices will reflect the trouble the chef has to prepare something not so spicy!
Agness is a Polish vagabond who, after graduating in 2011, left her comfort zone setting off for a journey of a lifetime to China. She has been constantly travelling the world since then (slowly, but surely as she says), living like a local for less than $25 a day. She has become passionate about photography and adventure blogging, sharing her enthusiasm for life as well as her travel experiences.
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