The totally fabulous food of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a vibrant, bustling country with an amazingly diverse history and a wide range of influences that have made it into the fascinating place it is today.

There are delicious eating opportunities around every exciting corner, from the colourful street markets to the five-star hotels and restaurants. I even discovered several new dishes which became firm favourites. I’ll be testing out some Sri Lankan recipes myself at a later date and sharing them with you, so watch this space. You can read more about my trip to Sri Lanka by clicking here.

Now sit back and devour my pictorial tribute to Sri Lanka’s wonderful food.

There’s plenty of fruit on offer and the streets are lined with a seemingly endless supply of wonderful produce.

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Love these huge, creamy avocados

Buffalo curd is a Sri Lankan delicacy. We visited a farmer who makes it by hand using milk from his buffalo herd and watched him stirring his concoction over a fire before pouring it into these terracotta bowls and letting it set. It’s tart and tasty and usually served with their deliciously sweet jaggery syrup.

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Buffalo curd doesn’t get fresher than this

Restaurants serve up fresh crab in many shapes and forms. It looks beautiful with shells in pinky/ orange and tastes sweet and juicy.

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Fresh crab salad in the buffet spread

Dhal is a dish on offer with every meal – I loved it in my breakfast hopper (more of that later). Coconut cream adds a silky smoothness and richer flavour.

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A bowl of spicy lentils

And here’s my personal favourite. From the first breakfast when I was directed to the hopper station I fell in foodie love with these crispy Sri Lankan-style pancakes and proceeded to create different versions every time I had one. Made while you wait with fried eggs nestling in the base, they really are a great addition to any mealtime.

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Bring on the two-egg hopper

As Sri Lanka is an island you won’t be surprised to hear that there’s plenty of fresh fish to sample. One of the highlights of my trip was a visit to Negomobo fish market. We got up before dawn to witness the boats coming in, fish being auctioned and even carefully portioned and sliced for sale to eager customers.

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The fish is filleted and sliced straight off the boat

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A lady seller sorts through her live prawns selection

The markets are a buzz of activity and aromas, selling a wide range of exotic wares. There’s a lot of grains in Sri Lankan cuisine, here they are proudly on display.

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Sackfuls of grain in the market

Here’s my favourite hopper combo – an egg topped with dhal, tomato relish,and  coconut and onion sambals. So yummy!

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Spicy hoppers make for a great breakfast

When you have such a cornucopia of fruit on offer, you’ve simply got to make juice. This colourful little juice bar on the street in Negombo offered a truly exotic choice. We sampled the nelli and avocado juices. Nelli is kind of like a gooseberry and the juice has a serious zing to it and leaves a bit of a tingle on your tongue. Something of an acquired taste I would say. I adore avocado so loved the juice, which was literally just avos pureed. As you can imagine, it was thick, creamy and beautifully rich – and extremely filling.

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Ordering juice is quite an experience in Sri Lanka

If you’re feeling thirsty on your journey there are stalls everywhere selling King coconuts. The top is lopped off for an instant, portable drink that’s full of electrolytes – ideal for rejuvenation on a sultry Sri Lankan day.

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One unique Sri Lankan experience I was lucky enough to experience was lunch in the chena overlooking fields of okra, chilli and tomatoes. These shelters are dotted around the lands and used by farmers to watch their crops from and prevent wild animals from destroying them. The range of 10 colourfully tasty dishes were prepared for us by the farmer’s wife using local ingredients and served with an incredibly warm welcome.

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A range of tasty traditional dishes to tuck into

Little roadside cafes are a great place to stop for lunch. There’s no menu, you’re simply brought what’s on offer that day. We tucked into a selection of vegetable dishes including the best tempered potatoes, a sweet carrot dish, dhal and onion relish served with smaller portions of fish and chicken and, of course, rice.

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A relaxed lunch on our road trip

I had the privilege of enjoying several cooking presentations which is why I’ve learnt lots of new recipes to share with you. As I said, watch this space. Here are some of the exotic spices I’ll be cooking with.

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Sri Lanka’s spices are a joy to cook with

Of course Sri Lanka is also the land of tea – one of my favourite drinks. So I made sure I sampled plenty of it. I also visited the beautiful highlands around Nurawa Eliya with its emerald tea terraces as far as the eye could see and the delicate aroma of tea flavouring the air. Total tea heaven.

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The tea pluckers are out no matter what the weather

I loved the flavours and aromas of Sri Lanka. And the freshness of all the ingredients. A wonderful foodie paradise.

I was a guest of the Sri Lankan Tourism Promotions Bureau on this trip.

 

The joy of food shopping in Spain: First the fish

I love food shopping…all kinds. I’d happily do it for other people if they’d pay me enough! I know, it is kind of weird, but even a trawl around the supermarket at home is enjoyable for me. So imagine how excited I get when I’m abroad! I seem to take as many photographs as products I buy so of course I had to post a blog about it. Then when I was downloading my photos I realised that there were several posts to share with you. So first the fish!

Okay, it helps that in the La Manga area you are surrounded by water that seems abundant with all kinds of tasty morsels. The fish shop (pescados) in Cabo de Palos is a true stunner! It is a fishing village of course, so they have everything you could want and stuff I haven’t ever seen before.

These beautiful cigala are similar to langostines or Dublin Bay prawns. One of my favourite chefs, Rick Stein, always raves about them.

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A temptingly pink box of cigala

The richly coloured pulpo (octopus) always makes for a dramatic picture. This is ready cooked (cocido) so even more of the work is done for you. It’s perfect for a traditional Galician-style dish of cooked octopus with boiled potatoes, olive oil and sweet Spanish paprika.

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Pulpo

These beautiful babies are called escorpora, I couldn’t find a direct translation into English. They look amazing though.

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Impossible to resist taking a picture of these in their beautiful redness

A bowlful of fresh clams (almeja)

A bowlful of fresh clams (almeja)

And then there’s the supermarket (Mercadona). Their fish counter always makes me gasp with delight. There’s often a queue there while four of five ladies work busily at preparing an amazing variety of fish to their customers specifications.

The fish counter in the local supermarket

The fish counter in the local supermarket

Okay, so they aren’t fish, but they do live in shells…so I couldn’t resist adding this large bag of snails discovered at one of the vegetable stalls at the market in Cabo de Palos. I have to admit I wasn’t brave enough to buy them and have never cooked snails. Any suggestions anyone?

A large bag of live snails in the market

A large bag of live snails in the market

Seriously, this is just a small sample of what’s available. And I have no idea on how to cook a lot of the produce on sale…I guess it’s a mission I’m going to have to accept for the future.

If you’re going to Beaune

So it’s time for the welcome return of guest blogger Jan Orchard who has been experiencing the joys of Beaune. My mouth is watering as I read…thoughts of the best cheese shop in the world (I may never get out if I walked into that)…wine lists with over 800 choices and the rotisserie van that’s always present in the markets of Europe and impossible to walk past without purchasing…Wow, Beaune is some foodie destination. Here’s what Jan has to say

The home of some of the most famous wines in the world – think Romanee Conti, Puligny Montrachet, Givry and St Aubin – Burgundy is famous for traditional, rustic food and great produce. The wine capital is Beaune, a walled town of immense charm where eating and drinking well are the most important things in life. If you are heading south, it’s a natural halfway stop – but also well worth a three or four day holiday. Just forget the diet.

If you are planning to visit Beaune, Ma Cuisine is a must – but only on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and not in August or February. This small restaurant is a favourite with locals in the wine trade and with visitors – so booking well ahead is vital. We once sat next to the most riveting wine merchant, rumpled and devastatingly attractive in that French way, who taught us more about wine by explaining our choices than you could learn in a a year. His advice – buy by the man – famous winemakers don’t make bad wines. Our Bouchard and Hubert Lamy choices met with approval.

So, what makes Ma Cuisine special? Fabienne Escoffier cooks traditional Burgundian food in the Elizabeth David tradition while knowledgeable Pierre presides over a wine list with 800 amazing choices. It is food a Frenchman from 100 years ago would recognise, firmly based in the culinary history of the region – and yes, they are Escoffiers from the famous chef’s family.

There is a set three course menu priced at around 25 euros and an a la carte. Both are displayed on blackboards and vary depending on what is good in the market. Three of us had beef carpaccio – which was wafer thin and excellent. I had plump griddled scallops, wonderfully fresh and tasting of the sea. All four of us had the demi coquelet – a little free range chicken, roasted and subtly spiced (there is ah istory of spices in this area with spice biscuits a tradition in nearby Dijon). We shared cheese – local pungent washed rind Espoisses served with Ma Cuisine’s rustic bread.

Loiseau des Vignes couldn’t be more different. Run by Dominique Loiseau, the widow of Bernard Loiseau who shot himself fearing he ws about to lose a Michelin star, this one-starred restaurant is next door to elegant Le Cep. The bar there is lovely for a pre-dinner drink and for people watching the clientele of very well-heeled Americans.

Loiseau des Vignes does a 25 euro lunch – there’s no choice but every course is outstanding. The waiters are the sort who know what you want before you know you want it – and materialise silently by your side. There are over 100 Premier Cru wines by the glass – a chance to try some top vintages at an approachable price.

Lunch starts with a complimentary gougere – the cheese choux pastry that is a favourite nibble in Burgundy. On the day we went the starter was an amazing crab soup with white crab meat on a tiny croute, surrounded by a rich crab bisque and finished with a cream of sweetcorn soup poured by the waiter. It sounds odd – but it was fabulous.

The amazing crab bisque served with sweetcorn soup

The amazing crab bisque served with sweetcorn soup

The main was a beautifully cooked sous vide cylinder of Bresse appellation controlee chicken with tiny vegetables. For dessert there was a mille feuille that combined very crisp, very thin layers of pastry with a chestnut cream filling – or you could choose a selection fo cheese. Coffee comes with the best macarons I have ever tasted – they’re blackcurrant because Burgundy is big on blackcurrants, crisp on the outside, melting within.

The cheese trolley at Loiseau des Vignes

The cheese trolley at Loiseau des Vignes

Beaune is packed with restaurants. Food does tend to be hearty – it’s designed for those who work hard on the land. Typical dishes are boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, jambon persillade (a terrine of ham set in parsley jelly), oeufs meurette (paoched eggs in a wine sauce – sounds awful but is actually delicious – and of course escargots awash with garlic butter.

Hearty was certainly the word for the plat de jour myself and Chris had at Au Raison. Tired after a very long drive from Calais in the rain, we went into a cafe advertising a 12 euro plat de jour. It was packed with truckers and builders, concentrating on putting away a very large amount of food. There was absolutely no other choice than the plat. Madame (at least 6 foot tall and built like a rugger player) plonked a large bowl of dressed lettuce, some bread and a puff pastry rectangle with a cheese filling on our table – this was the starter. The main was a choice of pork or lamb – two thick slices of beautifully cooked meat sitting on a mountain of potato puree. Cheese – one huge plate with several different cheeses on it that circulated from table to table followed, and pudding was a banana. It was an experience and great to see that this sort of food still exists.

Food and wine are central to the Burgundian way of life. Beaune is packed with wine shops and with the head offices of some of the biggest and most famous names in wine (Bouchard, Drouhin, Louis Latour) where you can taste and buy. Shops include the fabulous Alain Hess, the best cheese shop I have ever seen, offering over 100 varieties plus pates, traiteur (ready made to take away) dishes, olive oils, spices – and of course, wine.

Saturday is market day where the whole of the square opposite the Hospice de Beaune is packed with stalls selling whatever fresh vegetables are in season (it was asparagus and artichokes when we were there), honey, charcuterie, roasted chicken and pork (the rotisserie van appears at every French market), pizza from a wood fired oven, flower and vegetable plants, local cheeses, artisan breads, apple juice, spices, soaps – all incredibly tempting.

Heaven for asparagus lovers

Heaven for asparagus lovers

A stunning pile of artichokes

A stunning pile of artichokes

The rotisserie - the aromas alone are impossible to resist

The rotisserie – the aromas alone are impossible to resist

Heritage tomatoes from the south come in all shapes and sizes

Heritage tomatoes from the south come in all shapes and sizes

The market finishes at lunchtime when you can go and relax over something nice. Our favourite is Le Chevalier, a cafe with outdoor tables in the Petit Place Colbert. Top choices are grilled goats cheese salad, coq au vin, morel mushroom omelette – and Chris swears by the Andouilette – a rather grisly sausage made from offal.

How fabulous that all sounds! Wine and food to delight and so much of it…Another destination on my list. Thanks Jan for transporting us into the foodie heaven of Beaune.