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.

 

Where to stay in Sri Lanka: my five favourites

Sri Lanka is a country of contrasts, from its cosmopolitan capital Colombo to the many sweeping beaches and majestically green mountains and forests, there’s a different aspect around every corner. And wherever you venture the welcome is warm, the food is exotic and delicious and there’s plenty of history and tradition to absorb.

Today I’m taking you to five places I visited and continuing my Where to Stay series, I’ve included five hotels I stayed in and why I particularly liked them. It’s a five-for-one sort of day. The pictures could speak for themselves really…some truly stunning places.

I started in Colombo. The city has a long history as a port on the ancient east-west trade routes (going back over 2,000 years) and it’s a very diverse history, too. Sri Lanka was ruled by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British before independence in 1948 and this is reflected in the capital’s culture and architecture.

A mix of old and new (and updated) with teeming streets of myriad vehicles, bustling markets and people of all religions living in harmony. It’s the only place I’ve ever seen a mosque, a temple, a Roman Catholic church and an Anglican church all metres from each other. An example of diversity at its best. And easy to explore from the comfort of our base at The Kingsbury Hotel.

THE KINGSBURY HOTEL, COLOMBO

Perched proudly on the coast, The Kingsbury‘s sweeping driveway and spacious, high-ceilinged lobby makes for a grand entrance. And the rest of the hotel lives up to that initial expectation.

THE BEDROOMS

In the days of shrinking hotel rooms, I was delighted with the space and light with floor-to-ceiling windows and a massive bed in the centre of the room. I mean seriously massive, with the biggest and plushest pillows ever. How I wanted to bring one of those pillows home. A large ensuite with luxury walk-in shower was well stocked with Bulgari toiletries and fluffy towels.

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Beds don’t get more comfortable than this

THE FOOD

Buffets are extremely popular in Sri Lanka and The Kingsbury takes this to a seriously new level. Their splendid buffet spreads out over two rooms (I missed the second half initially) and offers a spread of Western, Indian, Japanese and South East Asian cuisine prepared by renowned chefs from around the globe. There are stunning displays of fresh produce at breakfast, lunch and dinner, an array of ready-prepared dishes and (my favourite part) food stations where the chefs cook fresh dishes in front of you. It’s where I ate the first of many hoppers (more of that in a later post) – a Sri Lankan favourite that I fell in love with. Their High Tea is a real show stopper.

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The indulgent seafood section

THE SKY LOUNGE

Gotta love any opportunity for some alfresco socialising. The Sky Lounge is the perfect spot for sundowners – breathe in some of those sea breezes and watch the sun sink below the horizon. There’s a great cocktail list, so settle in.

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Al fresco sundowners overlooking the sea

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My first Sri Lankan sunset…stunning

JETWING, YALA

Yala National Park, in the south-east of the country, is the second largest in Sri Lanka. It’s a unique mix of jungle, grassland, forest and scrubland also bordered on one side by the ocean. It is home to 215 bird species, 44 types of mammals and has one of the highest leopard densities in the world.

Set just outside the park, Jetwing Yala is the ultimate escape-from-everything sort of place. It nestles in an unspoilt forest reserve down a dusty road (always a good thing), bordered on one side by a stunning beach.

THE BEDROOMS

I’m no camper but give me a tent any time if it’s like this one. From the minute I unzipped the door (a novel way to get in to any room), I loved this large airy space and could have spent hours lying on the luxurious bed looking out towards the sea. And then there’s the bathroom. Light-filled and stylish with two showers – one indoor and one outdoor – I did love showering under the blue Sri Lankan sky and certainly left Yala squeaky clean.

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Now this is my kind of tent

THE PEACE AND HARMONY

You’re driven in golf buggies to your tented villa (a quick call to reception and they’re there to pick you up again) and it really does feel you’ve been delivered to your own private piece of paradise. The large terrace looks out across the forest towards the sea and when night falls twinkling lights create a wonderland where the only sounds are the occasional animal on night time explorations. You’re woken at dawn by the rising sun and birdsong – another day to breathe in the freshest of Yala morning air.

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As dusk falls, a new world unfolds

THE BEACH

A wonderful first for me – a national park that’s also a beach resort. And the beach at Jetwing Yala is stunning. There’s a bar and beds perched on top of the dunes where you can while away sunny hours or you can organise your own private dinner by firelight overlooking the sea. Just watch out for elephants – really, there’s a sign warning you to.

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Sand dunes, the white beach and sparkling azure sea

JETWING KADURUKETHA, WELLAWAYA

Jetwing Kaduruketha offers a different environment to escape to. Set in the peaceful village surroundings of Wellawaya it’s a real chance to get in touch with the people and traditions of Sri Lanka. There are 25 chalets spread over 60 acres, overlooking the working paddy fields.

THE ROOMS

Beautifully spacious with light flooding in and an open-access bathroom running down one side. The huge shower looks straight over the fields. Plenty of seating options with a sofa, desk (with a fabulous view, I enjoyed blogging from here!) and verandah chairs. All rooms are supplied with their own bicycles for getting around the resort or heading off on your own voyage of discovery.

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Your own private space with views all round

THE RESTAURANT

The open-sided dining room overlooks the hotel’s stunning pool, the paddy fields and majestic mountains in the distance. There’s an a la carte menu with a mix of traditional Sri Lankan dishes and contemporary Asian and International cuisine. Breakfast offered such a selection of deliciousness – my eggs Benedict was spectacular, with the addition of curry leaves for a bit of local flavour.

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An amazing breakfast: Sri Lankan eggs Benedict

THE SCENERY

Kaduruketha is a perfect picture in shades of blues and greens. The resort itself with its trees, vegetable gardens, freedom and open spaces provides an instant leap back to nature. Meander through the fields, amble along the banks of the nearby bubbling streams, explore the village full of friendly locals or hike through the mountains. It’s your chance to kick back and immerse yourself in rural Sri Lanka.

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Nature’s view: Paddy fields, forests and mountains

THE BLACKPOOL HOTEL, NURAWA ELIYA

The heights of Nurawa Eliya are often referred to as Little England – it was the favoured escape for the English and Scottish pioneers of Sri Lanka’s tea industry. The weather’s even pretty British – with swirling mist and plentiful rain. You can smell the aroma of tea in the air and see it growing all around you from The Blackpool Hotel (another touch of England for you).

THE BEDROOMS

The contrast from the steamy weather of the lowlands brings the opportunity to enjoy plush carpets underfoot, thick duvets to snuggle under and a wonderful in-room fire to toast your toes in front of. Large doors open onto the balcony overlooking the far-reaching greenness of terraced tea plantations.
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THE FOOD

Another amazing buffet spread to marvel at, below is just a small selection of the desserts on offer. Mind blowing! I also loved their grill station and area preparing fresh Asian dishes. Their chef prepared tempered potatoes and traditional dhal for us – two favourites from my trip – and these were the best I tried. The hotel also does a fantastic high tea – well you are in tea country after all. Remember to drink lots of tea while you’re here – it’s in a class of its own.

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Dessert choices to make you very confused

THE SURROUNDINGS

I hadn’t anticipated that tea plantations could be so beautiful. On a magically misty morning the pickers were out in full force undertaking their daily delicate task of picking the best of the shoots from the tea plants. They punctuated the slopes of green in their colourful garb. The mountain views are stunning and the roadsides dotted with aromatic food stalls, tiny restaurants offering all means of local delicacies and fruit and veg vendors around every corner. The British introduced their favourites so as well as the usual Sri Lankan treats you’ll find plentiful strawberries, cabbages and cauliflowers on display. Nurawa Eliya’s like nowhere else in Sri Lanka.

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A landscape of green with dots of colour

JETWING BLUE, NEGOMBO

Negombo is the fourth largest city in Sri Lanka and is famed for its expansive sandy beaches and fishing industry. Set on the west coast close to the airport, it’s a relaxing destination for a beachside break. You can see reminders of Dutch, Portuguese and British influence in the colonial charm of the town. And there’s an amazing fish market – more of which in another post. Jetwing Blue is one of four sister hotels set along a seemingly endless beach lined with palm trees.

THE BEDROOMS

Even when you’re in your room there’s no doubt you’re at the beach. The polished tiled floors, huge windows and balcony overlooking the sand and sea cleverly reflect your environment. There’s plenty of space to move with another enormous bed in the centre and a large desk area perfect for blogging. The stylish bathroom comes complete with Jetwing’s special toiletries and a deep bath to luxuriate in.

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The perfect room for beach life

THE BEACH AND THE POOLS

It’s well documented that I’m a dedicated beach baby. So how heavenly is this beach/pool combination? Life is focussed on outdoor living with all roads leading to the beach which is lined with pools, bars and restaurants (but not too many) facing across the perfect view. There are plenty of sun loungers to chill out on and miles and miles to walk and ponder. Life’s better at the beach.

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THE FOOD

With one of the most fabulous fish markets I’ve ever visited just down the road, I knew there had to be great fish dishes at Jetwing Blue. The Negombo Crab is one of the signature local dishes and was made for us from scratch on the beach using a cornucopia of spices and the very freshest of crabs. The hotel’s buffet is another masterpiece of taste and vision. I started the day with a plate piled with tropical fruit – I don’t think my fellow travellers had ever seen so much passion fruit consumed by one person before. And there were more of those fabulous hoppers freshly made to order.

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Negombo crab curry cooked for us on the beach

There’s a lot to discover in Sri Lanka. And its charming, welcoming people make it even easier to fall in love with this country of incredible diversity. Not to mention the food…more of which in a later post, so come back soon.

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Sailing boats are a typical sight on the beach in Negombo

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

I flew to Colombo on Emirates via Dubai.

Fabulous Sri Lankan dishes at Kaema Sutra in Colombo

So I’ve recently returned from Sri Lanka. I know, lucky me, another chance to visit somewhere exotic with an exciting, different culture to absorb. It’s an amazing country with a wide mix of influences which you can read more about in my later posts, so watch this space. Because today I’m going to tell you about this fantastic restaurant I dined at in the capital, Colombo.

Kaema Sutra is the third and most recent offering from chef Dharshan Mundisa. Dharshan was born in Tokyo to a Sri Lankan father and a Japanese mother and prides himself on being a self-taught chef – with his interest in cooking first aroused by watching his mother and Japanese aunts in the kitchen.

His first restaurant in Colombo (where he moved to as a child) reflects his Japanese background with Nihonbashi using the best of Sri Lankan ingredients to produce amazing Japanese food. The jewel in his crown, Ministry of Crab, opened in 2011 in the refurbished 400-year-old Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct and is in the San Pellegrino Top-50 restaurants in Asia as well as being rated the best in Sri Lanka.

And tonight we were going to their baby sister, Kaema Sutra, which is located at the Arcade, Independence Square, which is now an upmarket shopping complex. The stylish, colonial building was created as the Jawatta Lunatic Asylum in 1889 and after various uses through the years and following a huge renovation project in 2012, the shiny new complex opened in July 2014. The Sri Lankans are very clever about creating new uses for historic buildings…from asylum to haven in this case.

Dharshan created a menu specially for us – lucky me, again – and boy did we have a feast. He’s taken traditional Sri Lankan cuisine, updated it and added a bit of something extra. It’s flavourful, exciting and different with each dish showing careful consideration.

Our selection of three starters got us off the perfect Sri Lankan start. First up, Godha chips, described as chips made from the local Godamba roti. It’s impossible to imagine what these little bites of delight are going to taste like…and quite hard to describe, too, but boy were they delicious. Light and tasty with bite.

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Crisps Sri Lankan style

And then it was time for some hot chilli wings which were served with a buffalo curd raita dip. Buffalo curd is huge in Sri Lanka (more of which later) and went perfectly with the spiciness of the wings. I was aware of plenty more dishes to come so held back a bit on the wings…another time I ‘m confident I could polish off a whole plate to myself. They’re that good.

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Crispy chicken wings with a bit of spice

Our third starter was a hopper…but no ordinary hopper, what Dharshan calls a Euro hopper. On discovering hoppers on my first night in Sri Lanka, I ate them at most meals (yes, breakfast, lunch and dinner). They’re kind of like thin, bowl-shaped pancakes that are made in front of you in a special pan and served hot for you to add your choice of filling. They are so delicious and the concept is so versatile. As proved here, with no Sri Lankan spices, simply dollops of local buffalo curd, baked sea salt and Italian olive oil. Yummy!

Oh and the other thing about the hoppers at Kaema Sutra – they are big! Bigger than any I saw anywhere else.

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A Sri Lankan staple given a European touch

The curry was made with the local freshwater prawns which are huge, juicy and bounding in flavour.

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Giant freshwater prawns in a spicy sauce

Dishes were served with what they call the A La Minute Lunu Miris. It’s basically a chilli and onion paste that is made in front of you using a special board and roller – and the key is it needs to be made in a minute. I guess practice makes perfect because it didn’t look difficult and he had no problem with the time, such skill and speed with a heavy and somewhat unwieldy tool. The resulting paste was hot and beautifully fresh tasting, this method produced definitely something way superior to anything similar I’ve done in my electric blender.

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Add spice and zest to any dish

Making the paste on demand…how I’d love one of these in my kitchen…

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The process to marvel at

Vegetables are a huge part of Sri Lankan cuisine and today we were served two classic accompaniments. This baby potato curry was simply luscious – I did go on to sample many other delicious potato curries on my journey. A dish you have to order when you’re in Sri Lanka.

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Sri Lankan potato curries are the best

As is their dhal. It tastes slightly different around the country but always has that light spiciness and perfect creaminess that makes it go well with just about everything.

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A wonderful lentil dish

And the dishes kept arriving. Dharshan loves cooking with crab (well, he did call one of his restaurants Ministry of Crab after all) and the Crab Kottu is the latest addition to the restaurant’s menu. It’s a lightly spiced mix of succulent crab meat, vegetables and chopped roti which is quickly fried on a griddle and served topped with the prettiest of crab shells. This was my first experience of kottu (though obviously not my last) – another Sri Lankan speciality you have to try.

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A delightfully different crab dish

Alongside the crab came a two-egg hopper. This is Kaema Sutra’s signature hopper and it’s giant – nine inches to be exact – with two eggs smack in the centre.

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This is an egg hopper deluxe

After a short interval it was time for dessert. Hopper dessert. See what I mean, they are versatile things. The chocolate chip hopper had a warm, creamy, chocolatey centre. A dream for chocolate lovers. I spotted a little girl on the next table tucking into hers as a main course while her parents enjoyed spicy delights. She looked very happy – well she would, wouldn’t she?

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The first of our hopper desserts

And to finish off…What the hopper! That’s what it’s called and it’s a different colour because there’s treacle in the batter. Filled with strawberries and cream and finished off with a drizzle of more treacle. Wow.

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Strawberries and cream with the Sri Lankan difference

Such a great introduction to the classic Sri Lankan dishes and a marvellous demonstration on what you can add to them with imagination. With its great food, beautiful setting (there’s a spacious terrace you can also dine on) and ever-present warm Sri Lankan welcome Kaema Sutra is an all-round great dining experience. And it’s amazing value for visitors, too. If you’re in Colombo go there. You have to.

Today’s price point

Eating out in Sri Lanka is great value.

As a guideline, 1,000 Sri Lankan rupees are equivalent to approximately £5.

To give you an idea on prices, a large plate of chilli chicken wings costs Rs960; the prawn curry is Rs960 per prawn (and you won’t need more than one each), the two-egg hopper is Rs240 and the amazing dessert What the Hopper is Rs480.

Kaema Sutra is at No 30, Arcade Independence Square, Colombo 7.