Eating my way through Sri Lanka
If you know me, you know that I love food. I love nothing more than I love food (sorry husband!). Living in Kuwait has made my love for food even stronger since there is no limit as to what is on offer and the great customer service you get when you eat out makes for a wonderful evening out. I have an old friend who says that you should treat food as you treat your lover… I can agree with him because as we know, great food is like great sex. The more you have the more you want!
My relationship with food is such an intimate one. Just the mere aroma of masala makes me feel like I am back in my childhood home on a Sunday morning, doing an assignment at the dining room table while my mother cooks for the week. Even the smell of freshly made popcorn brings up that certain comforting feeling of watching Fight Club in bed with Fox. So inevitably, when I travel, the food is an integral part of the experience and in some cases, determines whether a trip is just good or utterly great (or terrible, in the case of some countries I will not mention).
Sri Lanka disappointed me in many aspects but regarding food, it most certainly did not! A conventional Sri Lankan breakfast will look something like this:
There should be hoppers: the love child of a crêpe and a crumpet. It’s golden and crisp at the edges and doughy in the centre. It’s usually filled with fragrant Sri Lankan curries (karis), spicy relishes (sambals) and – if you’re feeling very decadent – a whole egg, baked into the base (pictured). Sometimes you might get rice (for breakfast… I know…), dhall (lentils) and fruit.
Other traditional Sri Lankan foods are curry and rice and at every local restaurant on the side of the road, they would offer a buffet with 6-7 vegetable curries, rice, noodles and sometimes, meat. Beware that Sri Lanka food (and I mean the local stuff, not at the touristy restaurants) is SPICY. I’m desi and I’m saying that- so readers, we are not playing around here.
If you can handle the heat then you are in for a treat.
Here is a roundup of the delectable food we ate at and the restaurants worth mentioning:
Happy Beach Cafe: For the experience of picking your fish and eating it within the hour
We had a tried a few very disappointing places in Unawatuna before stumbling along this gem. For some reason, neither we or our tuk tuk drivers could seem to find any of the places recommended by so many other blogs and so we took a chance at this place. Upon arrival we were asked to choose our fish and hey! Within the hour it was served to us like this:
Needless to say,the combination of flavours coupled with the fresh fish, were exquisite. The best part about this place was that it was super easy to find (on the main road in Unawatuna), everybody knows where it is and it is literally on the beach so go in your shorts and flip flops.
Address: Matara Road, Unawatuna, Sri Lanka
Phone number: +94779717061
Peddlar’s Inn Cafe: For the love of beachside cafes
Right outside the Galle fort, is rustic, authentic looking seaside restaurant. With whitewashed walls, minimalist decor and the smell of salty water in the air, this place oozes old world charm.
The food is enticing with loads of fresh seafood options on the menu. I often joke with seriousness about how the magic ingredient in tasty food is simply love. That certain je ne sais quoi, the careful throwing of great ingredients together, where nothing extra is added other than attentiveness. That is what we tasted in the food here. Pictured are some mouth watering butterfish and lobster:
Address: Pedlar St, Galle, Sri Lanka
Google Maps Link
Phone number: +949122253 33
Sun n Sea: For a taste of heaven
This is where Bee & I spent New Years Eve (and a ton of rupees). On the whole, this may have been one of the best eating out experiences I have had while traveling! The service was impeccable, the food was heavenly and how breath-taking is the view of the fireworks on NYE?
Sun n Sea sits right on the bank of the ocean, and therefore boasts stunning panoramic views along the beach. The restaurant is split over two sections, with the one side being an indoor bistro, and the outside being a more casual dining area under trees and along right next to the ocean. The design is modern and pretty minimalist, sparse even. It’s not a place to cozy up on during a dreary winter’s day, but is the perfect place to linger during a spectacular sunny summer day. It has has a circular shape to it, therefore you pretty much get good views from wherever you sit, especially as it has broad windows. A spectacular experience all round.
Request to sit outside and wear something that you wouldn’t mind getting wet because the sea will spray you at some point during your meal (and you will love it… I think).
I am thinking about this seafood pizza again… Wow. I recall the rich aroma of the pizza wafting down and beckoning us to eat it. We could not resist the delightful sensations that were whipped up inside at the mere thought of delving our teeth deep and fast into the pulpy texture of the pizza. Cheese spread atop in copious amounts and the wide assortment of seafood sprinkled in the perfect amounts mingle to produce a taste unlike any other: salty, peppery, cheesy with a whiff of Italian cuisine and a tinge of Sri Lankan taste.
Address: 324 Matara Road, Ganahena, Unawatuna, Sri Lanka
Google Maps Link
Phone number: + 94912283200
Kandy Muslim Hotel: Order everything that you can’t pronounce!
This was the most genuine dining experience we had while in Sri Lanka. The Kandy Muslim Hotel is not a hotel at all but rather, is a bustling yet efficient eating establishment that caters to local Sri Lankans as well as tourists. As a result, the food is inexpensive but oh so good! This was where I tried kottu- a dish we were only able to find in the lush foothills of central Sri Lanka. Kottu is a traditional Sri Lankan roti chopped with vegetables and meat. The kottu was delicious – like an explosion of spices and vegetables and meat flavor in one bite. I loved the crunchy veggie texture complimenting the soft pillowy bits of roti (a thin Indian bread).
It really is worth a visit just to experience a gritty, authentic Sri Lankan experience. Oh and don’t forget to order a cup of chai…its exactly like tea from a roadside stall on the side of a highway in Rajasthan!
Address: Sri Dalada Veediya, Kandy, Sri Lanka
Lyon’s: To feel at home
We were recommended this place by the lady who ran the accommodation we were staying at and we were so pleased with the choice. We were the only non-Sri Lankan people there (loved that) and they served us pretty late (around 21:00). Once we discovered the restaurant above the seedy take away joint on the first floor, it was indeed a welcoming spot with its bare brickwork, relaxed ambiance and cozy vibe. We ordered two dishes and were surprised by the size of the portions. This is a quaint, reasonably priced place to enjoy Sri Lankan hospitality, fresh food and titillating flavours.
Address: 27 Peradeniya Rd, Kandy, Sri Lanka
Heladiv Tea Club: For tea, strong cocktails and sublime mocktails
Every “where to eat in Colombo blog” directs you towards the Old Dutch Hospital. Tucked amidst the imposing high-rise building of the fort area in Colombo is this 17th century Dutch Hospital that has been remodeled into a trendy shopping precinct. I didn’t know what to expect before going there… dining at an old hospital didn’t seem.. hygienic! But since it was our last day in Colombo, we were used to just accepting things so we walked inside the unassuming building to an open courtyard, but what met our eyes was a revision of an old lesson “Never judge by first impression”. The large open courtyard had a few minimalist concrete tables and log chairs scattered across its cobbled floor, it was surrounded by some fine restaurants serving a variety of cuisines and there was a mesmerizing caress as the soft breeze blew through the early morning.
If you’re heading in that direction, make sure you visit Heladiv Tea Club. They have an extensive tea selection if you’re into that sort of thing or if you’re traveling with a Czech, you pop in at 10:58, wait until 11 and then order a cocktail… haha!
I had a tea mocktail called Original Sin and Bee had a Cosmopolitan. Neither disappointed and the service was top notch with super fast wifi. What more could you want on a Friday morning in Colombo?
Address: No 8, Old Dutch Hospital,, Colombo 01, Sri Lanka
Aura Cafe: For freak shakes and when you’ve had enough curry
This is a super quirky cafe with bright colours,constructed out of shipping containers (Think Freedom Cafe in Durban but with a better menu). It’s light, airy and essentially- perfect. From the wonderful service to the tantalizing menu, I cannot recommend this place enough. They don’t have a lot of items on their menu but what they do have, they make superbly. Like this decadent looking concoction:
We visited this place on the tail end of our trip and after stuffing my face with curry & rice for most of the trip, I needed a burger to feel ok again (my family is reading this and wondering what has happened to me!).
It was amazing so go, go, go!
Address: 4 Bullers Lane, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Google Maps Link
Phone number: +94766388788
Park Street Mews: When you want to feel like you aren’t in Sri Lanka anymore
Upon walking into this restaurant, I felt like I was back in London at an upmarket little lunch spot near Covent Garden. I adored the feeling and loved the look of the place!
They have a 3 course lunch for 1200 rupees each and believe me, it’s money well spent. I loved the delightful combination of continental, tropical and classic dishes included on their menu.
The food is excellently prepared, the flavours are succulent and the dining experience is enhanced by the soccer mums socializing amidst the business lunches happening at neighbouring tables.
I loved the seared tuna for my starter and sampled the luscious coconut fish curry for my main. Sorry I forgot to take a picture of the white chocolate mousse which just shows how excited I was to eat it.
Address: 50/1, Park St, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Just in case you need help with other things…
If you have stumbled across this post, it’s highly likely that you are about to travel or are traveling in Sri Lanka. So here are a few of my tips to make your trip less… tumultuous than mine:
- Start your trip in Colombo and use the Pick Me app. This will help you get a fair idea of what transportation in Sri Lanka really costs instead of getting ripped off by every other person you meet. Even though this app only works in Colombo (for now), it will help you understand what you should be paying even when you move on to the destinations.
- Use the tourism offices in each area to plan your trip for example, checking out what attractions are on offer, what you should be paying for them (instead of getting fleeced) and also, how to plan train journeys etc. Asking someone for help at your accommodation will just lead you to their second cousin twice removed who ‘owns a transportation company’ (he just has a car).
- In Sri Lanka you can and should negotiate everything. A better price can ALWAYS be made even when things are looking desperate.
- Things move at a languid pace in Sri Lanka (and not slow but steady like in Kuwait) so be prepared for delayed trains, lateness, terrible service and/or general confusion.
- The tap water is safe to drink (I survived) but if you do buy bottled water, check that it is sealed before you open it.
- Yes the food is spicy but yes you will survive. Ask for milk if you feel as if you have ingested flames.
- Sri Lankan men can be quite direct with their attention so be prepared for that if you’re a woman. I never felt unsafe or anything like that, just surprised by their forthright manner in approaching woman to flirt and/or talk.
- Public restrooms are generally clean with western style toilets.
- You are going to stick out if you aren’t very ‘brown’… embrace it and make it work for you!