Monday, July 01, 2013

Not a Foodie Holiday in Sri Lanka

About two weeks ago, I visited our neighbour Sri Lanka for three days. I did not get much opportunity to taste authentic, local food because our group was busy touring. There was Sri Lankan food in the breakfast buffet in our hotel and on my request, a couple of dishes at lunch the next day, but they were not very different from what we eat here in India.

We got appams, egg appams (hoppers), red rice idiyappams (string hoppers) with dhal curry, and milk rice. We also tasted some sambols, especially the pol sambol, seeni sambol and katta sambol. For me, the pol sambol was no different from the coconut chutney made at home with red chillies and a bit of tamarind.

Here are some pictures from my Sri Lanka trip.

The beach at Bentota, where I stayed.

Plumeria/frangipani, which was everywhere

I don't know what this is but it was so beautiful - the stems holding the leaves were so thin that the leaves seemed suspended in air.

The beautiful Alpenia, from the ginger family

I always thought rambutan came from South-East Asia, I was surprised to see it growing wild here.

It was being sold in heaps on the street.

I'm told this is some kind of a mushroom, it's sprouting from a bench.

Lawariya, string hoppers stuffed with coconut and jaggery

This caught my fancy.

So did this.

Oil cake, or konda kevum, somewhat like the unniappam of Kerala

Athirasa, made of rice flour and jaggery

Walithalapa - it is sweet, but not sure what it's made of

Pol roti (foreground) and vegetable roti 

King coconut

Overlooking the fort are the various blues of the Indian Ocean

Cinnamon sticks, in a plantation

Cinnamon, shaved and laid out to dry

Processing the cinnamon

Just like India!

Palm sugar treacle - it's supposed to be a great delicacy eaten with curds

Outside a grocery store

Coconut-stuffed pancakes


Mixed greens mallum

The Bentota railway station - did you notice it is designed to look like a train?

Kalutara stupa

Kalutara vihara

Offerings at the Kande Vihara temple

The Buddha, said to be the largest seated Buddha in Sri Lanka, at the temple

The 18th century Kande Vihara temple, between Aluthgama and Beruwala in South-West Sri Lanka


  1. I would never have guessed those were cinnamon sticks if not for your pics on FB.

    1. Yes, they look pretty nondescript, don't they?

  2. Lovely photo essay. A whole new country and only 3 days - was it a business trip?

  3. ET, sort of, a hotel was our host, but it was all about sightseeing

  4. Hello Sra,
    The delicate plant in the 3rd photo from the top is the Maiden's Hair Fern and grows wild all across Kerala and Tamil Nadu along brooks and streams ,growing out of damp rock crevices. In the right environment they flourish as potted ferns. Yet, they refuse to thrive from transplanting from their natural habitat to pots. I tried but failed miserably each time.

  5. Hi Usha, yes, there were other ferns there too, which I'd seen before - I just googled this and found out it was an entire genus of ferns. Thanks for letting me know!

  6. Such beautiful photos! The food looks a lot similar to the South Indian things here, isn't it? Lucky you Sra. :-)

    1. It is similar, Sharmila, that's why I came away feeling I hadn't tried enough authentic Sri Lankan food. Maybe I was expecting too much!

  7. the coconut stuffed pancakes are very similar to bengali "patishapta". It looks the same, and I have a feeling it would taste the same. The cinnamons are amazing. btw did you watch peter kuruvita's "my srilanka" before going? he shows amazing srilankan recipes

    1. Hi Balaka, no, I didn't but I think the name popped up in a search when I was looking for info about Sri Lankan food. Yes, the cinnamon is a revelation. I've tried the patishapta with cream in it, not with coconut, this was thin, like a dosa.

  8. Yum, those rotis look too good! Never been to Sri Lanka, but have heard great things about it. Nice pics, everyone seems to be holidaying at the moment!!

  9. Sra! I love love love this travelogue... and I want some appams :):)

  10. Coconut sambal (Tamil's pronounce that way) and Sinhalese call it sambol is NOT same as chutneys. Chutneys are watery. Sambals are very dry and typical one has dried tuna fish called maasi in Sri Lanka.

    Chutneys have talitham (mustard seeds and curry leaves) while sambals do not have mustard seeds or any thalitham.

    Sri Lankan cuisine is NOT similar to Indian cuisine. We do not use tomatoes much and most of our food contains coconut (bit similar to kerala)

    White hoppers are known as Paruthurai (Point Pedro) appam. Eaten with coconut sambal. The red rice hoppers are sweet appam. Idiyappam is generally eaten with sothi (yellow gravy) and sambal. Puttu and idiyappam are morning breakfast for Tamils. Coconut Roti is staple for Estate Indians and they make the best. It became popular among both Tamils and Sinhalese.

    Even the tattai (known as Paruthurai vadai) are made of wheat flour and black gram, while the south Indian tattai is made of besan / chickpea.

    Sri Lankan Tamil cuisine do not use too much masala while Sinhalese use 5 and 8 spice mix. Yet the masala is not over powered like Indian cuisine.

    Sesame seed (nallennai) oil and Coconut oil are used but in a very moderate amount.

    1. Hi friend, thanks for taking the time to post such a detailed comment and so many of them, I'm assuming the several comments on various posts waiting in my blog by an anonymous reader are all yours.

      My trip did not, unfortunately, focus much on Sri Lankan food and I had to be ask for it. The hotel that I was at catered to the guests staying there and most of the food was international. I live in the South, and am very familiar with appams, idiappams and coconut chutney. They did taste very similar in Sri Lanka too. However, when I say the pol sambol was no different from the coconut chutney "made at home", I mean at my parents' place in Andhra Pradesh, where the coconut chutney is ground with tamarind, garlic and red chillies. This is mixed with rice, I don't mean the generic coconut chutney one gets as tiffin accompaniment.

      I did have the sambol with the dried fish, in small amounts. I tried the treacle with curds. They were very different, yes, not like Indian cuisine at all. I also noticed there were two types of masala, one which is raw and intense and the other roasted. On the whole, though, I couldn't find much variety in my short stay as we were busy, and what little I found was rather similar to Tamil and Kerala cuisine, which I equated with Indian cuisine in this post.

  11. Wattilappam is a muslim's dessert. Made of coconut milk, egg whites and kithul - a type of jaggery available in Sri Lankan only. Dash of cinnamon and nut meg goes into it.