This is probably one of those posts that shouldn’t make it to this blog. I mean it has nothing to do with baking and yet its here. It has to do with food thought, and my experiences with it in my recent trip to Sri Lanka. So lets categorise this as “random by mandira” We already have that category on this blog so it makes sense to periodically add posts to it. 😉
In the week that we spent in Sri Lanka, we got to eat a whole range of food- some local and indigenous to Sri Lanka, some with Indian roots and some entirely continental. India is probably the closest neighbour SL has and so there are bound to be some influences in culture and food. Possessing no knowledge of Singhalese and Tamil, the only langue for communication available to me during the trip was English. And though you can generally get around SL comfortably with English you cant always interact with the locals and get information about their food from them. So I had to rely primarily on hotel menus with descriptions , interaction with waiters(and waitresses) who spoke some amount of English and general observation.
Being an island country, sea food is obviously popular. You find all sorts of sea food everywhere- from the smallest hotel to the largest, fanciest one. Meats of all kinds are also easily available-chicken, mutton, pork,beef. The staple diet is rice and curry- the curry can have vegetables in it or any kind of meat. I found most of the curries were coconut based and rather spicy, quite like the Indian curries. They also had some special non vegetarian dishes but I dint venture and try out any of those for obvious reasons. Besides rice, Lankans also eat rotti, which is somewhat similar to the roti/chapati we have in India but it’s much thicker and smaller in size. Rotti is mostly served with a vegetable curry or sambol. Sambol is what I would call a hot Sri Lankan chutney. The ones I got to eat were onion based with lots of red chillies and a dash of coconut. Spicy enough to make your eyes tear!
If you are traveling in a foreign country and dont speak the native language, there are bound to be some funny annecdotes around food, mostly a fall out of the communication gap. The first time a waiter told me they served “roti” in the hotel I jumped for joy and ordered it. I am not much of a rice eater and prefer roti to rice anyday. I was served a 4” diameter thick circular disc made of flour in the name of roti. I was obviously disappointed. I was looking forward to ghee lathered thin, soft ones that I eat at most meals back home. Not to say that the rotti wasnt nice, but it wasnt the roti that I wanted. The “sambol” was another cause of confusion. Towards the end of the journey we were quite desperate for familiar Indian food. Food that sounded and tasted like what we get at home. At the airport we found a canteen that served airport staff and was willing to extend its services to starved Indian tourists. The small black board proped in the corner announced “dosai” as the speciality of the day. In my understanding dosai is the same as dosa- pancakes made with fermented mixture of ground rice and urad dal, mostly served with coconut chutney and sambar. We placed an order for three dosa and re checked if they served it with sambar. “Yes yes, madam” said the man at the counter. A few minutes later we picked up our order from the self service counter- three white plates with one dosa each, some red colour chutney and no sambar in sight. “Where’s the sambar?” we asked. ” There madam, look. Sambol” “Oh but we thought you were giving us sambar.” “Yes thats what it is.Sambol, madam.” We gave up. We were gonna have to eat dosa with sambol, at least this one time. The dosa had a layer of egg in it. Certainly not the kind of dosa we are used to getting in India. My dad wasn’t amused. He could manage a few bites only. I dint care, I was too hungry and happily gobbled up his share too.
When the Sri Lankans aren’t eating rice and curries they are eating hoppers, mostly for breakfast. Hoppers are basically pancakes made from a fermented rice based dough. They are made in a special pan that looks like a katori/vati with a handle. The hoppers have a soft, fluffy centre and thin, crisp sides. They reminded me of the appams Malyalis make. Hoppers are either plain or with egg. An egg is broken in the centre of the hopper and its cooked along with it, somewhat like an egg with the sunny side up. String hoppers are hoppers but in a different shape. They are noodle like and are steamed instead of cooked. They are mostly eaten with sambol or curry.
Kiribath is rice cooked in rice cooked in cocnut milk. A little sweet in taste, it reminded me of rice pudding. Sri Lankans also eat a lot of curd wiht their meals. Its mostly served with treacle. You get these earthen pots with thick, creamy curd in the market. They are freely available and you can pick it up from practically any shop. The curd is much thicker than the one we get int eh market here . I assume they set the curd without removing the cream. We had the super thick curd with loads of honey and bananas for lunch one day. We needed a break from all the hotel food and wanted to eat light. All that heavy curd drizzled with honey and bananas was very filling, not exactly a light meal. Talking of fruits, you get some absolutely delicious fruits in SL.Bananas,pineapples,papaya, melons and some local fruits that couldnt be identified but were loweely.
In Nuwara Eliya we stayed at a hotel called The Grand. Everything about the hotel was in tandem with its name, including its room tariff. We paid a bomb for living there but the hotel was beautiful and its food out of the world. Breakfast was a grand affair that served everything you could possible imagine.Since this blog is about baking, it made sense to add a little info on the baked goodies that I encountered at the Grand since they were by far the best I had on the trip. Unfortunately the lay out was so vast that I found the baked things only after I had practically finished my meal, so I had to be content with tasting only two of the cakes available. Both were delicious. Here is a picture of coconut cake and another of a slice of banana bread. We’ve done banan bread earlier on this blog and it was nice, honestly it was. But it dint have the kind of texture the one I ate at The Grand did. It was also white in colour. Lakshmi and I have also tried coconut cake and we are both happy with the way it has turned out. We will be posting it soon. What I want to figure out it while both our cakes are white in colour, the ones I ate were dark brown and I want to know why. Is it the use of brown sugar in place of regular sugar? Or is it something else all together? What do you think?
Please note, no matter how I started this post, I ended it with baking. I think I am getting obsessive.