Sri Lankan Food Culture as experienced by an Australian traveller
by Pierre Prentice
Galle Cooking Class Step 1 Buy
Galle Cooking Class - Step1: Buy
Date: August 2013
Off to market!
Armed with a small amount of money, four tuks-tuks filled with wannabe Sri Lankan cooks headed from Unawatuna into Galle market for provisions. Being Sunday, it was a half-market, but we had plenty to choose from.
The Sri Lankan pineapple is very sweet. Little did we know that the ones we bought were not going to be eaten raw, but cooked…………
Jenny weighs up.
Super fresh seafood
The South & SW Coasts abound with seafood. There was no shortage of choice – even on a Sunday.
Here’s the salt of the sea who sold us the tuna for our ambulthiyal, or “sour” fish curry (made astringent with tamarind). Cutting the carcass of a freshly caught tuna into chunks, he gave you the impression he’d done it many times before.
Galle Cooking Class - Step 2: Prepare
Back at Karuna’s outdoor kitchen at Unawatuna.
Here Pierre & Karuna have just had a competition to crack a coconut without spilling the contents everywhere!
Grating the coconuts and squeezing the shavings to extract thecream, then milk is a fairly big production; but it’s a key point of difference between Sri Lankan and Indian curries.
All hands on deck
Everyone chipped in peeling onions, ginger & garlic, topping & tailing beans, rinsing the dahl, etc
Beans ready to put on the flame.
Slicing pineapple is so much easier then operating on someone’s back!
That unsuspecting pineapple, about to be cooked.
Galle Cooking Class - Step3: Heat & Eat
Tuna fish curry before cooking.
Here you see chunks of tuna in a bath of coconut milk, with tomato, chillis, tamarind and curry powder made of roasted spices. Cook for about an hour without taking the lid off.
Tuna fish curry after cooking
[As an aside, the interesting thing about Sri Lankan curries is that you don’t brown meat first (not that you would brown fish). Throw it all in the pot and light the flame. Too easy!]
The Lankans “devil” anything. Seems to mean anything cooked with chilli. These dishes are pretty unrefined and don’t have the complexity of the curries.
After 3 hours of gathering, preparing and then cooking in a heady atmosphere of spices and simmering coconut milk, appetites are very sharp!
Note the bottles of Lion lager. For a mass produced commercial product, this is one serious beer and certainly holds its own against the competition – and the curries!
End product, up close.
It’s a bit hard to get used to the Sri Lankan idea of putting all the curries on one plate. Purists might want to experience the unique flavours of each, rather than what quickly becomes a mixed curry slurry. But can 20 million Sri Lankans be wrong?
Markets of Sri Lanka 1
Colombo market - appetisers
Colombo market – chillis piled high
Colombo market – dried fish specialist
Colombo market – fruit vendor
Colombo market – rambutan & mangoes
Markets of Sri Lanka 2
Negombo market – garlic, ginger & tamarind
Negombo market – happy fishmonger with tuna which is landed on the beach about 50 metres away.
Kandy market – banana flowers at the bottom right, adding to a kaleidoscope of colours.
Kandy market – jackfruit specialist
Kandy market – two red-toothed beetle nut specialists (and “users”!)
Markets of Sri Lanka 3
Kandy market – just brimming with spanking fresh produce.
Beetroot, leeks, radish? Hard to believe you’re on an island not far from the equator.
Sri Lankan billy cart.
All aboard the Highlands Bullet Train
Intrepid tour guide Jith Caldera, with a couple of Aussie burghers and friends, at one of the many railway stations between Nanu Oya (near Nuwara Eliya) and Kandy. It’s ony about 50kms as the crow flies between the two towns, but takes over 4 hours because of the numerous stops and the state of the track which doesn’t look as though it has been disturbed since the British left in 1948. The rail carriages laying on their side or upside down next to the track are worrisome. But you want the trip to never end, because it is of the utmost beauty as the train rocks & wobbles its way through verdant tea fields, clinging to steep hillsides, crossing foaming rivers, and passing houses & villages set in a sub-tropical garden paradise. At about $8 for the ride in train’s observation deck carriage, this has to be the world’s cheapest thrill.