Spicy Sri Lanka


Banana leaves are used as wraps.

“Add a pinch of chili powder,” Iran instructed, then explained that Sri Lankans would add far more, at least 3 teaspoons. That would definitely pack a punch.  But then, Sri Lankan food is not for sissies. It is HOT.  Well, we thought so.

Happy New Year.  Happy Travels. May 2018 be filled with joy, good health, serenity and discovery. 

Chef Iran prepared seven different dishes for us at his home near Ella in the Sri Lankan hills where he gives cooking lessons.  We helped…and learned.food,21

He adjusts the spices, i.e. the heat factor, to western palates, he explained.  We had a fabulous meal of all his delicacies which we found tasty and just right on the heat scale.

During our two-week tour of the country, we frequently stopped at simple restaurants where buffets of numerous different dishes are the norm. Nimal, our trusty guide and driver, checked with the kitchen staff, then told us which concoctions to avoid — the ones with a fire factor of at least four hot peppers. There were many.  Even some of the supposedly mild ones were too much for us….maybe we are sissies.

Hotel restaurants which cater to international visitors offer both Sri Lankan favorites and western fare.  Sometimes the Sri Lankan specials are toned down, but not always.  I love to try new and different things.  But, after setting my mouth aflame more than once, I learned to start with tiny tastes.

Fruit salad anyone?

The island nation offers an abundance of fish, exotic fruits, including 20 different kinds of bananas, all manner of vegetables — and spices. Cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, mace, tamarind and vanilla are among the Spice Island’s noted products. They grow in abundance all over the island in fertile and diverse soil types and varying temperature conditions, and are important export products.

Chilies — a Sri Lankan staple

Yet it is chilies which are the most consumed spice and a key ingredient in the national dish, rice and curry, which Sri Lankans eat three times per day.  The curry can be made with vegetables, meat or fish, usually coconut milk, plus a blend of spices which enhance the dish with intense and exotic flavors.

Bob gets slicing  instructions.

We helped Iran dice and chop to prepare three curries: bean, dahl (lentils) and chicken.  He also made aubergine moju, deviled potato and fresh coconut sambol. The latter is a condiment made from ingredients pounded with chili.

These chilies have plenty of fire power.

His classroom is simple, a table and two gas burners.  He cooks in coconut oil and makes his own curry powder, a blend of coriander, cumin seeds, curry leaves and cinnamon. He roasts both curry powder and chili powder to give a smoky taste to certain dishes.

His mother taught him to cook, he says, and he is delighted to pass on her knowledge, skills and secrets to eager visitors, like us, from around the world.  Not all take cooking lessons.   “Guides bring guests here for a homemade meal, traditional food.  Sometimes there are groups of 15 or 16.”

Sri Lankans eat their main meal at lunch.  While restaurants offer numerous dishes, “at home we only have rice, one vegetable and one meat, not five or six different ones,” Iran said. When eating, Sri Lankans usually mix all the different preparations together on their plate, resulting in a mush which would not qualify for a Facebook food photo.   They drink alcoholic beverages before the meal, not with it.food.20

Sri Lanka is a land of many religions. Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians are even known to visit the same pilgrimage sites. Many are vegetarians, although not necessarily due to religious restrictions.  Nimal said his family does not eat beef.  “Cows are gentle animals and give us milk.  No need to eat them.”  They also reject pork because “pigs are dirty animals.”


The best places to experience the bounty of Sri Lanka are its markets. During our travels we visited several, all scenes bursting with vibrant color and hectic activity.  At the Pettah markets in Colombo huge trucks overloaded with produce drive through lanes crowded with shoppers.


The Dambulla Produce market, a vast wholesale market, is the place to see an incredible variety of produce – and to stay out of way of the frantic workers.  A vendor at the market in Kandy gave us samples of fruits we were not familiar with — mangosteen and red bananas. There I purchased spices, for myself and friends.


Iran gave us several of his recipes.  I tried his chicken curry.  Yummy.  See recipe, top right. food.17

In addition to offering cooking classes and home cooked meals, Iran rents several rooms in his home to guests.  He gets lots of kudos on Trip Advisor.  Contact him at irankarannagoda@gmail.com


For more on Sri Lanka, see previous posts: Wonders of Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka: Wondrous Wildlife.


Nimal De Silva, (ndsilva67@gmail.com and info@dsltours.com) chauffeured us around his country, made hotel arrangements, arranged local guides at many places — and taught us much about this fabulous country.  He is a delight, very patient and accommodating.

Dried fish find their way into many dishes.

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Please feel free to comment.  Click below, scroll back down to Leave a Reply and add your thoughts.  


17 thoughts on “Spicy Sri Lanka”

    1. Hi Shelley… we are old with medical issues,. slowing down. We hope to get to Egypt in March. We will see how that goes before making any more future plans. High on my bucket list are Bhutan and Nepal, but after reading your post, I fear I may not be up to the hiking….bad knees. I also want to do Peru, but that is also demanding. Getting old is no fun.


  1. Dear Leah and Bob,
    What wonderfully colorful pictures. Everything looks so appealing. We were glad to see a picture of Bob and know you are still traveling. We think of you often. Hope you’re both well.
    Very little snow here so I’m not teaching as much, but we still enjoy being in Aspen. Having more free time means I’ll be reading your blog more. I so enjoyed this one.
    Wishing you a New Year filled with good health, friends and family, love, joy and peace. May we have another opportunity to meet in 2018.
    Love, Kathy and Bob

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved this! Thank you for inspiring me with the tempting descriptions of the complex, mouth-watering curries and photos of the vibrant, colorful markets. There’s nothing drab about Sri Lanka, and you’ve brought it to life. I’m thrilled to have and to use many of the authentic spices, thanks to your thoughtfulness and generosity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Often thought of you when taking a bite of fiery SL cusiine: Lynne would be in heaven. These are definitely your kind of tastes. Glad you liked the post. Thanks for the comment.


  3. Leah:
    Loved the pictures as much as the commentary! Happy New Year to you and Bob and keep up the travels!
    Thanks for your card also – still working on ours, but may (or may not) get one out soon….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Leah and Bob,

    We want to wish you both a happy and healthy New Year. Would like to add that you have made the right decision and continue to do so; i.e., spending your “golden years” in a country far away from the current insanity of your country of birth. Paul and I have been discussing possible alternatives to get away from the madness of the current “mad King” – at least for a while. Germany and other parts of Europe beckon. We shall do some serious research when we are back in Europe again this year. I will let you know our dates when they are firmed up. It would be so nice to link up with you two at that time. When might YOU be back in Germany again?

    Viele liebe Gruesse senden

    Eva and Paul

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Eva and Paul. Good to hear from you. I am not sure when we will be back in Germany. We may visit the US this summer. Keep us posted of your plans and come and see us when you are in Europe. Happy New Year.


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