Spicy Sri Lanka

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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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.

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Dried fish find their way into many dishes.

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Sri Lanka: Wondrous Wildlife

As a cat lover (big and small), I was hell-bent on a leopard sighting. This solitary, secretive feline had eluded us on two different safari trips in Africa. Sri Lanka had to be the place.

Sloth bear

Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park is said to be home to at least 25 of these beauties. During our February tour of the island nation, we visited that park as well as two others. Sadly, no leopard showed his spots to us. We did see elephants, rabbits, a spotted deer, one wild boar, a mongoose, turtles, lots of birds including numerous peacocks. And, a sloth bear, a rare sighting according to the guide.

Mongoose

“Most tourists don’t see the leopard,” a guide later told me. However, we did learn that the day prior to our visit to Yala and the day after, lucky tourists did spot the evasive cat. We felt cheated.

No leopard, but lots of magnificent elephants. Some 4,000 Asian elephants, an endangered species, make their home in the tiny nation. Herds of 200 or more are a common sight in August and September in Minneriya National Park. The herds we saw in that park were much smaller, 25 to 30, but fascinating. The pachyderms are obviously accustomed to tourists and come very close to the safari vehicles. Guides know many of them by name.ff.41

I was intrigued, touched, with a mini-family grouping. A crippled mother and two offspring, one four years old and the other eight years old, were alone, apart from the herd. The guide explained that the mother, about 40 years old, had been hit by a train. She was left with a bad limp, forcing her to move very slowly. She could not keep up with the herd. Her two offspring stay with her to protect her, he explained.

Elephants need about five square kilometres each to support their 200 kilograms per day appetites. Deforestation and over development in Sri Lanka have diminished their habitat. As in Africa, they encroach on farmland. As in Africa, it’s elephants vs. humans, a challenging conflict.

White birds hang around the elephants we saw. We learned that the elephants, grazing on grass, shake the stuff before eating it. Worms fall out – a tasty meal for the birds.

Painted stork (I think)
Serpent Eagle?

Sir Lanka is a paradise for birders with 400 different species, 26 of which are unique to the country. We saw many on our safaris.

On a visit to a turtle hatchery we learned about the island’s sea turtles which lay their eggs along the coast. Eggs not collected by poachers (turtle egg omelettes are popular) hatch after several weeks and hundreds of baby turtles make their perilous way to the sea. Few survive. Many are devoured by fish and birds. At turtle hatcheries, eggs are collected and hatched in an incubator. After just one day, they are released into the sea at night. Even with this method, only one in 100 survive, about the same as in nature.

The conservation benefits of the hatcheries are limited, but the tiny turtles are adorable. Adult turtles of varying sizes also swim in hatchery tanks. Many have been injured and would not survive in the sea.

The hatchery we visited had been started by the owner’s father in 2000. He died shortly thereafter and his sister took over. She, another sister, their children and his mother all perished in the devastating tsunami which ravaged Sri Lanka in 2004, killing roughly 40,000 of its citizens. The owner and his surviving brother refurbished and reopened the hatchery.

No doubt more popular than its animals and safari parks are Sri Lanka’s beaches. They are grand, but the mountainous interior was my favorite. We spent two nights in the hills above Ella, a picturesque area of tea plantations with splendid views, hiking trails and cooler temperatures…a paradise.

For more on Sri Lanka, see previous post: Wonders of Sri Lanka.

Nimal De Silva, (ndsilva67@yahoo.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. We were happy with all.

More photos of Sri Lanka follow.

Unique tree in Peradeniya Botanical Garden in Kandy.
No wonder they call them street dogs,  There are not as many of these homeless dogs in Sri Lanka as in neighboring India, but still too many, and sad.
Only five percent of Asian elephants have tusks. They can live to be 65 years old.

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Sri Lankan tea is famous worldwide. Tea, first planted by the British, thrives in the hill country.

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At last, a new recipe and just in time for those summer blackberries.  Click on photo of berries, upper right, for recipe, and scroll down for more recipes.

If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared. 

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