A week that we spent in Sri Lanka is probably not enough to learn the story of this island. I will try to spare you mere flashbacks and annoying tourist comments. Anthony Bourdain’a advice is to get real when you travel. Forget about searching for the best restaurants to eat in and places to go. Refuse to eat in English-speaking spots. Unless you want to encounter a guy like this American tourist (no offence) I met in a Jewish restaurant in the Old Ghetto in Rome who asked for pork the moment he sat at the table. Go wild. Try to feel the place instead of ticking the boxes. It has been a while since I lost hope to see and try everything that I would like to when travelling to a new country. The world is simply too vast for a single human being. I like islands because they seem contained and more feasible in terms of understanding about what’s going on in there. Sri Lanka welcomed me with its rice and curry: spicy, tongue-burning at times and much thinner than the ones I had in India. Flavoured with rampa, pandan leaves and fresh curry leaves, and lots of garlic. The island grows some 15 varieties of rice: it sounds like heaven to me. Doesn’t it to you? Or are you the potato-lover type?
Everything is deep-fried or full of oil, which makes it more flavoursome. I love Sri Lankan dhal: I find it more spicy than Indian and Pakistani version. The addition of coconut milk makes it taste milder and creamier. Coconut sambal, grated coconut flesh spiced up with chilli and lemon, will stay with me for a very long time. To bring a memory of Sri Lanka back home, we attended a cooking class at the Amarasinghe Guest House in Mirisse and learnt how to make six insanely flavoursome curries. Very well organized and insightful.
Only tip: you will never be able to recreate the actual flavour miles away for the place of its origin. Work away with techniques and spices and find the best way to enjoy your meal without getting bitter about its genuineness. Authenticity is for tourists, real people simply enjoy good food.
Pandan is an important ingredient of good Sri Lankan curry. You can find it online or in Asian stores. It’s also widely used in Indian and Thai cuisine. In savoury dishes, you can replace it with bay leaves. No, it’s not going to taste the same but at least you’re going to enjoy it.
We will start this series of six recipes from sweet and spicy pineapple curry. It is usually served as a side dish or chutney and cooked for a very long time. Our Sri Lankan teacher taught as a quick version that can be ready in 20 minutes!