More to come, I promise! Check in to see recommended food staples of a region and restaurants that you can't afford to miss.
*Disclaimer: I cannot be held responsible for keyboard damage due to drool. Just saying.
|Roti is a simple and delicious must when vising Sri Lanka|
As an American I had a preconceived idea of what a restaurant was. I was naive. At the time my only out of the country travel was limited to Costa Rica. An amazing country, no less, but very tourist friendly. I was blown away at the exotic idea of buying pineapple slices in a zip lock bag. I thought I was ready for Sri Lanka. I stood corrected when we went out for our first dinner. The building was merely a supported roof off of an enclosed kitchen that looks like it had been used since World War II. The tables had mismatched table clothes paired with plastic chairs. Was this the restaurant? I didn't know what I had gotten into, but I was hungry and there wasn't exactly a Pizza Hut I could resort to. Without much faith, I dug into my first Sri Lankan dish. It was in that instant, that I felt the food could be served in a New York City subway car during rush hour and I would still be as smitten as a kitten. From their sambul with pomdadon, to breakfasts of lassi and roti, the meals were divine. Gone were my notions of what a restaurant had to look like or have. Some of the scariest looking restaurants were the best. A good rule of thumb, if it was busy with locals, it was probably worth checking out. Being friendly with the staff is a must. It's a chance to make friends with locals and if they like you, they may let you in on some local knowledge or perks. One night while debating over the menu, the chef came out to interrupt us with a massive, still twitching, beautiful snapper. "Do you have time for me to cook this?" Oh yes, yes we did. The wait was worth it as we were presented with a feast meant for a king. Another restaurant where we had often visited let us know to call him in advance so he could make us the best biryani. He did make the most scrumptious biryani. The best dining experience, however, did not occur in a restaurant at all, but in fact at someone's home.
During our time in the country, we had genuinely befriended our tuk tuk driver, Asmir. To show his friendship and Muslim hospitality, he welcomed us into his home for a "proper" meal. I have never felt such a powerful bonding moment over food before. Here we were, two completely different cultures brought together over a shared meal. We were learning from one another. Mostly us Americans were learning, since we were not used to eating every dish with your hands while you sat cross-legged on the floor. We shared as many stories as we did laughs. We now truly understood one another. After dinner the family shared their very personal family photo album over tea. To this day, I don't know what magic they used to make such delicious tea. I have tried to remake it to no avail. The only thing that out shined our after dinner beverage was the company itself. I will never forget the hospitality they showed me and that is the essence of why we eat socially.
As much as I loved the food in Sri Lanka, I must prepare you diners for some unsavory tidbits. If you are partial to hygiene, it may be wise to carry some hand sanitizer with you. Some establishments did not have soap or toilet paper in the bathroom. It's also good to carry napkins. Not only for the restrooms, but a lot of restaurants opted for newspaper clippings in place of napkins. Thrifty, but not conducive for soaking up curry sauces.
These are very trivial, but one thing got to me more than I like to admit. As much as I tried to stay culturally relativistic, it was hard to ignore the fact that we were in a strict Muslim community. If you are a woman, do not be surprised if you are ignored in a restaurant. Especially if it is more of a "locals only" place. I was brought whatever my boyfriend ordered. If he ordered a Coke, I was brought a Coke regardless if I wanted a Fanta instead. Luckily, the food my boyfriend at the time ordered was delicious, so my annoyance was short lived. Although for the second round of drinks I made him order a Fanta because that one I couldn't let go.
I respect the cultural beliefs of that region, so even though it bothered me, I did not address it. It was not my place, and I knew it was their way of showing respect. I can't be upset about that even if their way of showing it differs from mine. All in all, Sri Lanka was such a growing experience not only for my pallet, but also for the spirit. I haven't been to a country since where I could feel so much of their love and soul in the ingredients of their food. I hope to make it back for seconds!
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