The foodie guide to spicy Sri Lanka
Loco for coconut
This enticing teardrop-shaped country south of India lives up to my imagination of tea plantations, rainforest, ocean and curry. Lots of curry. Seeking out food on my travels envelopes me in the history, geography, culture and tradition of a country and Sri Lanka doesn't disappoint with mouth-watering traditional Sri Lankan cuisine. Coconut and seafood abound on this tropical island, steer clear of anything resembling British Colonial-on-a-plate and instead go for string hoppers, rice noodle pancakes and curry.
On arriving in the capital Colombo, many visitors head straight out of town to the beaches or the mountains. Instead, head directly for the Tintagel Paradise Road Hotel, you'll feel like you're entering your own private residence. The hotel is set on a leafy street in a quiet neighbourhood where high walls, hedges and the odd monkey are your neighbours. Political leaders have called this hotel home and with only 10 rooms the service and design is a calm oasis in the bustling Sri Lankan capital.
Have breakfast at the hotel before heading out in the bustling city. I'd recommend the curd and kithul treacle which is a Sri Lankan specialty of buffalo milk yoghurt and sweet syrup made from the toddy palm, plus fresh fruit and a cup of Ceylon tea.
Next on the travel agenda: the labyrinthian Pettah Markets (Keyzer St, Colombo). Best to go with a guide, it's so large, diverse and confusing. The chilli section of the food market alone is mind-boggling both is scope and diversity.
A visit to Colombo isn't complete without dining at Ministry of Crab housed in the Old Dutch Hospital, a building more than 400 years old. Here you will taste the freshest local crab and prawn curries.
The train journey from Colombo to the city of Galle on the southern tip of the island hugs the coast allowing the Indian Ocean to lap at the open carriage doors. Check into the Amangalla in the Galle Fort - the fortified old city district of Galle, it's truly breathtaking. From the pool to the gardens to the traditional Sri Lankan curry and afternoon tea on the verandah it's a charming respite after fast-paced Colombo.
Evenings in Galle Fort are sublime. After the heat of the day subsides, stroll through the little laneways lined with beautifully restored houses and palm trees; you'll see why this is a UNESCO heritage site.
What to eat in Galle? Local spices of peppercorn and cinnamon feature heavily and with a Sri Lankan meal usually consisting of 10 to 12 curries plus red rice, roti and coconut sambol, it's truly a delight to mix and match, each mouthful balanced and in contrast to the last. My picks are the beetroot curry, brinjal eggplant and chilli fish curry. The Dining Room at the Amangalla has a daily changing menu based on what the chef finds at the various markets each day - eating here will see you experience traditional, fresh Sri Lankan cuisine.
Insider tip: as you travel through Sri Lanka you will hear "crab", "curry" and "Geoffrey Bawa". Bawa is a famous local architect and his final project, The Last House in Tangalle, is located right on the southern tip of the island surrounded by surf beaches and towns making it the perfect hideaway.
With only 6 rooms you may find you have this seaside oasis all to yourself. Kitted out with a mix of antique furniture, a central swimming pool and wrap-around balconies, you'll be planning your next trip through the rainforest and tea plantations back to this very spot asap.
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