From guided food tours in the city and countryside plantation visits, to enjoying the local flavours at whimsical beachside restaurants, Sri Lanka is undoubtedly a gourmand’s paradise. Here are six things to put on your list. By Raul Dias
Compared to its rather diminutive size, you’re in for a treat with the sheer volume of street food you can sample when in Colombo. From the ambient “chop-chop” sound of the ubiquitous kottu rotty available at almost every street corner, to the Dutch colonial influenced rice and meat preparation called lamprais, the culinary landscape of the city is peppered with delectable offerings. A great orientation to them is by signing up with the newly launched Airbnb Experiences’ Epic Local Food Hunt, a 3.5-hour long tour with food guru Arqam. Ten local delicacies from isso wade (crispy prawn fritters) and egg hoppers to sweets like kalu dodol (cashew and palm sugar fudge) are in store for you.
Reflective of Colombo’s diverse and decidedly eclectic dining out scene, are a number of international cuisine restaurants that find themselves plonked cheek-by-jowl in a mural-decorated, former industrial alley off the main Park Street. And one such former warehouse-turned-hipster chic café is Monsoon. Here, chefs Ambrim from Malacca in Malaysia and Chef Marilyn from the Kalinga province in the Philippines dish out the regions’ favourite dishes from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam to enormous success, all in a setting that is both cozy and at its whimsical best. Pro tip: dig into the scrumptious Balinese pork belly with sambal matah that is served here and thank us later!
Dine in Style
A labour of love by Sri Lanka’s culture and arts maven Shanth Fernando, Paradise Road The Gallery Café is an ode to all things black and white from the exquisite table linen to the fine, locally produced crockery and cutlery. Established in 1998, this stylish restaurant dishing out elevated versions of traditional Sri Lankan dishes is housed in the former offices of world-renowned Sri Lankan architect, the late Geoffrey Bawa. Make sure to call for the black pork curry served with saffron rice and the caramalised onion seeni sambol to know what divinity tastes like. But hang on, there’s more on offer for the lover of art. Flanking the café is the iconic Paradise Road Galleries that features monthly rotating exhibitions by established and emerging Lankan artists.
Head up country to the fecund city of Kandy and let Chitra, a government licensed cooking teacher since 1989 be your hands-on guide into the world of home style Sri Lankan cookery. The immersive, 3-hour long Airbnb Experiences’ Flavours of Sri Lanka cooking class is where you will experience the ways of cooking typical Sri Lankan dishes like kiri bhat (savoury rice cake) and parippu (lentils curry) in clay pots, using traditional equipment to heighten your ‘live and learn like a local’ experience. And when you’re done, you get to sit down and enjoy the fruits of your collective labour.
As one the main contributors that put this tiny island on the world’s spice trade map—with everyone from the Dutch to the Portuguese and lastly the British claiming a piece of the spicy pie with their colonisation—cinnamon is at the fore in Sri Lanka till this very day. Get up close and personal with this fragrant bark and know all there is to know about it by taking the Airbnb Experiences’ 1.5-hour long Cinnamon Permaculture Garden Visit in Beruwala near the historic city of Galle at the very tip of the island’s southern coast. The organic cinnamon plantation and permaculture garden is a one-hectare farm where you will be shown not just how cinnamon grows but also get an introduction to the hundreds of different vegetables, fruits, spices, nuts, timber and Ayurvedic plants that are grown there.
‘Pun’ Times in Galle!
Still in Galle? Make sure to check out two very interesting places where the puns on offer are as good as the fare they dish out. First, have a light lunch at Tequila Mockingbird housed in the seaside Old Dutch Hospital. This one’s named after the cult-classic cocktail book of the same name, which itself is a pun on the legendary Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Here, you can scarf down a brilliantly made fish burger stuffed with tuna chunks coated in the fiery, local ambultiyal spice paste where the cloves establish their dominance over everything else…in a good way, that is! To cool things off, get yourself a double scoop of the orange zest and pistachio gelatos at Isle of Gelato—housed in a quaint rowhouse along the Old Town’s main Pedlar Street—that’s purported to be Galle’s, nay the country’s, best gelato place.