Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My Sri Lankan Food Diary: Just an average week of eating

"You are what you eat"

Have you heard this saying before? Mmmm... Well, I really don't know about that! 

My diet is so varied and given I now reside in Sri Lanka I wonder what it really says about me. That said, I never used to worry about my calorie intake nor about what I ate, but as time has passed I now give due consideration to what, how much and when to eat.

Anyhoo, the reason behind this particular post is twofold.

The first has to do with people wanting to know a bit about my diet in Sri Lanka (i.e. what kind of food I prefer to cook and/or eat and how I've acclimatized to local food culture). And the second is my own curiosity as to whether my normal eating habits are particularly skewed towards specific foods, whether it's healthy (or not) and the balance between eating in or out.

This post might be quite interesting (and possibly embarrassing)... Now one thing to note is I do tend to travel a few times each month out of Colombo for work and play, so for this average week I've selected a week where I'm traveling for a few days of the week.

Monday

It's the start of the work week so most of the time it's a bit of a frenzy on Monday mornings. I'm usually fatigued from the weekend because I pack so much in (my own fault of course) and end up rolling out of bed in a rush to get myself ready. Story of my Mondays!

Breakfast starts with a freshly percolated coffee. Today it's illy coffee from Italy (my lovely mother had brought me some on her last visit and I'm almost down to the last tin. Gah!). I had ground fresh coffee beans the day before (a Sunday ritual). And I love how my kitchen smells of roasted coffee beans.

As I'm in a rush, I pull out a couple of slices of kurakkan bread and pop it into the toaster. When it pops up I quickly spread some peanut butter on both and cut up a banana to put on each slice. It may seem unusual, but it's actually quite tasty - a fusion of nutty, salty and sweet.

It's a busy day as I have to get across Colombo for appointments, so I kind of skip lunch. I snack on some raw almonds, kurakkan crackers (secret stash) and eat two small bananas. Throughout the day I'm drinking lots of H2O, as well as two cups of milk tea.

By evening time I am famished. It's been a long day and I'm heading home today around 7pm. Although it's not skewed the way I like it (i.e. I prefer a heavier lunch and lighter dinner), I'm due for a proper meal. That said, I can't be bothered to cook because I know I've got to finish some work this evening from home. So on the way home I stop to pick up some string hoppers, kiri hoti and pol sambal (note - the photo below is not exactly what I ate, but close to it). It costs me less than Rs 100.


I'd have to say, it hasn't been one of my better food days, but it can't be perfect everyday, right? It looks like I've also been inadvertently vegetarian today too.

Tuesday

I head out for some exercise early this morning. I love to run and stretch. For some reason I'm not-so-good at brisk walking and I feel my body needs to run. I exercise for an hour and on the way back home I pick up two malu paan to eat at home. Depending on where you buy them malu paan cost somewhere between Rs 25 to Rs 40.

Shorteats are very popular in Sri Lanka. It ranges from savoury pastries and puffs to sweet and savoury buns, rolls and more.


Instead of coffee I prefer to eat my malu paan with a milk tea. So, this morning I sit out on my balcony munching on my two malu paan and listen to the chirping of the birds taking time to relax before heading in to shower to get ready for yet another day. I feel energized after the run and still hungry, so I eat a set yoghurt which will probably help with my digestion.

Today is a quieter day, though I have work to churn out. I know I'll be traveling on Friday, so there is much to do in anticipation of that.

I'm invited out for a lunch and we eat at a Thai restaurant in Colombo. We order a couple of dishes to share and enjoy the Thai-style rice and curries. It's a decadent lunch for a Tuesday, but I'll take it when it comes!

More work... same old-same old...

Get off work early so I have time to get a little creative in the kitchen. Today I'm feeling the Brit in me craves some Eva-style food. It was to be home-cooked seared tuna with garlic mash and mango salsa. I have some lovely tuna which I marinate with chilli flakes, fresh garlic, a dash of sauces, salt to taste. After 15 minutes I pan fry over gentle heat. To accompany the tuna I prepare garlic potato mash and a mango salsa. Delicious!


Wednesday

I head out for an hour of exercise then home again for breakfast. One of the luxuries of living in a fertile country such as Sri Lanka is the abundance of delicious fruit. This is an example of my fruit bowl - I have soursop, mangosteen, mangoes, dragon fruit, an apple and an orange. Note - the apple and the orange are imported!


Some mornings, like this particular morning, I enjoy a selection of fruit for breakfast. It is high in natural sugar so it will keep me going for most of the morning.

It's a quick lunch on the run. I pop into a pastry shop to get some shorteats and rock on with work. It's not substantial, but I've been invited to my friend Rukshi's home for dinner. She can cook up a storm, so it's all good.

Dinner can't come around fast enough. What more can you ask for... good company, laughs and most importantly, tasty srilankan food! The dishes we enjoy are similar to the photo below - different curries, sambals and chutneys with rice.


Thursday

During the week it's too hectic to cook myself anything for breakfast. I normally wait till the weekend for a good ol' fry up or something a little more decadent. This morning I am lucky in the sense I have leftovers from the night before, neatly packed by Rukshi. She knows how much I love her home-cooked food (no additives!) so she generously sent me home last night with leftovers.

After an hour of exercise early this morning I return home and heat up a plate of food and tuck in. I doubt I'll need much for lunch after a big meal like that for breakfast.

It's another busy day pulling things together, meeting and finishing things off. I also meet with my friend Kumar for a quick coffee in the afternoon and enjoy something sweet. In this case it's a bite-sized strawberry tart. One is never enough, but I curb my urge to have more than one! As always in Sri Lanka it is really sweet.


On that sweet note, if you don't know this already, this beautiful island is, quite simply, addicted to sugar. Have you seen that episode on The Simpsons (titled "Sweets and Sour Marge") where Marge is on the rampage and trying to sue the sugar company because Springfield is the world's fattest town? I swear Sri Lanka would have sugar withdrawal symptoms if we ran out of sugar on the island! Generally speaking, one of the most useful phrases I know in sinhala is "Seeni epa" or "Seeni nettuwa" because they add about four to six teaspoons in every drink. I use this phrase often and I have no hesitation about it. I mean, the fruit here is naturally sweet, why on earth do you need to add sugar to a fruit juice? There's already natural sugars in the fruit! Consider yourself warned!

I feel somewhat inspired by last night's meal so I decide to cook some food at home. Looking in my fridge I have okra (also known as ladies fingers), baby jackfruit and potatoes. I decide to practice my srilankan recipes. It turns out well, at least it passes my taste test and looks pretty damn good in these photos.




Since moving to Sri Lanka my diet has definitely changed over time particularly with the amount of meat I consume. Meat is readily available in the local supermarkets and meat shops, but for some reason I don't feel inclined to cook a lot of it. Plus, a lot of sri lankan dishes are vegetarian.

That said, I probably get my fill of meat dishes when I go out with friends to a restaurant for a meal or alternatively, if I go for a buffet or smorgasbord at a hotel. There are some rather decadent buffets in Colombo.

I'm also keen on seafood. In fact, I've always loved all kinds of seafood. And Sri Lanka is ideal for fresh fish, prawns, cuttle fish or squid and crab. I probably eat more seafood, especially fish (like tuna, thalpath, seer fish etc) than meat.

Friday

Depart Colombo early at around 5am to beat the peak traffic. We're heading north'ish, and there are some great options for breakfast along the way. I feel like some egg hoppers for breakfast. Usually I might have hoppers for dinner once a week, but I missed out this week, so the breakfast option sounds enticing. We find a clean and relaxing place that serves egg hoppers and I devour two egg hoppers and two plain ones with a pot of tea. This will keep me sustained till much later!


The rest of the morning is fairly uneventful on the food front, other than a stop along the way for thambili (king coconut water) and then another later on for a beli mal herbal tea, made from the flowers of the bael tree. I quite like the fragrance of beli mal and I usually drink it with a few pieces of kithul jaggery.

Lunch turns out to be a fairly filling affair, although it should also be considered a late one. We end up at a rest house for rice and curry and they manage to rustle up about seven or eight dishes to accompany rice (note - the photo below was taken midway through the meal). Fresh fruit and ice cream for dessert. Wow! Full up.


Sometimes I find it's difficult to find a place for lunch when traveling if you're later than the usual lunch hours. That usually reduces your options down to rest houses, hotels and tourist spots. Of these three, if you're looking for rice and curry, I'd say the rest house option is probably your best bet. But if you're searching around the normal lunch hour, there are some fantastic, low-key and traditional looking "by-the-side-of-the-road" options that can quite literally blast your taste buds away. I have to also admit that it can be hit-and-miss if you pick the wrong place. And your tummy will not be happy with you. Trust me, I know!

Do you know how hard it is to concentrate on anything with a full stomach? It was definitely a huge challenge after lunch. Sometimes traveling can make you eat more than your body needs!

By the time dinner rolls around we were safely checked into our accommodation. On Fridays or sometime over the weekend I like to have fish and chips or bangers and mash. Something that reminds me of home. As we'd eaten a lot today, I figured a one-plate dinner would be a good option for my evening meal, so I ordered crumbed fish and vegetables.



Saturday

It's the weekend and I'm still out of Colombo so I'm going to make the most of it before heading back. Breakfast starts with this healthy looking plate of fruit. There's something so appetizing with good presentation.


I would usually make the most of any travel to do something adventurous but this time I have to cut it short as I promised friends that I'd meet up in Colombo and go for chilli crab. Sometimes I so wish I planned things better. Luckily we're not too far north nor too far east for it to be difficult to drive back.

There are a few stops along the way for drinks and snacks, but nothing especially interesting to note.

After a long drive we're back in Colombo. My stomach is growling at me so I make an executive decision to stop for rice and curry at one of my favorite low key eateries. It's a personal favorite of mine and it is usually packed with customers who either buy take-away lunch packets or have their meal there. I think it's the price that is attractive to most customers as well as the food quality.


It's back home for me after lunch. I get a few hours to rest and also catch up on things at home before I have to get ready to go and meet my friends.

I truly enjoy the Asian way of appreciating good food and friendship. It's lovely and enjoyable. The place we've picked is a new'ish one and is receiving some attention for its chilli crab.


Now, I am a bit of an expert at chilli crab. I've eaten some of the best chilli crab in Singapore, Penang and Melbourne. I'd like to tell you the chilli crab at the restaurant we tried was exceptional, but unfortunately it didn't have enough "wok flavor" even though the sauce was tasty enough. The evening though was enjoyable - plenty of laughs, stories and good times catching up with my group of friends.

Sunday

Sundays are one of my favorite days of the week. It's a day that usually starts with a lie in if I'm at home in Colombo. This is then followed by a "fry up" or english breakfast. For me this consists of eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, tomato, baked beans, toast and sometimes hash brown. I should really take a photo of this but somehow I keep forgetting. Or maybe, it's just embarrassing that a woman like me can eat so much!

Of course I have a nice pot of percolated lavazza coffee to light up my Sunday morning. Nothing beats a lazy Sunday!

I potter around home for most of the day. I feel like using my oven today to make homemade pizza. I make pizza dough from scratch and I'm creative with my toppings. I figure I can enjoy it as a snack in the afternoon and maybe also for dinner after I get back from drinks (if I'm still hungry).


I have drinks with my expat gang in the late afternoon. It's a regular thing - we try to meet up at least once a month (or more if our schedules permit) at a cafe or one of the hotels. We've known each other for awhile now so it's great to be able to have a moan and a giggle about expat life and discuss relevant issues.

So, that's my food diary for an average week in Sri Lanka. It's a real mix of food if I say so myself! Not to mention a lot going on around the food... Ho hum.

Eva's Note - you may have wondered why I haven't named any specific restaurant, cafe or hotel in this post. The main reason is that I don't want to endorse any particular business as this post is more about my experience with local food and culture rather than advertising and providing a review.

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