Saturday, August 31, 2013

Second instalment of "My Sri Lankan Food Diary": Just another average week of eating

My first installment of "My Sri Lankan Food Diary: Just an average week of eating" proved to be a very popular read. It seems there are a lot of foodies out there... wink

I seem to be experiencing some interesting moments when it comes to food, so I thought I'd share (yet again) some of my food discoveries, delights and also some of the ordinary bits too! If you're lucky, I might even share one of my stellar recipes that never fails to impress visitors to my humble home.

If I were the "stay-at-home" type of person, I don't think I would come across even half of the stuff I come across on my wee adventures. The fact I explore is often part of the process of opening my eyes, ears, taste buds (and my heart and mind) to new and wonderful things. For this, I feel truly blessed. I would rather dislike something after trying it, than not have had the gumption to try it at all. It gives me better odds at discovering things I like, possibly even love and then some!

So, here we go again... same rules apply: this is another average week where I'm traveling for a few days of the week.

“I am not a glutton - I am an explorer of food” ~ Erma Bombeck

Sunday

I'm on the road travelling back from upcountry. I'm supposed to be back in Colombo for various work commitments for this coming week. The weekend, which happened to start on Friday for me, has been deliriously kind to me and I am completely blissed out on my adventures. Such a great feeling!

I spot a shop selling fresh vegetables by the roadside. The produce looks good so I decide to stock up for the journey home. I pick up an assortment of eggplant, cabbage, runner beans, pumpkin, potatoes, okra, cucumbers and other local vegetables I've never seen before.


And then, it's back on the road again. A little while later, my stomach is rumbling because I only had a few cups of tea for breakfast. Though it was very nice tea, I can safely tell you, it has gone right through me smile emoticon

Luckily, it's around lunch time now and I've found myself in a pretty town called Bandarawella where I can see there are many options for lunch. I decide on a quaint looking hotel where there are plenty of flowers blooming in their luscious garden. They have a Sunday lunch buffet on offer, as well as an a la carte menu.


There's an assortment of Sri Lankan specialities - curries, sambals, pickles and salads, as well as, a selection of western hot dishes, grilling station, salad bar, soup and desserts.

The hotel did seem to be quite busy with a large European tour group, other smaller groups of travelers and some local families enjoying Sunday lunch. Often, I've observed tourists eating predominantly western food from these sorts of buffets with some small sampling of the local Sri Lankan dishes. I always find this disappointing because most of the hotels and establishments across the island tend to do exceedingly well cooking up a storm of local Sri Lankan dishes, but not as well with other cuisines. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but they are few and far between.

My advice is always to enjoy more of the local dishes, particularly as this is what they're good at cooking, and what comes naturally.

It's still a fair drive back to Colombo so I head off straight after lunch. I have a brief stopover in Ratnapura to catch up with an old friend. No time for more than refreshments. I need to get back on the road, otherwise it'll be fairly late back into Colombo and I have a ton of things to do before Monday rocks on up...

Luckily, the traffic isn't that congested. I take an alternative route, which is more through back roads and is longer in distance, back to Colombo and the journey is more enjoyable. I make a quick stop off at a fruit stall by the road side and buy some mangosteen, as well as something I haven't tried before... "gadu guda" or langsats. These little yellow-skinned fruits are sweet when ripe with a bit of an acidic tang.

Eventually, I make it safely home with a few hours to spare!


On the way home I pick up string hoppers, dhal curry and a fish curry. This is so convenient and when I unwrap it at home, it settles my tummy for the evening.




Monday

So here I am back in Colombo and all I can think about is my next trip away. It's not that I don't like my life in Colombo. It's more the freedom and space I crave when my responsibilities in Colombo have been fulfilled. Work and other responsibilities fill up the already cluttered mind with thoughts and activities, and it is so nice to recharge on nature. I'm ever-so grateful for being able to bus, train or drive my way out of Colombo when time permits.

So, the day starts off quietly. It's always a tad mellow after coming off a road trip. I should really go for a run, but my mind and body says "Do it tomorrow!", so I put it off. How easy was that? Too easy!

I bought an assortment of fruit on my trip back so I have a mixed juice of watermelon, lime and papaya for breakfast. I need to hit the deck running today, so it's all systems go. I'll think about solid food later...

Unfortunately, my day doesn't seem to go the way I expected and I find myself skipping lunch. I've probably only filled my tank with a couple of cups of milk tea, water and some bananas during the day.

I make it home and decide I have to cook something hearty for dinner. It will help me unwind and I get to "play" a little in the kitchen. I don't want to spend hours cooking so I make a few small vegetarian dishes - "dhal" or yellow lentil curry, stir-fried okra and a turkey berry (also known as thibbatu) sambal - and eat them with samba rice. I discovered turkey berries or wild eggplants at the vegetable stall on Sunday. Rukshi gave me an easy recipe and I try it - the dish (according to me) was a little bitter, but was offset by the recipe's fried shallots and spices.











Tuesday

I wake early after a good night's rest. I'm meant to join my friend, Lily for a run along the beach. She's a regular beach jogger and you'll often see her running every morning. She's an expat from Australia married to a Sri Lankan. I've been promising to join her for one of her morning runs, and today I make it to the beach. The sun has only just risen so it's still cool enough for a good run. I'm surprised at how many people are walking and running on the beach at this early hour, but clearly they want to exercise before heading to work or before the sun really comes out. The other thing that surprises me is the wonderful feeling of running on the sand. Maybe, I should join Lily more often for a run along the beach before work or at least on the weekends.

We decide to grab a quick bite to eat together before parting ways. Short eats are the simplest and quickest for this time of the morning. I have a fish rotti and vegetable roti washed down with a cup of milk tea. Lily orders a couple of fish buns and a cup of coffee.


Afterwards, I rush home to shower and change before heading out to work. It's another busy day and I'm run off my feet. I have to work through my lunch hour so instead of skipping lunch, I grab something sweet to give me a sugar boost. I find something similar in taste to petite madeleines and little lime cakes. No, I didn't eat all of these, but had a couple of each. It makes me smile for the rest of the afternoon!



I'm in another good mood for cooking, and I'm hungry from only having had a sugar treat in the afternoon. I make a spicy fish curry, stir-fried cabbage and kathuramurunga, and a bitter gourd sambal. I have a tall kathuramurunga tree in my garden that is always providing plenty of these leaves. It's great for a stir-fry or mixing and cooking with freshly grated coconut. The latter is often how the Sri Lankans like to cook it.





Wednesday

It's hump day already. This means we're half way through the working week, and the weekend is just around the corner.

I start the morning with a run. It feels stellar to get the heart pumping and endorphins flowing. I never used to run that much back in the UK, but somehow living in a tropical climate, the joy of running came to me. Go figure!

They say "thambili" or king coconut water cools the body down, so I indulge in a nice glassful or two . Usually one king coconut fills 3/4 quarters of a jug. I usually scrape out some of the delicious tender flesh to enjoy.


I also have an assortment of fruits (i.e. papaya, dragon fruit and bananas) for breakfast. Some mornings when it's a little hot and humid I don't have an appetite for anything more substantial. Plus, fruit and its natural sugars makes you feel amazing.

A few of my colleagues ask me to go out for an impromptu and casual lunch. On the spur of the moment I agree. It's not fancy, and I end up ordering a kottu roti, like some of the others. It's a little oily for my liking. However, it's such a popular local dish, you can't really go wrong with ordering it. When I first came to Sri Lanka I used to marvel at how the kottu roti was cooked, the sounds of the blades on the iron sheet as the roti, vegetables and other ingredients are heated and mixed together, and the flavorful dish at the end of it all. This costs me approximately Rs. 300.


The rest of the day is pretty uneventful. Surprisingly I feel like cooking something nice for dinner. I invite my neighbor over for a meal. Sometimes we get together, at either of our houses, to catch up, share a few stories and have a few laughs.

I prepare a few dishes for us...

The first is one of my favorites. I have a real soft spot for baby jak fruit or "polos". Definitely on my favorite list of local vegetables. It's taken me awhile to master this dish. I know there are quite a few recipes for cooking polos curry, but I'm trying to perfect the one I know. I think the main thing is boiling it till it's really tender first. If you can get this right, the rest is about balancing flavors. My recipe uses "goraka" or malabar tamarind, which I have never used before coming to Sri Lanka. It has a very distinct and sharp flavor.



I also make a "brinjal" sambal of sorts. This is supposed to be a stellar dish for me (i.e. my local friends rate this one, and tell me it's an A+ dish). The key is to fry the brinjal pieces till they are lovely and brown, giving them a smoky flavor.


By the time I finish cooking this dish, the sambal is salty, chilli hot, sweet and sour - a real assortment of sensations on your tastebuds!


The final dish is an easy one - stir-fried bokchoy with garlic and oyster sauce. I've found the supermarkets stock bok choy, which is popular with the chinese population on the island. One of my expat chinese buddies gave me a simple recipe for booking bok choy and I usually have it once a week at home. You need to make sure the vegetables are washed well as there is often sand, insects and dirt in these vegetables.


I've learnt to never over-cook chinese vegetables. They only take a few minutes to stir fry.


This is probably one of my best meals at home this week. Great food and great company! I seem like I've been doing a lot of cooking this week. Maybe it has something to do with all the fresh vegetables I got on my trip - inspiration?


Thursday

It seems like this week is running away from me. I'm having one of those lazy mornings where I really don't feel like running or exercising. So, instead I catch a few more winks and then get up and cook myself a half-decent breakfast. It's not like my usual weekend fry-ups, but it's going to start me off nicely for a Thursday! I have scrambled eggs on toast with chicken sausage and baked beans. I finally make myself a decent brew of percolated illy coffee - I have two cups before I leave the house.


The day is pretty hectic. I wonder when my working weeks are going to slow down. I don't manage to get out for lunch, but after my lovely brekkie, my stomach isn't carving for food. I get by on cashew nuts, caffeine and crackers in between the busyness of the day.

I feel like I haven't seen some of my expat friends in awhile so we agree to meet up for a light meal and a few drinks. I end up having a vegetable wrap with side salad and wedges for dinner and enjoy a frappuccino or two. Lol! Eva is definitely not living it large tonight.



Friday

I'm working from home today. I think I've had enough of commuting and running around Colombo. I also have plans to have a few girlfriends over tonight, so being at home helps me to give my house a clean, pop out to get groceries, and basically have a quieter work day (*fingers crossed*).

I have a leisurely breakfast after a quick run this morning. I have a couple of slices of toast with peanut butter and banana. It's actually quite tasty, but not everyone has the same view. I also enjoy a nice pot of percolated illy coffee.

My girlfriends have made a special request for Eva's Spicy Squid Fried Rice for dinner. It's a real favorite among my mates, so I need to get to the fishmonger for some fresh seafood. I only need fresh squid, but while I'm there I figure I'll get a few other treats as well.

I occasionally go into the fishmonger, but there are other times I go down to the beach early and buy directly from the fishermen as they come off their boats and display their catch along the beach. There is nothing quite like it!

After spending the morning doing a bit of work, I nip out to the shops. The fishmonger has quite a range of seafood on display.




I make a few purchases and on the way home I pick up a rice and curry lunch packet. I figure I have to cook tonight so it's far easier to have something ready-made for lunch. It costs me around Rs. 230 with squid curry. The vegetarian option is only Rs. 140. It looks like a bit of a mess, but this is due to the fact I already started to eat before thinking about taking a photo of my lunch packet. One thing's for sure, it is very spicy and I'm in need of a shower after lunch! redface


The rest of the afternoon is pretty mellow. I sip on fresh guava and lime juice for most of the afternoon. It's amazing what you can get done by working from home (one the home front as well as work wise). It makes me feel pretty chilled for a Friday.

My friends start arriving around 6.30pm. We enjoy a few drinks with nibblies, and get our giggles on.


One of my friends has brought over some unusual fruit for me to try. It's called "gal siyambala" or velvet tamarind. You peel off the velvety skin and eat the flesh inside. It's tangy and sour. When I eat them, they kind of remind me of the sour lollies I used to enjoy when I was in school.


I've already prepped all the ingredients and marinated the squid, so it's real easy to get cooking and pull it all together. Dinner goes down really well. I'll publish my secret recipe for Eva's Spicy Squid Fried Rice in another post. Click here for the recipe.




“Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate. ” ~ Alan D. Wolfelt


Saturday

The great thing about weekends is you don't have to wake up early if you've had a late night the night before. I enjoyed a great evening having my girlfriends over and I take the opportunity to sleep in.

No brekkie for me this morning as I have plans to meet up with Indaka and his family for a buffet lunch. This week has been over-the-top with all the food. This is my second lunch buffet for the week! Talk about decadence and over-eating. Mmmm.... I may need to go on a sugar detox soon!

I'm not sure I have a plan of attack whenever I go for a buffet. I pretty much try the soup if I like the sound of it; have a plate of salads; try a few tasting plates of the hot dishes; and finish up with a selection of desserts I think I might like. I'm picky too. If something looks unappetizing, I definitely give it a miss!





We probably spend over two hours at lunch... it's very relaxed and comfortable with conversation flowing.

I find myself heading home after lunch and then curl up on my sofa for a bit of a snooze. I don't recommend the afternoon snooze after a long lunch. It's bad for you. But, it's either the additives in the food, or fatigue from my previous evening which sends me off to sleep.

After a week of decadent eating I decide to keep things simple for dinner even though I have invitations to go out for dinner and to visit friends. I decide to have a chicken and vegetable soup at home and then go meet my friends a little later to catch a movie. I might even have to give popcorn a miss this time!

* * * * * * * *

So, that's my food diary for another average week in Sri Lanka. 



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.


2 comments:

Lakshan W said...

Hi Eva

As a Sri Lankan I'm amazed at how well you have adapted to our cuisine ! It seems to me you have some great advisers too in this regard if I'm not mistaken - anyways really enjoyed your blog :) and Keep up the Good Work ( of blogging)

Cheers!

Eva Stone said...

Thanks Lakshan. I've enjoyed my food explorations and continue to try new fruits, vegetables and herbs. I think my cooking is improving slowly, but nothing beats a local's know-how! Yes, I've definitely had great advice from my adopted SriLankan family and many friends too. Thanks for the blog love!

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