I've always been particularly fond of markets, whether it's fresh produce, gourmet food, wet markets, antiques, knick knacks and odds and ends. I used to meet up with friends in London on the weekends around various markets, from Borough to Camden to Notting Hill and more for breakfast, shopping and strolling. And, I've fallen into a similar pattern or habit in Sri Lanka. Sometimes I'm all down to business at my local pola buying what I need on my grocery list, while other times I meet my friends at one of the weekend markets and stroll leisurely through, enjoying a few snacks and drinks while taking in the vibe and atmosphere.
Over the past few years a few regular specialty markets have arisen, which has added some variety into the mix and brought more awareness to organically farmed produce and healthier (sometimes even gourmet) local foods. In addition, the facilities or venues for some of these markets have been greatly improved ensuring a better overall experience. I have truly fallen in love with the "let it all" hang out, higgledy-piggledy local polas, which sprawl out across the road in a seemingly haphazard manner and where you find all sorts of amusing characters to interact with.
On Sundays, I sometimes head to Mount Lavinia Beach to meet friends who live on that side of Colombo for an early morning walk (or a swim depending on the time of year), then we stop by the pola to grab some goodies. Mount Lavinia's Sunday Pola is a really vibrant market with a neighborly feel to it. They sell mainly fresh produce with a wet market for fresh seafood straight from the sea.
As with Sunday pola around the island, I enjoy hearing the calls from the vendors, asking the prices, asking for the fresher produce, sometimes bargaining the price and watching people go about their business.
Over the years I've come to learn about most of the local fruit and vegetables. In fact 'm still learning, as each time I find something new at the pola. And I usually experiment with the different vegetables when I cook, with some surprisingly tasty results
There are many local polas like this one in most suburbs around the island. I recommend exploring your local pola if you haven't done so already!
There are many advantages to getting to know some of the vendors to get the freshest produce, or what's in season, or to source something for you or learn about the medicinal value of certain herbs, fruits and vegetables. And you start to feel like part of the local community like this is "home".
If you're looking for the new marketplaces around Colombo, then you'll be in for a treat at the Good Market which promotes organically grown, sustainable products and is currently held on Saturday's at the Colombo Racecourse (check the Good Market website or Facebook page for the latest information). There is also the market stalls selling fresh produce, flowers, plants and gardening items at Diyatha Uyana located near Waters Edge in Battaramulla.
And the Pettah Floating Markets, which opened in August 2014, as a series of pavilions constructed at the far end of Beira Lake between the Pettah bus station and the railway station. Stalls sell everything from electronics to clothes, food, fresh produce and more.
There are lots of opinions about all these newer marketplaces , but I think you have to go and see for yourself.
If you're venturing further afield, I'd also recommend checking out the Galle Pola or Galle Fort Golden Flea Market, which is usually held on the first Sunday of each month at the historic Law Court Square. Check out their website for the latest information.
And don't forget to visit the Kandy Central Market, which is open daily. It was opened in the late 1950s and sells fruit and vegetables, fish, meat, dry goods as well as sweets and baked items.
It's a real eye-opening experience if you've never seen the wet market or butchers in an Asian country. Be warned, not for the faint-hearted (so look away from some of the photos below )
There are also specialty markets that happen annually or sporadically during the year that are worth looking out for. This is not exhaustive, but offers a taste of some of what's on offer.
There is Kala Pola which is an annual open-air art fair that draws its inspiration from similar open-air art fairs in Europe. It has been held for over 20 years and is usually conducted in January of each year in Colombo. Check out the Sri Lankan Art Gallery website for details on this year's 2015 Kala Pola.
The Colombo Design Market in Colombo makes it's comeback this October 2015 (it was last held in July 2015). According to their Facebook page it is "a curated design market for homegrown designers, artists, craftsman, musicians and creatives to collaborate, create, showcase and sell their work".
Colombo Flea Market in Colombo is all about sustainable living, so their focus on "refuse, reduce, reinforce, repair, reuse, recycle" is noteworthy. They held their latest flea market this past Sunday. It's worth checking out their Facebook page for details of future dates and details.
Happy market days!