Have you had a traditional Sri Lankan curry? "Is Sri Lankan food the same as Indian food?" is probably the first thought that comes to mind when trying to answer this question. Sort of, but not really would be the answer.
While the basis of the traditional cuisines is similar (rice and curry), the variations of them are vastly different. Sri Lankan cuisine has uniquely been shaped historically and culturally over the ages, and Indian cuisine differs in itself solely due to the size and cultural makeup of the country. The food you get in North India is almost a completely different cuisine than the South Indian dishes.
So what's the difference between Sri Lankan and Indian curries? Both heavily rely on rice and spices, and are not always, but often spicy. From the island's colonial history, which saw many foreign traders bringing in new, unknown food items, to influences of the country's ethnic groups, and neighboring countries, namely South India, adding their flavors and spices into the mix, it's a cuisine that actually goes far beyond the traditional rice and curry. Apart from a heavier use of coconut, the Sri Lankan cuisine offers a wide array of different flavor combinations: sweet and spicy onion or pickle relishes, flaming hot curries mellowed down by rice, coconut, or curd, and sticky dessert sweetened by jaggery or palm sugar. It's a refined taste that might overwhelm the Western palate at first, but will definitely be greatly missed once the holiday is over.
On the hunt of this refined taste, many travel agents are offering culinary tours through Sri Lanka, exploring the many different styles of cooking this country has to offer. Recently, we were happy to host The Spice Circuit, a culinary tour operator that merges hospitality and culinary experiences by offering insights into the regional cuisines of South India and Sri Lanka. A group of 15 people, led by Chef Kanthi Thamma and Wilson Rajan, visited Sri Lanka for 9 days. They chose Wild Grass Nature Resort as one of their destinations to immerse themselves into local cooking practices, learn about different spices and ingredients used in the traditional village style dishes and prepare some of the staple Sri Lankan food items themselves! Our team was thrilled to be part of this experience and put together a busy schedule for the Spice Circuit, packed with many cooking demonstrations and plenty of time for the group to test their skills in curry making - after all, a group full of cooks can't skip the one activity that brought them together on this journey!
The Spice Circuit at Wild Grass Nature Resort
Welcomed with a late poolside tea party hosted by our Chef Sampath, the travelers dove right into their first session: "Sri Lankan Cooking 101", which introduced them to spices and local specialties: string hoppers (small nests of what looks like thin spaghettis served alongside curries), coconut sambol (freshly grated coconut with chili and different spices), and different type of village style curries prepared in clay pots.
With a full agenda for the following day, it was an early lights out for the travelers and time to get some much needed rest.
The agenda for the following days was packed with a mix of culinary immersion and sightseeing. After all, the Cultural Triangle offers some of the most sought out tourist spots, and a visit to the Sigiriya area is not complete without climbing Sigiriya Rock, a rock-fortress towering high over the surrounding plains, observing animals at Minneriya National Park, and gazing at the over 150 Buddha statues and intricately painted caves of the Dambulla Cave Temple.
The chefs left their ladles and pots back at the resort for the morning hours and, after enjoying an energizing and filling breakfast, headed out early in the morning of Day 2 to climb the Lion's Rock and take in the stunning surroundings.
Chef Sampath picked up the group after their climb to head to the local market in Dambulla. Marvelling at the colorful spreads of local produce, the group picked out organic fruits and vegetables for the next culinary session.
Hungry from climbing over 5,000 steps and strolling through the marketl, the cooks were welcomed back to the hotel with a cooking demonstration and lunch spread including green pol sambol, garlic and red onion curry, pork black curry and a traditional Sinhala pickle dish (a medley of pickles and other veggies served as a relish).
Next on the agenda was getting up close to Sri Lanka's wild life. A safari to Minneriya National Park always promises the sight of elephants, peacocks, buffalos, and all kinds of different bird species.
The last evening of the tour called for another interactive cooking demonstration by Chef Sampath. This time, the group prepared a traditional crumb fried fish curry, Badapu Waw Malu, followed by beef curry, Ambul Thial, a fish curry prepared in a clay pot, brinjal (eggplant) curry, alongside Pittu, a typical side dish made out of steamed cylinders of ground rice layered with coconut. The group's sweet tooth was satisfied with Jaggery Pudding, a local pudding made from the cane sugar Jaggery.
With many new recipes, impressions, and inspiration for new dishes, the Spice Circuit bid farewell the following morning and set off Dambulla Cave Temple en route to their next destination.
It was a pleasure hosting this culinary experience and we are looking forward to the next Spice Circuit group!
Interested in a similar experience? Reach out to the Spice Circuit for more information on their tours, and be sure to try our wide array of local curries when you visit us at Wild Grass! Our chef and kitchen staff will be happy to explain and recommend dishes from the local Sri Lankan cuisine. And don't worry, spice levels can be adapted to your palate!
Which typical Sri Lankan dishes have you tried? Leave a comment below!
Looking for more travel inspiration while staying at Wild Grass? Read Your Wild Grass Adventure to prepare and make the most out of your trip!