How to get a real taste of Sri Lanka

Man in Sri Lanka market

In many Asian countries it’s often difficult to get past the ‘tourist menu’ of chicken curry and chips.

This was the dilemma for Sally Johnson on her tour of Sri Lanka, until she discovered that staying in local guesthouses and sharing family meals was the secret to enjoying the real Sri Lankan cuisine…

“We lucked upon this idea on one of our first nights after joining Intrepid’s Circle Sri Lanka trip. We were staying in the ancient city of Anuradhapura and the man who ran the guesthouse asked if we’d like to try some of the curries left over from his family’s meal, rather than order from the menu. We jumped at the chance and were astounded by the delicate, yet complex, flavours. So fresh tasting and delicious!

Our lovely host showed us how to eat in the customary way, using our right hands and with fingertips only. The trick is to squeeze the rice or string hoppers (thin rice noddles) between your fingertips and thumb before gathering in some curry. Then bringing it close to your mouth and pushing the food toward your mouth with the back of your thumb.

There is a hand-washing bowl on the table, but you are not to use it until you have completely finished your meal. And even then, not until everyone at the table has finished.

We were fortunate to receive this lesson because we found ourselves eating with families for much of the rest of the trip. Each time we were asked to order from the menu and if we deemed it appropriate, we’d ask if we could just have what the family was eating. Most times this was met with delight and more than once we were asked to join the family for dinner!

Most often we received the staple food of curry and rice. Where a massive mount of rice is surrounded by various curries – almost always including a dhal and usually with a vegetable curry and maybe a chicken or prawn one, depending on whether we were by the sea or in the hills. Most meals included the fiery accompaniment of pol sambol, which is a dry paste made of grated coconut, red chilli powder and lime juice – an exploding fusion of flavour in each mouthful.

Every meal was different and totally delicious, and made even better with the knowledge that we were eating how the locals eat – even if that meant the odd curry-stained t-shirt while we got the hang of it!”

Tour Sri Lanka with Intrepid on small group adventures or take the delicious food obsession one step further on Real Food Adventure Sri Lanka.

* Sri Lanka photo by Molly Dunn, for the Intrepid Photography Competition.

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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I have always wanted to go to Sri Lanka,

I have booked a gap year next year to go, I can’t wait and you have only stirred my excitement !!

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