In many Asian countries it’s often difficult to get past the ‘tourist menu’ of chicken curry and chips. This was the dilemma for Intrepid’s Sally Johnson on a recent Sri Lanka trip, until she discovered that staying in locally run guesthouses and sharing the family meals was the secret…
“We lucked upon this idea on one of our first nights after joining Circle Sri Lanka. We were staying in the fabulous fort town of Galle 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 having. 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!”
* photo by Tris Pulver, Intrepid Photography Competition.