Passport & Plate: Sri Lanka
Wherever you are, whoever you are, you must eat. When this human necessity is combined with travel, many of us are reduced to giddy gluttons – eager to try everything a new destination has to offer. We believe that this form of exploration provides not only the opportunity to fill your belly, but is also one of the best ways to learn about a culture and connect to the local community.
This is why we want to give three enthusiastic – and hungry – travellers the chance to go to Sri Lanka to better understand the dishes that can only come from a country that has been celebrated for centuries for its spices. Alongside our good friends at World Nomads, we’re giving you the chance to travel to Sri Lanka with your own videographer and Intrepid guide. This is a dream opportunity, especially if you’re a lover of food!
These keen cultural explorers will travel to Sri Lanka where they will meet the vibrant people that keep the recipes and traditions alive and the ingredients abundant through their passion and dedication.
Each recipient will spend one week in a different region of Sri Lanka, where they will meet their Sri Lankan ‘mentors’ – speaking to local farmers and artisan producers, making curries in local kitchens, cooking snacks with street vendors, catching dinner with fishermen and cooking everything from hoppers and rotti to pickles.
In that time, each recipient will be followed by a filmmaker to document their food adventures as they uncover the many tastes of Sri Lanka.
What you could win
The 3 winners will receive:
A 7-day custom trip to one region in Sri Lanka (the north, the south or the Hill Country) organised by Intrepid Travel including all accommodation, meals and local transport.
Round-trip airfare from your country of residence to Sri Lanka.
Travel insurance for the duration of the trip from World Nomads.
What you’ll be doing
Each food explorer will keep a daily blog on World Nomads documenting their culinary experiences in Sri Lanka featuring stories, photos and recipes from the road.
While on assignment, all of the winners’ experiences will be filmed by an accompanying cameraperson. That means if you win, you must be comfortable having every bite captured on film.
Sri Lanka regional intros
The spice island of Sri Lanka (or Ceylon as it was known) draws its recipes from a global cookbook. A few hundred years ago, nations sailed halfway around the world to trade its cinnamon, pepper, cloves, nutmeg, mace and vanilla, and each one left their culinary mark. Dutch, English, Portuguese, Arabs, Malays, Moors and Indians – you’ll see hints of them all in modern Sri Lankan cuisine.
Like a lot of the subcontinent, curries and steamed white rice are the base note for most dishes. But it’s the harmonies that really separate Sri Lankan food: the tart pickles, chutneys and sambals; the tropical twang of fresh lime juice; a silky dash of coconut cream. Although it shares a few culinary roots with India’s Kerala region, its curries are built on different foundations to most of mainland India. Each plate is a little taste of the country’s past, and a glimpse into its very bright future.
About the Hill Country
Nothing shows off Sri Lanka’s diversity like the short journey from the sweaty chaos of Colombo to the cool air and greenery of the island’s interior. Here, among forested mountains and rolling hills covered in tea plantations, you’ll find the picture-postcard town of Kandy, a very decent cuppa and a whole range of regional dishes to try.
The fertile hills around Ella are the perfect conditions not only for tea, but for cardamom, curry leaves and turmeric. The curries here are milder, more delicate and perfumed with an array of herbs and spices, and chilli doesn’t feature as much as it does in the north. Locals are proud of their subtle heroes, like tender jackfruit curry or cinnamon-spiced potatoes. Dal, sambal, poppadoms and spiced rice often accompany dishes for a little added zing and crunch. And while you’re here, you may as well wash down your meals with some of the finest tea in the world. Not a bad way to spend an evening, all things considered.
About the north
Far to the north, near the Indian mainland, you’ll find the majority of Sri Lanka’s Tamil population. The Indian influence is stronger here and the curries are hotter, the seafood more plentiful. Sri Lankan Tamils have developed a very distinctive regional cuisine based largely on curries and rice, but with a few local quirks thrown in. Tangy mango chutneys and tomato add a depth of flavour to fiery spices. Look out for popular snacks like string hoppers (vermicelli-like noodles made from rice flour) and tomato sothi (soup), puttu (steamed rice powder cooked in bamboo) and appam (a thin, crusty pancake made with rice flour).
In Jaffna, the north’s major port town, you’ll find some of the island’s best seafood – crabs, shark, fish, prawns and squid. Vegetarian curries are popular here too. Most of these feature garden-grown produce like pumpkin, yam, jackfruit seeds and hibiscus flowers. Jaffna has recently eased restrictions on foreign tourism, so travellers can finally get a proper taste of fiery Tamil cuisine (just keep a glass of milk handy).
About the south
Southern Sri Lanka is fishing country. The coast here has several types of balaya and kelawalla (popular local fish species) you won’t find anywhere else on the island. It’s the land of sun, sand and surf, and you can detect a more prominent citrus note (usually fresh lime) in many of the local dishes. There’s a lot of variety here too. Curries are as likely to feature the cinnamon once prized by Portuguese merchants as the chillies those merchants would leave behind. Since rain can be scarce in the lowlands, fish is often dried in salt (karawala) or pickled in lime (jaadi) as a preservative.
While you’re in the south, make sure you try a few of the local desserts. Sweetened buffalo curd is a popular after dinner favourite, or there’s kirala fruit milk made from local kirala fruit and treacle. The good news for travellers with sensitive tongues is that southern cuisine comes in all shapes, sizes and temperatures: curries can range from the scaldingly hot to the delicate and mild. The best way to find your favourite? Try them all.
Who can apply
Anyone can apply – this is open to food writers, bloggers, aspiring chefs and just plain passionate eaters with a story to share!
Minimum age of 18 (by application deadline).
You must hold a current, valid passport (with 6 months left before expiry).
The scholarship is open to all nationalities (subject to obtaining a Sri Lankan visa); however, you must have an exceptionally high degree of proficiency in written and spoken English.
You must be available as per the dates set out. Please note these dates are not changeable in any way; you must be available for the entire assignment.
You should be a mad-keen foodie with adventurous tastebuds, a curiosity for all things culinary and an openness to interact with locals.
You must be up for eating anything at anytime, pitching in with the cooking and cleaning up! Picky eaters need not apply.
You must be very comfortable in front of the camera and sharing your emotions and opinions with the world.
What our judging panel will be looking for
We are looking for three culinary enthusiasts to explore the history, traditions and social habits that define Sri Lanka’s cuisine. The three winning foodies will discover the techniques, the ingredients and the influences that make food from this Indian Ocean island truly mouth-watering through visiting the producers and cooking alongside the local people.
Does this sound like your type of gig? Then it is up to you to convince our judging panel – through your recipe, story and essay – that you have the spirit of adventure and passion for food to be chosen for this opportunity. We will be looking for:
- a unique, drool-worthy, tried-and-tested recipe (with accompanying photos of the dish, cooked by you)
- a great story behind your recipe
- strong eye for detail
- a compelling reason why we should send you to Sri Lanka
Here is how you apply
To apply you need to:
1. Submit a recipe (in English) with accompanying photos
This can't just be any recipe, this recipe needs to come with a story. It could be the hand-me-down dhansak recipe from your Parsi grandmother. Or maybe the white bait fritters you learned to make on your trip to New Zealand.
Whatever it is, it has to be special (we don't want to see 50 borscht or apple pie recipes) and something that you think would transport other travellers to a new place simply by making it at home. We want recipes with soul that make us miss a place that perhaps we've never even been.
Don't forget to include photos of your recipe that you have prepared yourself. If you can't make it, we probably can't either!
2. Tell us in 2,000 characters or less (this includes spaces) the story behind the recipe and what makes it so special to you.
3. Complete a 1,500 character (maximum) essay telling us why you should be chosen and what the opportunity would mean to you. Your answer will provide considerable weight in the judging process.
The entry must be submitted in English.
One entry per person.
March 6 - Applications close
March 6 - April 1 - Application judging
April 2 - three winners announced
June 5-13 - Assignments in Sri Lanka
Passport and plate - ITALY: the winners:
See their entries here.