Thursday, August 13, 2015

Sri Lankan Snacking

When we planned our trip to Sri Lanka, I had no idea what to expect.  This goes for the sites we would see as well as the food we would eat.  For a while I was thinking of taking Allison's advice and just taking a vacation and not thinking about the food.  Being a food writer you find yourself constantly thinking about the food you eat even if you're not "working".  In the end I decided that I would write about the food, but I wouldn't search for things as much as I would let them present themselves.
The first thing you should keep in mind is that we spent almost all of our time in two different type of place, either we were in tourist places, or we were in transportation type places (bus stops and train stations).  I'm sure that this has a pretty strong effect on the kind of foods we saw and ate.  In particular I know it played a huge role in the types of snacks and candies we came across.  There was one kind of snack in particular that comes to mind, and that will be forever engraved in my memory as a Sri Lankan snack.

Travel snacks were a huge part of our trip, and something we came across many times on our adventure.  It could have been a kiosk in front of a train or bus station selling nuts and other salty snacks, or it could be the guy with the huge basked of fried foods walking through our train car at a station.  Travel snacks are all over the place, and there's a huge variety to choose from.
The main thing you find on the outside of train stations is fruit and nuts, I'll talk more about the fruit later on in this post.  The nuts and salty snacks available for you to buy before getting on your train and bus were fantastic.  From simple salted peanuts, to complex mixtures of dried roots and vegetables mixed with nuts and what appears to be hard noodle like crunchy bits.  The variety was huge, and the flavours very diverse.  The only similarity many of these snacks had was spice.  All of them had some kind of hot spicy element, some more than others.  Other than that the flavour came from so many different spices from caraway seeds, to onion, just about anything you might find in a great curry dish.

The deep fried snacks on our travels were similar to donuts, only savoury.  These donut like pastries could be flavoured with hot peppers, dried vegetables, even full sized shrimps on some occasions.  They were very greasy, served hot, and much like the other snack foods, always a little spicy.  I wasn't as big a fan of these myself, but I can certainly see the appeal.
I mention before that fruit stands were all around the bus and train stations as well.  Most people seemed to go with lychee fruit on the trains, probably because of the simplicity of eating them.  However I wanted to go a little further with the fruit in Sri Lanka than just the train and bus stations.  The fruit in this country is the best fruit I've ever eaten in my life.  The pineapples are amazing, the bananas are some of the best I've ever had, and the papaya was perfect.  Every morning I would make sure to load up on fruit for breakfast when I could.  I ate so much fruit that it started to "affect" my stomach, but I just couldn't stop.

The quality of the fruit in Sri Lanka ties into another strange thing I noticed in this country, there aren't many chocolate bars or regular sugar candies available.  I think there are two reasons for this, first of all the heat would melt many candies (however this can be sorted out using refrigeration), but the other reason I suspect is the quality of the fruit.  Why would you want to eat a pineapple candy when the pineapple itself is always available and always tasty.  I believe that the fruit in this country may be the local kids candy, fortunately it's healthier for them, and in some cases it literally grows on trees around them.

The other food in Sri Lanka was actually a little disappointing.  We had a hard time nailing down the Sri Lankan flavour, and found ourselves often surrounded with British, Italian, and Indian food.  The only thing that we ate that we felt really represented the country was the sauces.  At a few small curry shops we got our flat breads or pancakes with our curries, and delivered on the side were various chutneys and coconut milk sauces.  These flavours took these simple curries to the next level.  In some cases I found myself skipping the curries and just dipping my breads into the sauces.
The final, and maybe most important reason any foodie should visit Sri Lanka is the tea.  Head into the mountains near Kandy (seriously the best name ever for a town) or Nuwara Eliya and you'll be surrounded with tea.  Teashops, tea tours, and most importantly tea plantations.  I would suggest at every stop in the mountain regions you make sure you get a cup of tea.  Not only is it sure to be high quality, but they brew their tea with such care and technique that it changes the flavour to something spectacular.  I can't say I had a single bitter cup of tea the entire trip, and the free cup of tea I received at the end of my tour of a tea factory was the best I'd ever had.
If you're thinking about visiting Sri Lanka for a foodie holiday you might want to think about it first.  As a place to visit it's spectacular, it's beautiful and the people are amazing.  As a foodie destination there are two reasons to go, the fresh fruit and the tea.  Everything else is fine, but the tea and the fruit are two things that can't be replicated anywhere else in the world.


No comments: