Food For Thought: Eating My Way Across Sri Lanka (6 minute read)

Johnny McCarten is our Business Development Manager in South Australia and in 2019 he embarked on our 8-day Colombo, Caves & Kandy tour, taking in all the highlights that Sri Lanka has to offer. Here is his account of the incredible food that he came across on his travels. 

Perhaps the most exciting thing about travelling is the endless amount of new and exotic foods available to try. Any trip can become a food and cooking holiday, you just need to know where to go. When I joined an On The Go Tours trip to Sri Lanka, I arrived in foodie heaven.

Travelling to Sri Lanka was an eye opening and mouth-watering experience for me. I sampled some of the best smelling and tasting food I’ve ever eaten – and I’m fairly well travelled!

I was sceptical at first, not knowing much about Sri Lanka’s culture or cuisine. But I had nothing to worry about, as I found out on day one, when visiting a local food market.

First impressions

The market sold a staggering array of produce, from fresh fruit and vegetables, to fish, meat and so much more. All the food was arranged on grass mats, and the aromas floating through the air were incredible. This early experience really opened my eyes and prepared me for what was to come as I began my journey across the famous “tear drop” isle of Sri Lanka.

woman at market in Sri Lanka
Credit: Nigel Wilson

Strolling through another market in my free time, people hurried all around me and the smell of exotic herbs and spices filled the air. They were lined up perfectly in bags, colours I’d never seen in my supermarket spice aisle back home. Locals were calling out to me, offering me their produce. Their voices seemed to fade into the background as I took in the general hubbub of the market. I was invited by one merchant to come and smell his produce, I even tasted some of the dried fruit on display. This was delicious, I could feel my taste buds explode with delight at something new and unfamiliar. I still don’t know what it was I tried, but I wanted more!

As my tour continued, I was able to experience much more local cuisine. I visited many more markets, street vendors and restaurants. I tucked into a range of Sri Lankan food, heavily influenced by the cuisines of southern India and Indonesia. But the highlight of my whole trip came when our tour visited a rural village in the countryside.

The best foodie experience

Arriving in the village, we met a local family who kindly invited us into their home and insisted on serving us lunch. I was about to eat like a real Sri Lankan, away from the tourist traps in the big cities.

We watched as our hostess prepared the food using the most basic of utensils. There was nothing comparable to the modern kitchen which we are so used to back home. There was no reliable electricity in the village, everything was prepared by hand. Not a knife in sight, but sharpened sticks and hand-crafted wooden spoons were used to chop meat and stir broths. We were even invited to help out, chopping up the ingredients and mixing a range of exotic spices in with the rice that was being prepared.

The air was filled with smells that had my stomach rumbling. When lunch was finally served, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was a posh restaurant hidden away down the road that had prepared our food.

We were eating a papaya curry, cooked with seasoned cucumber, lentil dahl, herb-infused rice, chicken, beans, poppadum chips and spiced sticky rice, served on a fresh green banana leaf. I have to say it was one of the tastiest meals I’ve ever eaten in my life. Perfectly spiced and wonderfully cooked. It just goes to show that the locals really do know best. And it’s good to get off the beaten track when exploring a new destination on your cooking holiday.

Sri Lanka curry
Johnny’s curry

Don’t knock until you try!

Sometimes when travelling, we find ourselves sticking to what we know. Every exotic city seems to have a McDonalds and sometimes horror stories from friends and family, or confronting food documentaries on Netflix gives us the mindset that trying something new and unfamiliar is somehow going to make us ill and ruin the trip. But the best thing about having a local guide, as you do with the vast majority of On The Go Tours’ trips, is they know all the best places to eat and drink, ensuring that you really get the most out of your destination.

If you’re something of a foodie and you have a cooking holiday in mind, then why not head to our Cooking Holidays and Food Experiences page to find out more and start planning your adventure?

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