Last week David and I popped over to Sri Lanka for three days. Yup. We popped over. I know, I know – don’t hate. Look, Emirates Airline was having an amazing sale, so it was cheap to get there. I’m talking dirt cheap. And in terms of flight time, it’s not much further than flying from Melbourne to Cairns. So why wouldn’t we go? Sadly we didn’t have enough time to explore the amazing beaches and mountains of the country (which just means we’ll have to go back another time). But we did manage to do a lotta eatin’ and a lotta drinkin’. Coz you know that’s our specialty!
So when we travel somewhere, we want to eat the food of that particular place. For instance, I would never go to Japan and eat Italian. That just doesn’t make sense to me, especially when there is so much amazing local stuff on offer. So the first station on our whistle-stop tour of Colombo was a traditional Sri Lankan restaurant called Nuga Gama at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel. Actually Nuga Gama was the second stop. The first was the Lagoon bar at the hotel, where we hydrated with a Seabreeze (for David) and a Salty Dog (for me).
A Salty Dog for a salty lady, at Lagoon Bar.
Ready for dinner, we headed to Nuga Gama, where we were greeted by staff dressed in traditional village outfits who just went ahead and painted ceremonial red dots on our foreheads. Turns out they were having a Jaffna Festival!! How lucky are we!?
So, Jaffna is a city in the northern provinces of Sri Lanka, known for its traditional Tamil cuisine. And let me tell you, it’s bloody delicious. We felt so incredibly fortunate to experience this amazing celebration of a region we’d never even heard of before that night. We ate egg hoppers (check out the slideshow below of how a hopper is made), we ate curries, we ate breads, we ate traditional seafood soup (called Jaffna Kool), we ate ten different types of sambol (mmmmm, sambol). And of course we drank. We were offered two typical Jaffna choices – a sickly sweet, viscous rosé wine or arrack, which is a spirit distilled from the sap of the palmyrha palm tree (think coconut flavour, without the sweetness). We went with the arrack. It’s 60 proof, and it goes down easy, so the choice was a total no-brainer. The rest of the night went by in a swirl of food, arrack and trippy dance performances. It was a total blast and a wonderful introduction to Colombo, and Sri Lanka.
Getting into the Jaffna spirit! In more ways than one. 😉
We were offered cutlery, but chose to eat the traditional way, with our fingers. It’s the only way to go kids.
I’d like to say we finished this whole bottle of arrack in one night, but alas we did not. We must be getting old, or wise, or something.
Jaffna Kool – an amazing soup made with seafood and palmyrha flour.
Ceremonial Jaffna dance (either that or someone slipped us a mickey!!)
77 Galle Road, Colombo 03
+94 112 437 437
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MINISTRY OF CRAB
Ministry Of Crab does what it says on the box. Crabs. And lots of them. In all sorts of different sizes, and all sorts of different cooking methods and sauces. And they’re super fresh and super delicious!!! Even better, they are sustainably fished so you can enjoy them totally guilt-free. We arrived about ten minutes early for our reservation so we went across the street to the Taphouse for a couple of ice-cold local Lion beers. Perfect start to the meal.
Pre-lunch local beers at The Taphouse, right next door to Ministry of Crab.
David ordered the specialty Sri Lankan pepper crab. So much peppery goodness.
I went with butter sauce on the side. My doctor would probably not be very happy with that choice, but my tastebuds surely were!
Thank god for bibs!! Crabs are messy bastards to eat. But totally worth the stains.
No 04, Old Dutch Hospital, Colombo 01
+94 112 342 722
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“EAT, EAT REPEAT” BY COLOMBO URBAN ADVENTURES
We don’t normally do tours when we travel. Of any sort. But since we had such a short time in the city, and since we wanted to eat as much local food as possible, and since the tour was called “Eat, Eat, Repeat” we figured it’d be worth a shot. And it totally was. Unfortunately, because I was constantly stuffing food in my mouth my fingers were always smeared with delicious food, so I didn’t really get a chance to take too many photos. But trust me, if you want to sample Colombo’s finest street foods then you should definitely do this three hour walking tour of the city. We ate fried pastries, nuts, pickles, lentil cakes with prawns, porridge, ginger tea, hoppers, paratha and kottu roti (a delightful blend of veggies and chopped up roti bread). We also got the chance to walk through Pettah vegetable market which was a wonderfully riotous attack on all the senses.
+94 76 831 6000
THE MANGO TREE & THE BERLIN SKY LOUNGE
While the Eat, Eat, Repeat tour introduced us to many of Colombo’s yummy treats, most street vendors in Colombo are Muslim, and so there was no alcohol involved (just one cheeky beer, dodgily wrapped in a white paper bag at the end of the tour). So once we were done, David and I went off in search of cocktails. Thanks to Google Maps we found The Mango Tree and The Berlin Sky Lounge close by. The Cosmopolitans were huge, strong and very tasty!
UPALI’S BY NAWALOKA
In our tireless search for quintessential Sri Lankan food, we booked lunch at Upali’s, a very popular restaurant in town. We were taken to our table by the owner, who picked up on our Australian accents and asked us if we’d been to the sister restaurant in Melbourne, which as it turns out, is about a two minute drive from my Mum’s house! It’s a small world, people! We’ll definitely have to try it next time we’re in Melbourne and see if the quality of food is as good as the Colombo branch. Lamentably, as seems to be the case in a lot of yummy eateries in the city, Upali’s doesn’t serve booze – the Melbourne restaurant bloody better!! 😉
In the absence of beer, a crisp ice-coffee hit the spot while we waited for our food. Sparkling water sufficed for the rest of the meal.
We ordered a crab pancake, paratha with chicken curry, fried rice and fish head soup. Mmmmmmm, all the flavours were amazing. My mouth is watering just looking at that fish head!!!
65 C.W.W. Kannangara Mawatha, Colombo 07
+94 112 695 812
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Colombo was hot. Stinky, sweaty hot. And when it’s hot, and I can’t find a beer to save my life, I turn to ice-cream.
263, Galle Road, Colombo – 03
+94 11 5 346139
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So, as I’ve already implied, we would never EAT at a French café in Sri Lanka. But nothing’s going to stop us from DRINKING there. We turned up to this French bistro at about 1.56pm and asked if they were serving drinks. The two barmen looked at each other, then they looked at their watches, and then they looked at each other again and said, “Of course, take a seat at the bar – but we have to stop serving at 2pm”. Legends!! Turns out there’s a law prohibiting the sale of alcohol between the hours of 2pm to 5pm. We snuck in a couple of Negronis, tipped the barmen handsomely, and then walked home for a lovely afternoon nap. Coz that’s just how we roll.
48 Park St, Colombo 07
+94 114 502 602
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TRAVELLER’S BAR & SEASPRAY AT GALLE FACE HOTEL
OK, so, I have to admit I don’t like eating or drinking at fancy places anymore. I like to keep things real. I like to keep things authentic. Genuine. Down and dirty, even. But sometimes, keeping it real means embracing history. And Colombo’s history is steeped in colonialism. There’s no getting away from that. The Portuguese, the Dutch, and most recently the British have all put their stamp on Colombo and, despite how I might feel about that, it has become an indelible part of the city and its history. And so, it was that we found ourselves at Galle Face Hotel on the last night of our trip, having sundowners at Traveller’s Bar. And, check this out! At sunset, a Sri Lankan man with lovely legs wearing a rather short kilt played bagpipes while another dude lowered the flag out the front of the hotel. Talk about a flamboyant (and not a little bit ostentatious) mixing of the cultures.
Cocktail Round #1 (the one in front was made with my new favourite booze – arrack!!!)
Cocktail Round #2 – A sangria thingy and a minty thingy.
Cocktail Round #3 – a couple of pink grapefruit numbers. David had the negroni and I had the margarita. Most refreshing.
We had initially just planned to go to the hotel for drinks but we were lured by Seaspray restaurant advertising “a traditional Sri Lankan seafood experience, crafted entirely from fresh seasonal Island produce and coastal seafood”. Hard to say no to that. So we had drinks and dinner (and then drinks again) at the hotel. It was pretty nice. I’d recommend it.
The menu at Seaspray. You can mix and match, but their recommendations of cooking style and sauce with the featured seafood is pretty spot on. And the seafood itself? Super fresh goodness. I don’t know how, but we managed to score a table right on the beach, and we literally got misted with seaspray. It was pretty fucking romantic.
Whitebait with fresh lime and chilli salt (and the ubiquitous and delicious curry leaves).
The most tender salt and pepper cuttlefish you’ve ever eaten in your life.
The pièce de résistance, local fresh rock lobster. YUM!
2 Galle Road,Colombo 3
+94 11 254 1010
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