Whilst touring Sri Lanka, our itinerary included a culinary tour of Kandy and we met our guide, Ujith, at a Hela Bojun Hala on the city’s outskirts. These are food courts of open kitchens, serving a range of traditional dishes at prices subsidised by the Ministry of Agriculture, with the intention of both promoting local produce and empowering women. This was our first tasting place.
Ujith walked us past the counters, explaining the extensive range of freshly made vegetarian organic dishes, both sweet and savoury. Some were familiar, but others totally new to us. Having found a table in the shady garden, Ujith helpfully suggested choosing a selection for us. We started with a hopper and very hot chilli sauce, before moving onto a black gram dosa (the batter is fermented for 12 hours) which came with a pumpkin curry and green coconut sambal. Our third plate had four things to try: manioc krocket, sweet potato cutlet, rice flour pattis and a roti with a spicy sauce. We finally moved onto a sweet plate with sesame balls, peni/undu walalu (strings deep fried and dipped in kithul or treacle) and konda kavum whose shape resembles a hair top knot. We weren’t sure whether we should be just sampling a little of each or clearing the plates and opted for something in between.
Back in the city centre, our first stop was a vegetarian Indian restaurant specialising in dosa. We chose a cheese and onion one, which was like a folded filled pancake on a tray with three compartments filled with chickpea and vegetable curries and a coconut chutney. It was delicious, and although we did it justice, couldn’t finish it, and having been invited to try something else, we sadly declined.
Next, now on foot, was the YMCA for soya ice cream. The mix of chocolate and vanilla was smooth and creamy and a good antidote to the spices we’d had, although we did wonder how this mix would react in our stomachs.
Taking a break from eating, we walked down Colombo Street with Ujith explaining the various dried fishes, varieties of rice and pulses, and vegetables on sale. At the Ayruvedic shop we bought spices to take home.
We stopped for refreshment and watched as a king coconut was expertly prepared in front of us, and we drank the juice before heading into the Queen Hotel, for fresh fruit juice in what was an empty bar.
Our final stop was drinks at the Royal Bar and Hotel, a wonderful colonial building with rooms around an open courtyard. It resembled a museum with English clocks, pictures of the Queen, Union Jacks and an armoury with an amazing collection of historical photos. Having been given a choice of Lion beer or Arak we shared one of each, with Ujith suggesting soda and ice for the 32% proof Arak. A second round of Arak finished off both our tour and us, and we headed back to our hotel for an early night!