It now feels like a dream. In the midst of the daily grind of motherhood, some days it actually feels like it happened in another lifetime altogether. I've long wanted to travel to Sri lanka, I just never would've guessed that I'd get there in the way that I did. In June this year and after a series of flights with killer lay-overs, just after midnight -local time- I arrived at my destination. Colombo, Sri Lanka. I was about to embark on a 5 day pre-conference tour of the South with 14 of the world's top travel bloggers (out of a total of 60 bloggers touring all over the country), as a finalist in Cinnamon Hotels TBC Asia blog awards (in the food blog category)! I felt like a fish out of water. I'm pretty sure I was the only person there who didn't call themselves a travel blogger, but lucky for me I got to travel alongside some of the savviest bloggers around, most of whom get paid to travel the world. It was an eye opener, that's for sure.
I woke up that first morning after just a couple of hours sleep, with butterflies in my stomach. Unlike the rest of the bloggers, for which travelling and waking up in foreign countries is a no brainer, for me being so far away from my kids and family, lets just say that I knew this trip would push me out of my comfort zone. But I was ready to embrace the experience. I'd never done a tour before this trip and while it's not how I like to travel (on and off air-conditioned buses with very little free time to explore and eat local food), after the previous busy months of moving countries and book launches etc, I was very happy for someone else to take care of everything! Did I get to see the 'real' Sri Lanka? No, I don't think so. But what I did get was an amazing taster of a beautiful country that I already have plans to visit again soon. I quickly learnt to make most of the beautiful breakfast buffets served at every Cinnamon Hotel we stayed at. Unlike lunch and dinner, where mostly western food was served, at breakfast we were able to indulge in traditional specialties such as Aappa/Appam (hoppers), string hoppers, dhal and sambols. I think it only took a day for me to let it slip to our wonderful guide Praki that I was a chef. His eyes lit up the second he heard I wanted to learn as much as I could about Sri Lankan cuisine. Every time we boarded the bus he would have some little gem of knowledge to share, or would point out various types of bananas hanging in the little shops alongside the roads, naming each one and telling me his favourite.
Having travelled throughout India in my early 20's, I stupidly made the mistake of assuming that Indian and Sri Lankan cuisines would be quiet similar. But, I couldn't have been further from the truth. Yes they use similar ingredients and spices, but in such different ways! I found Sri Lankan curries to be much lighter and fresher, relying heavily on the actual star ingredient and spice, rather than mixing it all up in a rich sauce. It seemed every vegetable has its own curry, which I loved. Wing beans are treated lightly in just a little turmeric and ginger (I used that as inspiration for today's asparagus curry). Beetroot the same, with a little lick of coconut milk (I'll share the recipe next week). Banana flower curry is heavy with chilli and Brinjal (eggplant) curry is sweet and sticky. Curries are served alongside rice with various bright and flavoursome sambols. My favourites were Seeni sambol (I'll share the recipe next week too), Katta sambol (red chilli-based sambol), bitter melon sambol, gota kola sambol.
I took so many photos it was really, really hard to choose a few to share with you all, but I hope you'll get a feel for what quickly became one of my favourite destinations. And like I said before, I've got at least one maybe even two more Sri Lankan posts to share, so hang tight.
Sri Lankan inspired asparagus curry
This dish was inspired by a beautiful wing bean curry I ate as we travelled from down south back to Colombo for the conference and awards. We pulled off the main road and continued down a super bumpy road, ending up at Portofino Resort in Tangalle. While everyone else ate a set western-style menu, I was instead treated to a beautiful traditional feast! It was one of those times I was super grateful to be vegetarian! You can find fresh curry leaves at Indian grocery stores and some supermarkets. They freeze well and can be used straight from the freezer.
Serves 4 as part of a larger meal
2 bunches asparagus (500g), ends trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil or ghee
1 onion, finely diced
1 tbsp finely grated ginger
1 green chilli, finely chopped (de-seed for less heat)
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
A little pinch ground cinnamon
1 stem of curry leaves
Fine sea salt
Cooked basmati rice and seeni sambol, to serve
Finely slice asparagus. Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add oil/ghee and saute onion for 6-8 minutes or until tender and lightly golden. Add ginger, chilli and mustard seeds and continue to cook for another minute. Add turmeric, cinnamon and the curry leaves (discard stem), stir well then add asparagus. Cook, stirring often 2-3 minutes until just tender, adding a touch of water if the spices are catching on the pan. Season with salt and serve hot.