Sri Lankan Food Experience

Prawn curry

Whilst in Sri Lanka recently with family I was lucky enough to  visit a great restaurant specializing in local seafood and curries.  In fact it was such a good restaurant we returned four times during the trip, including once for a cooking demonstration/class.

Parathas

The Diya Sisila restaurant is the number one rated restaurant in the Bentota area on Trip Advisor, and with good reason.  The food is delicious, the chef and staff incredibly friendly and smiley and the location peaceful and beautiful.  The restaurant is set a little out of the main town and needs to be reached by Tuk Tuk.  It is set on the river bank and offers a catamaran boat tour for diners if they go a little early. This was a really relaxing way to start the meal, and gave the opportunity to enjoy a glass of wine, whilst being paddled along the river taking in wild life and scenery.

river cruise

The restaurant does not have a menu, and with only four tables it is important to phone and book beforehand, and also to request the food you want.  The restaurant serves no alcohol, so you need to bring your own.  The first time we dined at this restaurant we chose to sample the seafood platter option.  This started with a pineapple coleslaw, flavoured with black pepper, which was surprisingly delicious and followed by a huge plate of barbecued jumbo prawns, lobster and fish.  The fish was served with a chunky, spicy pineapple sauce, and the lobster and prawns with garlic butter sauce.  The seafood and fish were both delicious and we were unfortunately defeated by the size of the platter.  This meal was finished with a vanilla ice cream with crushed nuts and treacle (or ‘trickle’ as it is called in Sri Lanka).

A seafood feast- lobster, prawns and fish

On out next visit we decided to sample the curry selection (which we requested to be ‘like a rocket’ hot and spicy), and it was a wide selection!  There was prawn, cuttle fish, chicken, daal, bean and mushroom.  These were all served with soft fluffy rice and delicious paratha bread.  The very friendly chef happily showed us how to eat effectively with our fingers and happily made sure we enjoyed our meal. We enjoyed it so much we asked for a cooking lesson the following week.  Although this is not something usually offered, the chef was happy to oblige (in fact he was constantly happy, as were his smiling waiter brothers!).

raw ingredients

mixing it up

The cooking lesson was brief, and more of a demonstration due to limited kitchen space, but definitely gave us a good idea of spice mixes and cooking methods to produce tasty curries and rice.  We returned one more time for a curry feast and to amp up the rocket factor one more time, as we still didn’t feel we had tasted a blow your head of curry, which is famed in Sri Lanka.  I think the locals operate on the side of caution when cooking for foreigners.  We were satisfied with  some pretty spicy dishes, and once again an incredibly filing curry feast.

This is a fantastic restaurant, well worth a visit if you are in the region.  Bentota is dominated by tourist type restaurants with a lot of western cuisine and bad buffets, so if you want to sample the local cuisine with a smile and fantastic surroundings Diya Sisila is the perfect location.  The price is a little higher than many restaurants, but still very reasonable for the quality and quantity of food.  Your won’t go home hungry!

finished chicken curry

The Ulitmate Buffet? – Masakan Padang

Soft, fragrant rice, crunchy fried chicken that definitely has some  KFC esque secret herbs and spices, soft tofu soaked in a laksa like coconut sauce, spicy potato cakes like a croquette of peppery mash with a side of garlicky greens, all piled on a plate and topped with a super spicy sambal.  These are just a few of the tasty treats on offer at Padang restaurants in Indonesia.

On our recent trip to Java and Bali, we fell in love with these all you can eat window displays, that serve up fantastic flavours for very very cheap price!  Simply grab a plate and point to the various dishes piled in a glass cabinet, usually behind a questionable curtain to keep out the flies.  Although health and safety may be slightly lacking (leaving food at the prime bacteria growing temperature of 30 degrees in a unrefrigerated cabinet may not pass any health inspections!) , the wide spread of tasty and unusual dishes in unlimited quantity provide a definate appeal. And I must add we travelled around this area of the world for six weeks without getting sick once, and we ate in some fairly questionable looking places (being the bargain lovers we are!).

When you’re done, you just pay for what you had, with chicken and meats generally being slightly more expensive than veg, fish, tofu and tempeh, (although still ridiculously cheap!)  Choose from fried fish (head attached), curried eggs, rendangs, sweet and spicy tempeh pieces and quite a few unidentifiable dishes.  These are probably best approached with a ‘better not to know’ attitude. You may end the meal in a slight chilli induced sweat- they don’t always ‘westernize’ the heat level, but I promise its worth the small amount of pain for the opportunity to try as many dishes as possible in the one sitting.

So if you’re ever in this part of the world, don’t hesitate to load up a plate and give it a try. Or get an Indo takeaway and pile your selection into a banana leaf or brown paper parcel. Go where the locals are for to be on the safe side and get the tastiest dishes, although I’d still probably stick to lunch to get the fresh stuff!