Sri Lanka 2014 – Day 5 (Galle and Cooking Class)

Tue, Sep 16, 2014

Posted in:  travels    |    Tagged as:  

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I had really hoped to get this post finished in April when we were in Sri Lanka but here we are in September!

We spent our last full day in Sri Lanka by traveling to Galle Fort which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. I also participated in a Sri Lankan cooking class which was amazing – educational and delicious!

Galle was a one-hour drive from our hotel in Balapitiya. Our first stop was lunch at the Galle Fort hotel. We dined in the open-air courtyard, cooled only by ceiling fans, that overlooked the small hotel pool. We would soon discover that all dining in Galle is open-air (as in no air conditioning!).

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Galle Fort Hotel

We ordered a Parmesan crusted chicken snitzel sandwich, chicken skewers, and a Vietnamese rice noodle salad (nice minty taste with crunchy cucumber and carrot but the fish sauce too mild for my taste).

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We also felt inclined to order iced tea so that we could cool off somewhat in the hot weather. I loved those elephant stirrers so much that we bought some to bring back with us to Dubai.

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I had read about a Sri Lankan cooking class in Galle from Sarah at The Hedonista who has traveled many times to Sri Lanka and has written a fabulous and informative Sri Lanka destination guide which I found invaluable while doing research on where to stay and dine.

Before leaving Dubai, I tried emailing and organizing the cooking class/food tour on their website at Sri Serendipity without much success so while we were in Galle, we decided to see if we could book in person.

Finding the tour guide’s (Juliet’s) location/”office” based on the website was easy enough but when Scotch and I arrived at the address, the place looked abandon and there was no response to our calls of, “Hellooooo! Anyone home?”

We were about to give up but then I saw a a sign advertising “Fort Tours” a few houses down. We inquired at that place if anyone knew about Juliet’s tour. The lady who we spoke to was able to locate her husband inside the seemingly abandoned house who told us the timings for her tour and how to book via the Serendipity Arts Cafe which I believe is owned by Juliet and her husband.

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So we stopped at the Serendipity Arts Cafe for refreshments and ice cream and I signed up for the cooking class that was being held that afternoon. I think the cost was US$45 per adult.

The kids were too young to join the class so Scotch, Wee Scotch and Little Ginger spent the afternoon and early evening at the Fort Printer’s hotel while I participated in Juliet’s cooking class and tour of Galle Fort.

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At the cooking class, there was myself and a British family of four. Juliet facilitated the class while a Sri Lankan chef managed most of the cooking, of which we were encouraged to participate in.

First Juliet talked about the food culture in Sri Lanka and I wish she had pre-printed notes and recipe cards to hand out because I had a hard time listening, watching the cooking, and getting all the ingredients and instructions written down accurately.

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We used all fresh ingredients – including the shredded coconut which we all took turns grating and required a lot of elbow grease.

Here I am grating coconut for the first time using a hand grinder contraption:

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Here I am grating coconut for the first time ever

Our first dish was Pol Sambol (Coconut sambol) which we made from the freshly grated coconut and subsequent coconut milk. This is a traditional Sri Lankan dish that is served with nearly every meal and also eaten at breakfast rolled in a coconut “pancake” which I can’t remember how we made it but I do remember using coconut milk made from the grated coconut.

I need to get one of those little woks!

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For the Pol Sambo, in addition to grated coconut, we also used red onions, plum tomato, lime juice, chilli flakes and salt. Optional dried anchovies (Maldivian fish) could also be added.

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The next dish was an Okra Curry with turmeric, Sri Lankan curry powder, and coconut milk:

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Next we were shown how to make Green Bean Sambol with red onion, curry leaves, turmeric and shredded coconut. The final vegetable dish was a Pumpkin Curry (not pictured) with ginger, garlic, curry leaves, turmeric and coconut milk.

I couldn’t get over the brightness of the green beans:

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For the protein, we were shown how to make a Fish Curry with red onion, tomatoes, curry leaves, lemongrass, curry powder, turmeric and coconut milk:

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Fish curry simmering away:

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Every dish was just amazing – distinct in taste and delicious!

What I learned with Sri Lankan curries is that there are several dishes that comprise the whole meal. So all the dishes that were made in the cooking class were to be served all together.

Juliet encouraged us to eat like the locals with our (left) hand. So we started with unrefined red rice and, according to Juliet, the key to eating Sri Lankan style was to squeeze the rice and the ingredients together, while turning and mixing all the ingredients as we ate.  It felt odd at first to eat with my fingers but I did manage to clean my plate and ask for seconds :) . After the class, Juliet took us on a walking tour around Galle Fort.

This cooking class and walking tour was certainly one of the highlights of my trip to Sri Lanka – Juliet imparted a ton of food knowledge with us and I would highly recommend this course for anyone who is in Galle and can interested in Sri Lankan cooking. More details on the cooking course and walking tours can be found on the Sri Serendity website here.

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Clockwise from top left: Green bean sambol, pumpkin curry, pol sambol, okra curry, fish curry, and unrefined red rice in the center.

I really cannot wait to return to Sri Lanka and visit more of the island and of course to sample more of the food.

*   *   *   *   *

I leave you with some photos of our walk around Galle Fort:

 

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Sri Lanka 2014 – Day 4 (Scuba Diving by Hikkaduwa)

Tue, Apr 22, 2014

Posted in:  travels    |    Tagged as:  ,

Diving Sri Lanka

Scotch Diving in Sri Lanka

 

The thunderstorm the night before was soothing to sleep through but of course with my luck had to occur right before my scuba diving day. Storms usually means decreased visibility underwater due to the bottom sand being stirred up from the rough surf.

From our hotel in Balapitiya, it was a 30-minute drive to the dive shop in Hikkaduwa. The drive along the coast was beautiful but my thoughts were often drawn back to the images of devastation from the 2004 tsunami that I saw through the news and through the relief agency I worked with at the time.

Our driver would point out to us the tsunami memorials along the way. On the tip of my tongue many times, but I was too timid to ask for fear that it would elicit further sadness, was the question of if my driver had lost any loved ones in the disaster.

The country seems to have recovered as the main roads were rebuilt, trains were running, new vegetation has taken over the landscape. And time has proven that Sri Lankans are resilient. But there will always be an underlying sadness to the beauty of the land and strength of the people.

Sri Lanka - Barracuda Diving Center

Dive Center in Hikkaduwa

April marks the end of the diving season on East coast of Sri Lanka. Diving has started to move over to the West coast.

The dive operator we dove with, Barracuda Diving Center, was getting ready to move their operations to Trincomalee.

school of triggerfish

School of (Indian?) Triggerfish

Scotch and I did two dives each with Barracuda (the cost per dive per person was $30).

Our first dive was called Kirala Gala which had large schools of fish but not much coral. There was one other diver on the boat plus our dive master making it four of us in the group.

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School of Surgeonfish

The water temperature was a nice and warm 82°F (28°) and I felt comfortable in my 3 mil full wetsuit.

Visibility on this first dive was about 25 feet. What made this dive was the large schools of fish all around us: surgeonfish, triggerfish, fusiliers (gold-band), and others I couldn’t identify.

We also saw a few large trevally (probably the blue trevally).

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Pufferfish

After our first dive, we went back to shore and the dive center for the surface interval and to pick up a few more divers.

Our second dive was at a site called Cave. Scotch and I buddied up again with our dive master from the first dive.

There was a short swim-through on this dive and not much else. Visibility had dropped to about 20 feet and there was a lot of particulate matter in the water which not only made for poor viz but also poor photos. We briefly lost sight of our dive master when engrossed in photographing a free-swimming scorpion fish.

Not much fish nor coral life combined with a strong current and other issues (my mask was too tight which gave me a pounding headache) made this a rather unpleasant and boring dive. Shame.

"Dory" Surgeonfish

“Dory” Surgeonfish

For dinner that night, we ventured out to a restaurant at a nearby sister property of our hotel because we needed a change of menu options. The property was located inland by a lake and the restaurant was al fresco.

We didn’t stay very long before asking for our check. I’m sure the view of the lake and surrounding areas during daylight hours would have been stunning but it was pitch black for us and full of mosquitoes out for blood. And the peace and quiet of the night was broken by the sound of Little Ginger crying herself to sleep. Totally unrelaxing.

For Sri Lanka – Day 5 – we head south to Galle for a day trip. Hoping that will be a more pleasant experience.

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Sri Lanka 2014 – Day 3 (Pool Day)

Tue, Apr 8, 2014

Posted in:  travels    |    Tagged as:  

Sri Lanka beach Today we woke up to yet another picture perfect morning.

Scotch and I had originally planned on heading out to Old Galle for a day trip and check out the fort which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Sri Lanka beach

But Wee Scorch threw one tantrum after another practically from the moment he woke up so we decided to just chill at the hotel beach and the pool to preserve what was left of our patience and sanity.

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The hotel pool is outdoors but mostly covered which was ideal for the kids and me because I didn’t have to worry about us being slathered in sun cream.

Sri Lanka beach

My son could spend all day in the pool if allowed. His swimming improved a great deal this week since we spent practically every day in the pool. He started to tread water, attempted underwater somersaults (forwards and backwards), and is much better now at lifting his head up for air.

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He insisted on using my snorkel and got the hang if using it really quickly.

Sri Lanka pool

My snorkel mask was too big for him so we attached the snorkel to his little goggles.

Wee Scotch made new friends (also from Dubai) and they each took turns taking photos with my underwater camera. Very talented budding photographers:

Sri Lanka pool

We fell asleep that night to the soothing sounds (for me at least) of heavy rain and thunder.

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Sri Lanka – Day 2 (Turtle Hatchery and Spice Garden)

Mon, Apr 7, 2014

Posted in:  travels    |    Tagged as:  

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Today we woke up to an idyllic, clear and blue Sri Lankan sky. The stuff of postcards. A total surprise because the weather forecast was supposed to be 60% chance of rain all week.

We started the day with breakfast at our hotel which was satisfying and delicious – it was an “English breakfast” (eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, grilled tomato) – but disappointing as I wanted the Sri Lankan breakfast of red string hoppers and curry but that option was not available.

Could it be because we are the only guests in the hotel? Very odd that there are no other guests since I had a hard time booking a hotel room because all of the nicer hotels on the South West coast were full.

After breakfast, we were picked up by our driver in a van to transport us to the Turtle Hatchery. We took Little Ginger’s stroller with us onto the van but never ended up using it because the gravelly paths at the turtle hatchery and spice garden weren’t conducive to a stroller so she ended up in her baby carrier.

Sri Lanka Turtle Hatchery

The hatchery pays 20 Sri Lankan rupees to fishermen for each turtle egg that is brought to them. They then bury them in the sand and when the eggs hatch, the male turtles are released into the sea after 3 days.

Sri Lanka Turtle Hatchery

Because only 2% of turtles that are born are female, they keep the females for 5 years before releasing them to increase their rate of survival in the wild.

Sri Lanka Turtle Hatchery

Wee Scotch had a fantastic time at the hatchery. He enjoyed being able to hold and pet the baby turtles. He wanted to do it over and over and over again.

And he couldn’t understand why we couldn’t help the albino turtle by “painting” it green:

Sri Lanka Turtle Hatchery

Little Ginger slept through the whole experience in her baby carrier:

Sri Lanka Turtle Hatchery

Next we went to a Spice Garden where it was interesting to see the plant origins of many common spices like vanilla, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper. They weren’t too pushy about selling products made from their spice garden and Scotch ended up buying a small bottle of cinnamon oil.

Sri Lanka Spice Garden

We had lunch at Aida – a jeweler, guesthouse, and restaurant overlooking a beautiful lake. We picked out 2 fresh fish and 2 large crabs that were obtained this morning – not sure if that meant they were caught this morning or that they were purchased from the market this morning.

Sri Lanka - Lunch at Aida

The fish were made into a grilled dish and a coconut fish curry which were both okay (too boney) but the chilli crab dish was just amazingly flavorful.

Sri Lanka - Lunch at Aida

Sri Lanka - Lunch at Aida

Unfortunately, when I left the table to take Wee Scotch to the bathroom, the waiter cleared away my unfinished chilli crab platter probably thinking I had finished.

Sri Lanka - Lunch at Aida

Even though all that was left was the sauce, I was looking forward to spooning all that garlicky spicy red goodness onto my plate of white rice to further enjoy its flavors.

We had dinner back at our hotel. The food tonight was unfortunately underwhelming but the waiter did promise that red string hoppers would be available for breakfast the next morning. Yay!

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Sri Lanka – Day 1

April 6, 2014
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We have just arrived in beautiful Sri Lanka today* for a week’s holiday during Wee Scotch’s school break. In our 6+ years traveling from Dubai, I have never seen such long lines at the Dubai airport. The passport control lines were just heaving with people. Upon arrival at Colombo, we disembarked via stairs down to […]

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Introducing Little Ginger

November 30, 2013
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This Thanksgiving, I had so much to be thankful for: family, friends, good health, and the safe delivery of “Little Ginger” who graced us with her presence at 6 lbs 6 oz. She is the sweetest little baby and is absolutely adored by her big brother, Wee Scotch:

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October Catchup

November 4, 2013
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October was a particularly busy month for the Ginger and Scotch family. Wee Scotch continued to adjust (very well so far) to his second month at Pre-Kindergarten, we moved apartments and continued to prepare for the upcoming arrival of “Little Ginger”. Yes, we moved house while I was nine months pregnant. Fun! Not. Although we […]

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Staycations: Weekend Pool Escapes

September 22, 2013
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What to do when it’s too hot in Dubai to do anything outdoors? Within minutes of walking outside, poor Wee Scotch drips with sweat which just saturates his little head. And being a toddler, he can’t sit still but runs around chasing other children, thus getting even hotter and sweatier. Bikes and scooters are out […]

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