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

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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.

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

 

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On our last day (Day 6), we had an evening flight back to Dubai and had considered checking out of our hotel right after breakfast to start our long journey back to Colombo and visit some sights along the way. But after a late night (because 10pm is bedtime for old fogies like is) we decided to just hang out one last time at the pool.

Our driver for some reason drove 30 km below the speed limit. We were averaging 60 km per hour (36 mph). I had to close my eyes to relax and keep my blood pressure down – my New York blood was boiling!

On the day we landed, I slept thru most of the drive so didn’t see much. This time, I observed how very lush and green the countryside is – lots of coconut palms and banana plants. Of course, being used to the Dubai desert ecosystem, I found it particularly striking to see a tropical rainforest. And as Sri Lankan new year was in 2 days (like Christmas with exchange of presents), there were lots and lots of people on the streets doing last minute shopping and many people on the roads traveling back to their homes.

And that concludes our first trip to Sri Lanka. I hope we can visit again soon as there’s still so much to discover about the island!

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7 Comments

  1. I’ve been in Sri-Lanka last year and totally would love to go back. For now will cook fish curry and dream about my next holidays. Great blog by the way, totally enjoyed reading it : )

    Olga

  2. I can almost smell the aroma of the spices! The food looks so delicious and healthy. Do they mostly use coconut oil when cooking? Eating with the left hand sounds strange. Also, my late grandmother used to have a similar coconut grater. I remember the serrated blade can be so sharp!

    And Galle reminds me of the rural areas in the Philippines.