Sri Lankanisms

We’ve spent almost four weeks traveling in Sri Lanka, and have started to grow accustomed to the unique ways in which the country and people operate and live on a daily basis. It’s been interesting for us to think about the different lifestyle and culture that Sri Lanka offers, compared to that of our own, and note ‘special’ habits and customs that are so ingrained in this country and its people. We call these “Sri Lankanisms”, and there are quite a few we’ve discovered in just a small amount of time here. Here are a just a few of the things we’ve noted.

Snacks, baked goods and short eats are served in hand-made recycled paper bags, covered in children’s drawings or old school homework.

Men wear traditional sarongs, women wear beautiful coloured, sparkling saris.

No bus journey is complete without several vendors boarding the bus and selling their various goods. We’ve seen several different things being sold, from fried foods and cold drinks, magazines, lottery tickets, children’s picture books, hologram posters of various gods and deities, and even gold jewelry! (One vendor even went to the effort of hurling gold necklaces at random people in the moving bus, then asking those who were struck by the jewels to buy them!)

Hocking and spitting is common place.

Local men chew betel leaves, nuts and tobacco – then with practiced skill, spit large red chunks of gunk onto the pavement.

Conversations regularly go something like this:
Local: Hello! Where from!?
Us: Australia
Local: Ah!… Shane Warne/Ricky Ponting/ Adam Gilchrist/*insert something cricket-related here*!

Cricket is a whole new religion in its own right.

No shop, vendor, tuk tuk driver, or sales person seems to ever have change – not even small denominations such as coins (1, 2 and 5 rupees) or small notes (10, 20, 50, 100 rupees). It can be difficult to purchase anything without being given a “No have change” excuse or a very disapproving stare – especially after you get cash out of the ATM, which spits out 2,000 rupee notes.

The clanging and echoing sounds of kotthu roti being made are a familiar noise in Sri Lanka – you hear it being made before you see it.

Spontaneous buskers can be heard on the buses, singing whilst playing drums or tambourines.

Neon LED illuminated Buddhas and other deities decorate the front interior of most buses, flashing over and over to the rhythmic sounds of honking horns and loud Sinhalese music.

It’s perfectly acceptable to publicly pick your nose, pick your ears, pick your feet, pick your wedgie, adjust your testicles, hock and spit, cough on other people… you know; all that hygienic stuff.

There is no such thing as personal space. Especially on buses.

Furthermore, there is always room for more people on the bus. Always.

There seem to be four main shops: Pharmacies, Bakeries, Shoe Stores (Bata and DSI Brands are everywhere) and hole-in-the-wall eateries that double as general stores selling shampoo, razors and baby formula.

The roads are shared with buses, cars, vans, trucks, tuk tuks, tractors, pull-carts, motorbikes, bicycles, pedestrians, cows, dogs, cats, goats, chickens and more…

People of all ages and relationships hold hands – friends, adults, teenagers, the elderly…it’s endearing to see.

There is lots of hilarious advertising for strange things.

Like this awesome one...

Like this awesome one… “Winning the Plus Size style war”

and this one...

and this one…

Sri Lankans love a good, long hand-shake.

Random large speakers in obscure locations can sometimes be seen – more so, heard – at the strangest of times. In Ella – a sleepy little Hill Country town – a spontaneous produce market was in full swing, where locals in traditional dress were going about their business buying and selling. Opposite the market, random speakers were blaring “Me Love” by Sean Kingston. Strange.
We saw this type of thing again inside a Food City Supermarket, whilst people were just doing their grocery shopping.

Scary toilets.

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Sri Lankan Eats: Our top 10 picks for Sri Lankan Food

Sri Lankan food is very unique in many ways; street foods, self-serve rice and curry, lunch packs and hole-in-the-wall eateries are incredibly popular and almost everywhere. If you’re lucky, vendors riding bicycles will deliver your short eats and vadias to you, still hot, as they ride around the town.
Servings are massive, rice is a staple – so is roti – and it’s hard to go past a freshly cooked hopper.

1. Rice and Curry – the food that Sri Lankan’s eat every day. It’s sold everywhere – usually for lunch – and is really cheap and packed with spices and flavour (if you eat where the locals do). Sri Lankan curries are unique in the way that they are served like a small banquet; you order a curry and receive a mountain of rice, poppadoms, and usually 4 or 5 (sometimes more!) different types of curries in separate bowls, often with a chutney and dried chillis on the side. Curries are eaten with the right hand: by mixing the different curries all together with rice, it is supposed to enhance and change the flavours as well as let your body “feel” the food. It’s a constant joy to order the same thing over and over, because every time it’s so different1

Yep. We made that.

Yep. We made that.

Feast!

Feast!

2. Short Eats – sold everywhere, displayed in every bakery and every glass cabinet at hole-in-the-wall eateries, these are awesome snacks or lunch time options. They consist of a filling (vegetable, chicken, mutton or fish) wrapped in roti bread and grilled on a hot plate.

Shorts eats for sale

Shorts eats for sale

3. Hoppers – fermented rice flour fried in a small bowl-shaped pan, these are really unique and really delicious. For 10 rupees (about 0.7c), these awesome snacks are good plain, with chilli or onion sambol, and/or with a fried egg.

Hoppers!

Hoppers!

4. Kotthu Roti – said to be the national dish; not the traditional dish of Sri Lanka. Kotthu consists of finely diced roti bread, vegetables, meat like chicken or fish, and/or egg. It is fried on a hot plate with oil, chilli and a myriad of other spices, before the cooks begin to smash and mash their pastry scrapers at lightening speeds all over the mix. It is served with a vegetable or chicken gravy sauce, which stops it tasting too dry and heavy.  You hear kotthu being made before you see it, and it’s a sound all too familiar in Sri Lanka.

Kotthu Roti

Kotthu Roti

5. Pol roti (coconut roti) – This delicious roti is served up as a small, thick, circle-shaped cake – filled with onion, freshly shredded coconut, salt and pepper – fried on a hot plate and served with dahl or onion and/or chilli sambol.

6. Sambol – pol sambol (coconut sambol), onion sambol – sambol goes well with any Sri Lankan food, and indeed it’s served with most things. Every cook creates it differently, with different ingredients and ways of making it. Onion sambol with chilli and sugar goes incredibly well with roti, hoppers and rice, and pol sambol infuses with other curries to enhance the flavor of rice and curry dishes.

7. Kiri Bath – the traditional Sri Lankan dish is a cake-like piece of sticky, coconut milk rice cut into cute squares or diamonds. It’s eaten on really special occasions, such as at weddings or on the first day of a new job, but you can still find it around. It goes incredibly well – and is often eaten with onion sambol and a piece of juggary (palm sugar).

8. Buffalo Curd and Kittul (treacle) – An awesome sweet or treat; Buffalo curd is sold in big ceramic pots at most market corners in Sri Lanka, and is often served with kittul.

Curd and Kittul

Curd and Kittul

9. Wattalappam – a dessert/cake/pudding that is very important in Tamil festivals, and is more easily found in the North of Sri Lanka. Whilst it doesn’t look very appetizing, the combination of egg and coconut milk with kittul, sugar and lots of spices such as cinnamon and cardamom and cloves is wonderfully delicious and rich.

Wattalappam

Wattalappam

10. Tea! – technically not a food, but we often drank cup after cup in replace of food. The tea here is famous and exported world wide; it is of a high quality, is incredible tasting and is super cheap.

Delicious Deliciousness

Delicious Deliciousness

Welcome to Colombo: Our final Sri Lankan ‘Hurrah!’

Welcome to Colombo, Sri Lanka’s hustling and bustling, busy capital city – our final hurrah, and last new destination to explore in Sri Lanka.

Colombo city appears to be a mix of old and new, of poverty and riches; it’s filled with Dutch architecture, temples, shops selling anything and everything, traffic that never stops flowing, and people – everywhere. The bustling market places brim with bananas and colourful produce, the rhythmic honking of horns blast all day and late into the night, hindu temples are set peacefully amongst 5 star hotels and manic bus stations, traffic is hectic – at the best of times – and of course, the smiling sarong-wearing men and sari-clad women move like clockwork in organised chaos.

By now, we are well adjusted, and have grown accustomed to the lifestyle and unique ways of operating and existing here. We’re used to the hectic, unpredictable and often dangerous traffic, and jumping on to still-moving buses – holding on for precious life and smiling at the many pairs of eyes that stare back at us every time we board. We’re used to the food vendors screaming, the tuk tuk drivers touting, the scammers who attempt to trick us, and the spontaneous tambourine performances that happen on the most interesting of bus rides. We eat with our hands (after sanitizing and sterilizing them, of course), we know what foods are good, we know what prices should roughly be (not that they always are that) and I have become the batering queen.
We now know how to lose those persistent, clingy “guides” who try to “help us”, ensuring us that they “don’t want money” (and then later ask for money and pens…).
We comfortably cross the roads, walking out into traffic we wouldn’t dare confront back home, and we’ve accepted that people stare at us. A lot. Like, all the time.
We’re used to the pollution and dirt that sticks to our sun-screen smeared skin, the heat that bears down on us relentlessly, and the constant outstretched hands of those who ask for money…

Throughout our travels in Sri Lanka, we were frequently told “Colombo is not worth visiting; there’s nothing to see…” However, we disregarded the advice; we wanted to see for ourselves what this bustling metropolis was like – we couldn’t go to Sri Lanka and not go to it’s capital city!

We stayed out of the city in Mt. Lavinina, which meant we had a 30 – 40 minute bus ride into Colombo each day. Rather than being a burden, the trip was really enjoyable each time – passing through the different areas of the city, past markets and shops and people and the always hectic, hectic traffic. Night time was the best time for people watching: it’s fascinating to see how alive this city is at night; the sights and sounds and smells and colours are beautiful and messy, and the people seem to intertwine and enjoy their city together. Every sense is heightened as you try to take in the surroundings.

We spent most of our time in Colombo simply walking around, looking, taking it in and enjoying it.
We shared Kotthu Roti (Sri Lanka’s national dish) at a little hole-in-the wall eatery with a couch surfing host, explored the produce markets and bazaars, ate rice and curry with our hands, drank tea, and at last found a place to appease my shopping urges (although I was very suitably restrained!). We had planned to visit a few temples, but after one distressing visit to the highly regarded Gangaramaya Buddhist temple tourist trap, which was keeping an elephant in a most cruel manner, we left feeling despondent and didn’t bother again.
Our highlight was the small Sunday morning Arts Market, in which several local painters were selling their incredibly beautiful paintings at unbelievably low prices. Had we been travelling back to Australia sooner, we would’ve no doubt bought a piece of unique art work – if you get the opportunity to visit Colombo on a Sunday, a visit to the Arts Market is a fantastic experience.

Two nights might have been enough in Colombo, but there is so much to see there if you really look. As we boarded a bus headed for Negombo, and said goodbye to Colombo – we realized that tomorrow, we’ll be in India…

India.

Shit just got real.