UMAMI MART MATSURI FESTIVAL
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It's been a while people, and I hope you've all been having a blast (as I'm sure you have). I, on the other hand, have had a slightly manic time especially since the worst thing that can happen to a food blogger has occurred. I may be allergic to seafood. NOOOOO!

And to compound my misery, I went on holiday home to seafood paradise, Sri Lanka. Double NOOOOO!

I can't quite wipe away the look of incomprehension and disappointment as I quietly told my dad that no, we can't go to that fantastic seafood restaurant in Cinnamon Grand where you get to pick the freshest fish/prawn/crab and they'd cook it any way you want. And no, we can't go to the little seafood shack in Unawatuna Bay where surfers congregate and they'll cook you the simplest plates of seafood, plucked fresh from the sea. No, not until I've gone to the allergy clinic. Woe is me.

However, I found that there was something I could eat without any sort of reaction and that could be found aplenty in Sri Lanka: the ubiquitous rice and curry. Yay! So basically I currified myself until I couldn't even look at another curry.

My dad usually goes to the market in the morning and comes back with whatever he fancies and like a magician, Wimala, my parents' cleaning lady/cook, conjures up a feast. Both my parents cook, but realised that Wimala can do a much better job, as her curries are legendary.

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This is the usual spread we have at home for lunch when Wimala comes to the house. This day, we had (clockwise from bottom right): red rice (even healthier than brown rice and good for diabetics), marrow/squash curry, cabbage, baby aubergine curry, green bean curry, beef and potato curry, mallum (steamed greens mixed with coconut and onions) and dal (lentil curry).

This is a typical Sri Lankan spread. You normally get one fish or meat curry, several vegetable curries, a mallum or salad and dal. As you can see, it's heavily vegetable-based and pretty healthy. The meat and fish curries are normally very spicy and flavourful and the vegetable curries are mild and milky and temper the heat.

And this is how I arrange my plate.

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I like to eat each curry separately but some people (heathens!) like to mix it all up into a gloop. Not pretty. As I'm only half-Sri Lankan, I use a spoon. But everyone else uses their hands and apparently it's supposed to add that extra umami to the mouthful (kinda reminds me of how slurping loudly can make ramen taste better).

Another favourite of mine is lamprais, a surviving vestige of the Dutch occupation of Ceylon in the 17th century.

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It's rice cooked in stock accompanied by a meat or fish croquette, curried chicken or fish, a boiled egg, hot pickle, dried, spicy fish flakes and deep fried aubergine curry (or something similar) wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed.

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It's very more-ish but SPICY. Reminds me of a banana leaf bento.

Every year I visit Sri Lanka in late January because 1) winter is the best season as there is less humidity but still around 27°C (80˚F); and 2) I get to go to the Galle Literary Festival in the south of the island to indulge my love of books. We stayed in a lovely little hotel in Galle Fort, a 300 year-old Dutch fort with ramparts and a still-working lighthouse.

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We had the usual curries to eat interspersed with grilled sandwiches and gallons of fresh lime juice because it's healthy, high in alkaline and quenches the thirst like nothing else.

We had a Sri Lankan breakfast EVERY day. No toast and bacon for us, no sir. Instead, we had string hoppers with egg curry, dal and pol sambol (grated coconut, red chillis, onion, maldive fish and lime juice).

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String hoppers are flat, lattice-shaped pancakes made from rice noodles and are most often eaten at breakfast or dinner usually with a coconut-milk curry gravy or kiri hothi.

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You can imagine how happy they were at this place. This was apparently for two people but each pile had ten string hoppers. Seriously, that's 20 per person.

And we were also treated to a hopper night!

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Hoppers are like pancakes, thin and crispy at the edges and spongy in the middle. They are made from a fermented batter of rice flour and coconut milk. You can also get egg hoppers where an egg is broken onto a hopper half way through the cooking process. These are very popular at breakfast, but I prefer mine plain.

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We had hoppers with a potato curry made from coconut milk (basically Sri Lankans put coconut milk in everything, but it's fresh and tastes nothing like the stuff you get from cans), lunu miris (onions, chilli, maldive fish and lime juice), seeni sambol (sweet and spicy onion sambol) and fish curry.

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And we polished the meal off with fresh curd and kithul (palm) honey fresh from Hambantota, a coastal town three hours from Galle and famous for curd.

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It was so delightfully creamy that my mum had it twice a day four days in a row. Respect.
Column: Slightly Peckish
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4 comments

  • Argh! I’m so sorry you have got food allergies T_T That sucks. I know nothing about DSri Lankan food but this post has made me want to go there.

    Sasa on

  • lovely post ! I’m obsessed with gettingmy family to Sri Lanka for a holiday
    what was the name of the hotel with the string hoppers at Galle Fort ?

    Suzi on

  • It’s a culinary paradise, Sri Lanka, you must visit! It’s looking like it may not be food allergies so we’ll see. Thanks for commenting Sasa!

    sakura on

  • Suzi: It’s a small hotel called Chez Mama. But you can get string hoppers in most places that serve curries. Hope you do get to make your way to Sri Lanka!

    sakura on

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