Preparing Sri Lankan Rice & Curry with Ecowave Travels
“So you don’t know how to cook rice & curry, and that’s why you are here?” The Australian guest who joined us for the cooking class with Ecowave asks me. In Sri Lanka, we eat rice & curry for breakfast. We eat it for lunch. We have rice & curry for dinner. It’s our staple meal. But the truth is, neither Nathan nor I knew how to prepare rice & curry. It might look simple, easy-to-make on a plate, but preparing rice & curry is quite hard work, and you have to master all the skills to get the authentic Sri Lanka taste.
Ecowave is a social enterprise. Their outlet is in the center of Arugam Bay. It’s a quaint little town bustling with hipster parties, surfers from around the globe during the high season. We were there in February. It’s now the off-season, and it’s much quieter here. Ecowave supports the small-scale farmers, and local communities in nearby Panama, and Urani villages. They facilitate the neighborhoods in Panama, and Lahugala villages to run a homestay campaign, focusing on developing the ethical tourism practices in the area. They encourage sustainable agricultural practices in the nearby communities, and offer travelers several eco-friendly, responsible travel experiences in Sri Lanka’s East Coast. During our stay in Arugam Bay, we joined with Ecowave, and participated in a cooking class where all the ingredients are organic, and sourced from local communities. We also went on the Kottukal Lagoon Tour in Pottuvil, visited a local farmer’s garden, had lunch in a local homestay in Panama, and went on a safari to Kumana National Park.
Our culinary lesson went on for four hours. For those who are unfamiliar with local Sri Lankan cuisine, Sri Lankan rice & curry isn’t just rice with one curry on a plate. Rice is the main dish while four, five, or six curries are served alongside in small dishes. We prepared brinjal (eggplant) salad, okra (ladies fingers), dhal (lentils) curry, fish curry, ash plantain curry, pumpkin curry, beetroot curry, and pol (coconut) sambol. Brinjal salad, along with the ash plantain curry turned out to be our favourites. Everything is hand-made. The ingredients including vegetables, herbs, and spices are fresh, locally-sourced, and were a gorgeous sight to the eye with their glistening colours. Some of the main spices, and ingredients we used were curry powder, black pepper powder, cinnamon sticks, chili flakes, chili powder, cumin seeds, turmeric powder, and ginger. We also used curry leaves, ripe tomatoes, diced, imbued with orange-red hues, chopped garlic, and sliced onions to enhance the flavour.
It was four of us at the cooking class, Nathan, myself, Jenner and her partner from Australia. We helped Ibrahim, and the local village lady in preparing the curries. We cut most of the vegetables, scarped the coconut, and then prepared coconut milk by squeezing the grated coconut mixed with water. The preparation of coconut milk is a process one would need to master. You need to squeeze the grated coconut tightly until the coconut meat is completely dry, and you get a thick coconut cream in the bowl. The first batch which is called the coconut cream is then left aside to prepare the curries. The scrapped coconut was then mixed with water again, and squeezed two more times to prepare the coconut milk.
Sri Lankan food is packed with flavors. The local-favourited version is, unapologetically spicy, and not for those who are timid eaters. However, you can prepare mild-spicy curries to suit your tongue. Ibrahim was our chef, our teacher for the day, and he happily recalled us all the recipes. The aroma of mixed ingredients, herbs, and spices, as well as of the freshly cooked Sri Lankan curries was something we’d never forget. Dinner was then served on the main table. Fortunately, none of us had lunch prior to the lesson that day. And it helped us devour all the curries. We shared our travel experiences in Sri Lanka, pro tips, and recommendations on South Coast as the two Aussies are next heading to Mirissa.
I often think rice & curry reflect the true Sri Lankan life. Made with simple ingredients, but pack a lot of flavours, and become a treat to the tongue. It’s as same as the warm, smiling strangers we meet when we travel to little corners of the island. Simple, but with bigger hearts. Their smiles and eyes speak love just as same as how Sri Lankan food is prepared with a lot of love. The secret why authentic Sri Lankan curries taste absolutely delicious.
LIKE IT? PIN IT!