Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Why Colombo is a food (and shopping [gasp!]) heaven

Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka may not have the best reputation. We were told by many to just fly in and get the hell out as it was supposed to be a noisy, boring, "whatever" city. We considered this for a brief second but as soon as we arrived, we completely dismissed this advice.

King Coconut, the Best Coconut!
Colombo is a foodie paradise. We explored sections of city center brimming with street hawkers selling fresh king coconuts (Eliot's favorite), savory fried snacks and Sri Lankan chai.

The cafe at the Dutch Burgher Union serves mouth-watering lampreis, chicken, curried vegetables and beef croquettes baked in a wrapped banana leaf. Burghers are an ethnic group of mixed Sri Lankan/Dutch heritage dating back to colonial times (think Spice Islands).

They have their own micro-culture and sophisticated cuisine and their community is thriving in Colombo. Oh, and Drea discovered delicious cinnamon iced tea soda which she plans on bringing back to the U.S.!

Lampreis, a Colombo delicacy
From there we went on to explore the culinary delights available at an open farmer's market on a lake in the city. They do it every Thursday and we were lucky to have arrived on a Thursday morning. We had brown rice served with five amazing curries on a giant lotus leaf instead of a plate and devoured it in seconds. They had at least 30 different fresh fruit juices at the next stand so we got two and then made sure to try Sri Lankan hoppers: a crepe-esque snack with an egg on top with chili sambal.

Sambal is a delicious mixture of fresh red chili peppers and ground coconut meat and other spices that vary according to the chef. The feast that day ended with a delicious rooibos lemon iced tea and a homemade passionfruit yogurt made by a British/Sri Lankan couple.

The amazingly refreshing cinnamon iced tea soda

Our days continued with a lot of sampling and eating and we became big fans of kottu: a seriously loud dish of chopped up rotti, loads of veggies and usually egg and chicken all wrapped up in plastic and then newspaper.

Kottu dinner
Cutlery options are either a plastic spoon (for the foreigners) or your hands (local style).

In spite of its carb-heavy nature, kottu was delicious and we ate it almost every single night while in Sri Lanka -- Colombo's version was better than any other city we visited in the country.

To top it all off, we came right during mangosteen (the queen of fruit!) and rambutan season so we bought them by the kilo and snacked on fruit throughout the day. 

One of Sri Lanka's fashion houses
Colombo also turned out to be a fashion hub. In between meals and snacks, we'd usually go to various shops. Most of you will know how much we both hate shopping but we actually had a ton of fun exploring the textile markets. Local designers do wonders with hand loomed fabric and the results are extraordinary. Drea actually found her wedding dress and Eliot also picked up wedding attire plus very cheap custom-made clothing!

As far as capital cities are concerned, we usually opt to jet out as soon as is humanly possible. Colombo definitely broke that mold and turned into one of our favorite places. If you're headed to Sri Lanka any time soon, let us know and we'll hook you up with the most honest and nicest tuk tuk driver around so that you can savor and explore this cool city!

What do you think? Colombo: love it or hate it?
Co-posted on www.eliotpeper.com

Yucca snacks on the streets of Colombo


Mangosteen and rambutan season!

Coconut sambal (left) with string hoppers and dal (right) for breakfast


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