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THE ULTIMATE VEGAN & VEGETARIAN FOOD AND DRINKS GUIDE TO SRI LANKA.
Being a vegetarian, the only thing which worries me before a foreign trip is whether I will easily get affordable vegetarian or vegan food. I am a proud vegetarian (no eggs, dairy yes) since 1994 and I am one of those who will stare at you angrily if you dismiss vegetarian food as ghaas phoss (herbs and shrubs).
Having traveled to Australia, Jordan, Bhutan, U.A.E., Thailand, I can now say that it is becoming easier to find vegetarian and vegan food in many countries off late. But most of these countries sell such food at a premium cost or sometimes even add ingredients which they think is vegetarian. (But of course fish doesn’t grow on trees!) This blog is another of my MEGA BLOG, a term I coined some time back!
SRI LANKA IS PARADISE FOR VEGANS!
Of the countries I have traveled to, apart from India, Bhutan and Nepal, Sri Lanka was the only other country where I can blindly trust the server when he/she tells me that a particular dish is vegetarian or vegan. In fact, Sri Lanka is a paradise for vegans and vegetarians, much like my country India. Unlike some countries I listed above, vegetarian food in Sri Lanka is abundant and not just limited to specialty restaurants and café.
I visited Colombo, Sigiriya, Galle, Kandy etc. Every where I went in Sri Lanka, it was easy to find vegetarian/vegan Sri Lankan/Indian and continental food. The food in Sri Lanka is spicy and has bold flavours. The food served in five star hotels is milder in taste though.
SIMILARITIES BETWEEN SOUTH INDIAN AND SRI LANKAN FOOD:
I know it is annoying that I keep giving Indian references throughout this blog. But it is important to show the similarity between South Indian and Sri Lankan food. Much of the food in both countries taste and look similar. They just go with different names. Thousands of years of migration and invasions resulted in the inevitable overlapping of food culture in the two neighbouring countries.
If I mention India, be sure the particular dish will also be available in India, mostly South. And much like South India, food at many places in Sri Lanka is served on fresh banana leaves.
Below are some of the vegetarian/vegan dishes I savoured during my sojourn to Sri Lanka. Even meat eaters will beg for more vegan food here:
GUIDE TO LOCAL SRI LANKAN FOOD:
SAMBOL – SRI LANKA VEGAN GUIDE
Sambols are the accompaniment or chutneys without which a Sri Lankan meal is incomplete. It is ubiquitous and much loved by the locals and foreigners alike. I thought it would be an injustice to dedicate just a paragraph to sambol in this blog, so I wrote a separate blog on different kinds of sambols like Pol sambol, Katta Sambol and Seeni Sambola. The blog also has easy to make recipes of sambols. Yes, it takes only 10 minutes to make pol sambol.
Most restaurants will serve this in the breakfast. Called in India as appa or appam, it is wafer thin pancake made in the shape of a bowl. It is also commonly available in much of India, moreso in South India. It is made with a batter of fermented rice flour paste, coconut milk and palm toddy. It is light so just hog!
Mostly it is savoury in taste. Some varieties have sweet version too. The sweeter varieties are the milk hopper (kiri appa) and the pani appa (made using treacle). In case you want to make it at home, you can buy hoppers flour at most grocery shops and supermarkets in Sri Lanka
VEGAN ALERT– Sometimes it may contain eggs (biththara appa) so please ask before ordering. It is great food for vegans as it contains no dairy. You will love the fact that its outer surface is crisp while it is soft from inside, especially at the bottom of the bowl. The bowl shape is courtesy tachchiya (hot pan). Indian chefs sometimes make it in karahi (wok)
Commonly called Idiyappam in India, it is also widely served in breakfast across Sri Lanka. It is also popular in Singapore, Malaysia and many other Asian countries. These are thin spaghetti or noodles like strings of rice flour dough. It takes skill to make it. The dough is grated on a specialized sieve on small wooden or metal trays stacked one atop another, closed and steamed. The method of making Idli is the same. It goes best with sambols and coconut chutneys and sambhar (Indian lentil curry) or Sri Lankan curries like ala hodi (Potato curry) and parippu (dhal-lentil). Idiyappam aka string hoppers has its root in India an dates back to first century. It is light on stomach, low on spice, healthy and easily digestible.
VEGAN ALERT– Some chefs include curd in Indian coconut chutney.
Called puttu in South India, it is a cylindrical roll made up of ground rice and coconut. It is then steamed and served with curry, ghee and sometimes with sugar. In India, it is widely served with chana masala (chickpeas curry). The other two varieties of pittu available in Sri Lanka are pol pittu (made with coconut) and mani pittu (made with wheat flour).
VEGAN ALERT– It is often served with egg and meat curries.
Very popular across Sri Lanka, it made me wonder if some resourceful chef centuries ago carelessly dumped all the leftovers in a wok and realized that all of it taste good together. It is a coarse mixture of godamba roti (Sri Lankan bread), vegetables and curry etc. The sound associated with Kottu Roti makes it all the more famous. The skilled chefs defly chop the ingredients with blunt metal cleavers while it is still being cooked on hot iron griddle (tawa). Reminds you of Indian pao bhaji at Girgaum Chowpatty, Mumbai eh?
You can easily find kottu roti in petti kades (road side eateries) and posh restaurants.
VEGAN ALERT– Egg and meat versions are also common and can be confusing. Just ask!
PARIPPU (Dhal curry):
It is a lentil curry, mildly spiced with spices and curry leaves. It goes well with rice, string hoppers and rotis. Mostly made with mysore dhal, it is a staple food of Sri Lankans and also most of Indians and Nepalese.
VEGAN ALERT– None
Jackfruit is a large tropical food, commonly available across Sri Lanka and India. However, the cooking method and taste varies. It is a large fruit chopped into pieces and cooked into a curry. Fresh polos (young green jackfruit) is preferred by the Sri Lankans. Spices like chilli powder, turmeric, mustard seeds, pandan leaves and curry leaf sprigs enhance its flavor. It is starchy and the texture is coarse and meat like.
VEGAN ALERT– You can’t go wrong with this one.
It is not a main side but served as an accompaniment or side dish to the main course. Achcharu is the Sri Lankan version of pickles. The Sri Lankan achcharu taste distinctively different from the Indian achars or pickles, even though they use same ingredients such as raw mangoes, lime, onion, chillies, amberalla (Malay apple) and even pineapple and olives. Much like how Indian achar taste different in every state and every home, Sri Lankan achcharu also come in huge variety and varies in taste and texture as you move to different regions. Achcharu is a Sinhala term which means ‘mix of ingredients’. You can also buy bottled achcharu from shops. These have a long shelf life and can be savoured even when you have left Sri Lanka. Much like achar, the taste of achcharu is bold, spicy and zingy and thus can not be enjoyed on its own. It is thus wise to eat it in very small amounts along with rice and curry etc.
VEGAN ALERT– Don’t even think twice. Go for it!
It is the local thick grained Sri Lankan rice most commonly consumed with local curries and dhal (spicy lentil stew)
VEGAN ALERT– None
Kiri Hodi is a mixed vegetable curry and is a staple food of Sri Lanka. It is served mostly with red rice but also goes with string hoppers and bread (roti). Coconut milk forms the base of the gravy while garlic, onion, cinnamon, pandan leaves, curry powder and fenugreek add to its taste. It is light on stomach, so you can hog. Ala Kiri Hodi means same dish but potatoes are main ingredients here.
VEGAN ALERT– Some versions contain eggs.
It is a herbal soup made with Mukunuwenna, botanical name of which is Alternanthera sessilis. I had a bowl of Kola Kanda on one of the days for breakfast. It is a popular pot herb eaten by the locals. The taste was mild and nothing to write home about but it is a must have for the umpteen medicinal benefits it offers. It works in curing anemia, skin diseases and constipation. It also pacifies pitha and increases eye sight. It is also said to increase the flow of milk in nursing mothers. It is a cholagogue laxative useful in chronic congestion of the liver biliousness and dyspepsia associated with sluggish liver. Thanks to its diuretic and diluents properties, it may be used in acute and chronic pyelitis cystitis gonorrhea. Its leaves are also eaten as salad and curry.
VEGAN ALERT: Check with staff that there is no cream in it.
SWEET POTATOES AND PUMPKIN:
It is very common to find cooked Sweet Potatoes and Pumpkin in breakfast in Sri Lanka. It doesn’t appeal to me but it sure has many takers, especially tourists from Europe.
VEGAN ALERT- Just blindly gobble it up if it is your kind of thing!
Called kiribath in South India, milk rice is cooked on special occasions, much like India. Sri Lankans consider it auspicious food. It is mild in taste. Rice and thick coconut cream are cooked together. This bland rice pudding is often cut in square shape after it cools down and served with sambols, lunumiris (onion and chilli sambol) or treacle mix called panipol.
VEGAN ALERT– Despite the name Milk Rice, dairy is not used. The milk here refers to the coconut milk. However, it is still wise to ask before making a mountain of milk rice on your breakfast plate. Lunumiris may contain fish. Ask.
These are small round breads cooked on an iron griddle. It can be eaten with curries and sambol. Contains coconut and wheat.
WAMBATU MOJU (Eggplant pickle)
These are deep fried sweet and sour brinjal wedges sautéed with green chillies, red onions, sugar, vinegar, turmeric, mustard seeds. It goes well as an accompaniment to rice and curry.
VEGAN ALERT– None
I bought some packed flavoured peanuts from a super store. The taste was distinctively different from what I have eaten till now. It contains curry leaves and many local spices. A must try if you are in Sri Lanka. It lasts long so you can pack some for home as well. It is spicy and goes well with alcoholic drinks.
VEGAN ALERT– None
VEGAN AND VEGETARIAN SWEETS OF SRI LANKA
Aasmi is visually beautiful and looks similar to idiyappam aka string hoppers. It is available at most street shops but is quite popular during Sinhala and Tamil new year. It is made up of rice flour, coconut milk and davul kurundu juice.
VEGAN ALERT: None
It is an ancient sweetener popular in Sri Lanka. It looks the same as ‘gur’ from India but tastes a bit different. Most locals use kithul jiggery instead of sugar in daily use. It is extracted from fish tail palm. Concentrated treacle is heated to 200°C. The thick syrup is then cooled down and shaped as per the mould and cut into small pieces.
VEGAN ALERT: Fish tail palm is a tree, so stop sweating please!
KAVUM AKA KEVUM-
Like Milk Rice, Kavum aka Kevum is also cooked on special occasions. This sweet dish is prepared from fine rice flour, kithul treacle (sugar palm) and coconut oil. It is most commonly eaten during the Sri Lankan new year aka Sinhala New Year. It is popularly known as oil cake. It also finds mention in ancient Sri Lankan scriptures such as Pujawaliya, Saddharma Ratnawaliya and Ummagga Jatakaya. There are many different varieties of kavum found in Sri Lanka. Some are Konda kevum, Undu kevum, Naran kevum, Mun kevum and Thala kevum etc.
VEGAN ALERT– It is safe too!
ALCOHOLIC AND NON ALCOHOLIC DRINKS IN SRI LANKA:
SRI LANKAN TEA:
Sri Lanka has many beverages which are unique to the island country. For example, you get many varieties of Sri Lankan Tea aka Ceylon tea. Tea culture in Sri Lanka is as strong as that of India. Tea production also employs more than 5 % of the population of Sri Lanka and is one of the major contributors to the economy of the small island. When in Sri Lanka, you must try different types of teas. Some of the teas you can try here are Irish Breakfast, Spiced Masala, green tea, Rose and French Vanilla, Lapsang Souchong, English Breakfast Earl Grey, English Afternoon black tea. You can also visit a tea garden, tea factory and even buy teas neatly packed in cute porcelain elephants.
WOOD APPLE JUICE:
It is known as Bel ka sherbet in India. It is a coarse juice and is quite soothing during hot weather. It can be thick or thin depending upon the mood of the chef. It has many medicinal benefits too. For example it boosts energy, purifies the blood, helps in diabetes, aids digestion and many more.
KING COCONUT WATER:
When in Sri Lanka, always order King Coconut (cocos nucifera var. aurantiaca). What makes King Coconut unique is that it is indigenous to Sri Lanka. It is bright orange in color and grows naturally all over the tropical island, sans any human aid. It is the best drink to beat the humid air of Sri Lanka. Not only is it refreshing, it is also rich in electrolytes.
When in Sri Lanka, you can’t skip old arrack. It is equivalent of feni of Goa (India). The country made drink is a distilled alcoholic beverage quite popular amongst locals and tourists alike. The sap of unopened flowers from a coconut palm is fermented and distilled before being packaged. You can have it with ginger beer, soda, cola or lemon based cold drinks.
Another alcoholic beer ubiquitous in Sri Lanka is the Lion beer. The beer goes well with most spicy dishes of Sri Lanka. Its packaging is attractive. Do not miss it!
VEGAN ALERT– All the above mentioned drinks are vegan. Just watch out for milk in some versions of the teas.
VEGETARIAN AND VEGAN SOUTH INDIAN FOOD IN SRI LANKA:
South Indian food like Masala Dosa, Mendu Vada,Idli, Samosa, sambhar, Chana, Dal Chawal, Murukku are easily available if you look carefully. All of these dishes are vegetarian and most of these dishes are vegan. Apart from posh restaurants, most of these dishes are also available in road side cars for as less as half a USD. What’s not to love?
VEGAN ALERT– The only thing in above dishes can pose a problem to vegans is the curd present in the South Indian style chutney.
INTERNATIONAL FOOD IN SRI LANKA
In case you are bored of Sri Lankan and Indian food (which is unlikely), you can also indulge in Pita bread with falafel and hummus, vegetarian sushi, pastas and pizzas across the speciality restaurants in Sri Lanka. I particularly liked the trendy Barefoot Café in Colombo. Their falafel rolls and spinach cheese quiche were generous in portion and quite tasty. Semoundu, situated at the uber cool old Dutch hospital building is posh and serves amazing continental food apart from the delicious Sri Lankan thali. It is deftly run by Sri Lankan airlines.
VEGAN ALERT–Beware of cheese, cream, yoghurt, eggs, fish. Discuss with server or chef before you are served.
The view from my #SoulWindow is finger licking good!
Disclosure: As is common in the travel industry to host the writers and bloggers for reviews and media reports, I was also invited on the press trip to cover it. However, my views are not influenced by the sponsorship. It is my responsibility to give truthful information to my readers on my blog and I have adhered to that personal policy while writing this blog.
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