Food: Sri Lankans eat a light and simple breakfast. It is usually made up of fruit, jam or juice with bread or hoppers, the shell-shaped pancakes made of rice flour and coconut milk. All hotels serve a European breakfast. Bread, jam, tea or coffee and fruit juice, supplemented by the heavier English breakfast of baked eggs and scrambled eggs, sausages and beans. Sri Lanka is a country where the trees are heavy with fruit, so every breakfast is rich in fruit and juice. Other meals consist of some sort of rice and curry. A large pile of rice surrounded by small amounts of proteins and vitamins prepared as a spicy curry. This has been the traditional dish for centuries. There are a large variety of curries. In a poor family, rice and curry may be no more than rice, some braised chilli peppers with coconut and lime and perhaps another braised vegetable, while a rich meal may count as many as twenty curries. There are vegetable curries, fish curries, egg and meat curries and even fruit curries. They all share complicated mixes of spices in which they are braised, baked, marinated or boiled. The varieties are subtle, although Westerners tend to mainly notice the hotness of the spices. Sambal, a spicy condiment, has many visitors grasping for their glass of mineral water – which only worsens the experience. Curries are always accompanied by a ‘fire extinguisher’: curd, a thick yoghurt made of buffalo milk. Sri Lankans eat with the fingers of their right hand. A little ball of curry is carefully mixed with rice and maybe some curd, and then worked into the mouth using one hand.
Drinking water: Do not drink tap water; it is not fit for consumption. Buy bottles of purified drinking water, which are available everywhere in the country. Make sure that the bottles come with their original lids or tops. Likewise, ice cubes in your coca cola are taboo, as these are made from tap water.
Restaurants and other eating places: In every village there will be a small restaurant serving hoppers or rice and curry. The restaurants where the ordinary Sri Lankans eat are very cheap. Sometimes, you can eat there for as little as 65p. Not everyone will be equally impressed by them as they appear to be hygienically challenged. In practice, the conditions often are not all that bad, but for many Westerners the grotty furniture serves to reduce the appetite. The tourist hotels serve Sri Lankan food that has been adjusted to Western taste. The best food is prepared in the kitchens of Sri Lankan families. If you are lucky enough to be invited for a meal with an islander, be sure to grasp the opportunity. Fish and seafood dishes are prepared very well all along the coast. The most important ingredient of a seafood dish is fresh fish and these are in abundance. The exception is lobster and shrimps. Sometimes far less delicious frozen ones are served. Avoid eating defrosted seafood by inquiring emphatically about their freshness and, in case of doubt, ask to see them in the kitchen. Fresh lobster means live lobster. Vegetarians are well off in Sri Lanka. In many restaurants thalis are served. These are South-Indian, vegetarian versions of rice and curry. The Chinese prepare a good many delicious dishes made with only vegetables (and sometimes eggs). Also, most rice and curry dishes contain only one or two curries with animal protein. Originally, both the Hindus and the Buddhists were vegetarian. Only fish was consumed. It took the Europeans to make meat an integral part of the Sri Lankan diet. Even now, a large part of the population is strictly vegetarian. The amount of meat that rice and curries contain is less than what Europeans are used to.
Fruit: One of the greatest attractions of Sri Lanka is the nearly infinite availability of exotic fruits. They come in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes, but they outdo each other in taste. To explore Sri Lanka is to surrender to the strange looking fruit piled up along the road or sold by women who make a living out of selling fruit on the beach or along the street. Some of the most delectable fruits are mango, rambutan, papaya, pineapple, royal coconut, sour sob, jackfruit, mangosteen, durian and many types of bananas.