Kandy is Food… Kandy, Sri Lanka that is and I took today the most amazing food tour that I could have asked for. But first its the journey… again.. it was a relatively easy one by Wild William’s standards. A short tuk tuk to the bus station, no harassment at the bus station, a magnificent egg and vegetable samosa before boarding and then on the way.. I’ll just share a little compilation of the sights and sounds from that journey.
Highlights of the trip were being crammed into the three person bench. Basically I spent 5 hours fitting 48 inches into 28 inches of space.. that’s my shoulders folks, of which the likes of a Sri Lankan bus is most definitely not made. So despite the 10-15 open seats behind me the lovely Sri Lankan’s felt the need to sit with me at every chance. Odd… but if they don’t mind I don’t mind 🙂
The Awesome View Guest House
Upon arrival into Kandy I’m stunned by the traffic. I was expecting a quite little mountain town.. imagine my surprise to find the third largest city in Sri Lanka complete with insane traffic jams. Well as I was trying to beat the clock to meet my food tour guide I was only marginally stressed. But off the bus, I find an easy tuk tuk and negotiate a rate to run me up the hill to my guest house, The McLeod Inn, and back down to the cultural center to meet Buddhima.
Imagine my immense pleasure at finding a gloriously clean and spacious room overlooking the lake in the center of the city. Fantastic air conditioning, a super friendly owner and I’m just completely at ease and excited to get to eat some great Sri Lankan food.
So then its off to meet Buddhima. She was found via a great little tour service called With Locals. It pairs local tour guides offering unique and completely local perspectives on their town. This is the second time I’ve used it, the first being in Marrakech (which left me suspect but I’m always willing to give a second shot). This time I’m blown away.
We start with a tour of the market where we start with a great cup of tea.. english style with milk and sugar. (I haven’t had my true tasting experience yet .. thats coming later) We send Katelyn, my most intelligent and beautiful niece a birthday greeting as I’ve missed now both her graduation party and her 18th birthday party. I know she understands though!
After the tea, its off to tour the rest of the market. Spices, spices, spics.. umpteen varieties of rice (red, white, black, long, short, wild, etc etc etc). Then local sweets tasting, Jhaggary, made from concentrated kithul (pronounced tickul .. at least to my ear), a kind of almost cross between brown sugar and crystalized honey. Trickle of course being the sap from the palm trees.
Then the snack shop.. loads of varieties of savory snacks made from the flour of ground chick peas.. peanuts… casava chips.. and several more I cannot remember. All were amazing and addictive. Of course at every stop, the tour comes with Buddhia buying a small sack to sample and take with me.
Then its fruit fruit and more fruit. Bread fruit, jack fruit, ridiculous varieties of AMAZING mangos. Watermelon, rambutan, mangosteen, bananas and probably about 100 more that I asked about and cannot remember.
Following fruit comes the butchery. Beef, lamb, chicken, fish, pork. Rather gruesome in its visceral form hanging from hooks.. heads on tables… hoofs on the floor. No denying where your lamb chop or hamburger comes from here.
Rounding out the market is the vegetables. Endless varieties of tomatoes, carrots, leeks, greens and herbs, cabbage, corn, and again, way more than I can remember or comprehend. It was interesting to see the hierarchy of stalls.. the ones on the edge unprotected from the sun, had the oldest and worst looking produce. The more protected and segregated stalls holding well ordered and stacked produced bursting with freshness you could just smell.
And then it is probably the highlight of the tour was the local heritage food pavilion Hela-Bojun-Hala. A location which gives the local women a source of income while promoting the preservation of local culinary culture. Lots of chickpea flour delicacies, fried, rolled, pressed baked… curries of course… sweets with trickle, treats with honey… nuts.. really just about everything you could imagine. Of course each one coming with a sample.
I’m at this point bursting at the seams when Buddhima announces we will take a short walk through town before hitting our last tasting…. LAST tasting.. wow.. I feel I’m rolling down the street already. We walk past the oldest mansion from the last king of Kandy, the big mosque, the catholic church and numerous other colonial and local fused architectural wonders.
Finally I had planned on loading myself into tuk tuk for the ride up the hill but convinced myself I needed some exercise and climbed up the hillside windy road. I don’t think this was such a good idea as ever since I was hit by that lovely car while sailing, I jump through the roof with loud noises from behind. Well, the local way of letting you know that they see you and are avoiding you is to honk their horns. Needless to say I was jumping out of my shorts for the 45 mintues it takes me to climb the hill.
But I’m rewarded at the end with a quick shower and a rest in my bed followed by sunset and nighttime breezes on the balcony overlooking the lights of the city and the sounds of celebration at the temple of the sacred tooth relic.
And the next morning I’m set to be picked up with another “with locals” tour guide for a ride and tour from Kandy to Ella.
The Long And Winding Road
This is another great day. I’m rocking the interior of Sri Lanka. First off its about 15 degrees cooler than the coast which feels like heaven at this point. but its hilly, green and lush. As always the people are wonderfully friendly.
The day starts with a 7:30am pickup by Dashan in his toyota station wagon and a short ride through the city out to the tea tasting location. My guide, an expat German, takes me through the intricacies of picking and processing tea leaves. Picking only the newest three leaves of growth, classifying them from small (best) to large (worst .. think tea bags) white vs gold vs green vs black. Of course the white tea (see below) will solve every malady known to man and possibly reduce nuclear proliferation in Iran.
Then we wind and twist our way up the mountains. All is awesome until Dashan gets pulled over by the cops after rounding a turn. We think its just a random license check. Nope. I look in the mirror and see Dashan and the cop yelling at each other. Dashan comes storming back to the car and tells me the cop claims he crossed the center line and wanted to give him a ticket.
Now there are several funny things about this. First being that Dashan is by and far, light years ahead of any other driver I’ve been with in terms of safety. He doesn’t speed, he doesn’t pass unsafely, he keeps to his side of the road. So the allegations are absurd in my book. Second is that Dashan has a dash cam.. has he’s rewinding the footage, the cop comes up and starts banging on the window.. he is ignored by Dashan until he finds the right footage. Then he opens the door and they start yelling at each other again until the cop finally throws up his arms in exasperation and waves us on. It was an entertaining and slightly unerving experience. Dashan is clearly bothered by it as he wants to talk about it for the next half an hour.
Then we pull over and we’re at Ramboda falls the 729th tallest falls in the world. We take a glorious if not strenuous hike up the side of the mountain to get a better picture of the falls… in a slight drizzle.. but it is GORGEOUS!
After Ramboda we head off for the rest of our car ride for the remainder of the trip to Ella. Normally people do take the train ride from Kandy to Ella as its very very scenic. I have decided to do the train ride in the opposite direction so I could take this tour with Deshan. Along the way we see the Monkey Man temple where according to the Hindu tradition, Sita was imprisoned by Ravan until rescued by Rama.
Then we’re finally in Ella where we snag some lunch then its off to see the famous 9 arch bridge in time for the train to come across. Along the way we see all kinds of flora… pepper trees, trickle taping, flowers of all kinds.. you name it.
Then its off to my hotel for some rest where I find I am again literally the ONLY person in the guest house.. not so bad. What IS bad is that I screwed up and missed the fact that place doesn’t have any AC.. ouch. Not the end of the world as the evenings in the mountains are cooler. But the “mountain view” I supposedly had was one of a tree. The magnificent views on the booking.com website were very carefully cropped to not include the view of hte building right in the middle of the view. Then the power kept going out. To top it all off the “restaurant” in the guest house wasn’t actually open. To get even a bottle of water I had to do a 300 meter descent down the road into town (about a 30 minute walk) and back up.
But I make the best of the evening and have a couple of beers, a pizza and some chocolate ice cream and stock up on snacks for the long day of travel ahead tomorrow.But I make the best of the evening and have a couple of beers, a pizza and some chocolate ice cream and stock up on snacks for the long day of travel ahead tomorrow.