To be a vegetarian in Sri Lanka is something of a rarity. So when Shubha Sharma, a vegetarian writer for The Hindu newspaper in India, paid a visit, she “expected to find little joy”.
But she changed her mind at Tropical Village in Dambulla. “Leaves and shoots are aplenty, but dressed in a way that make them look exotic. Praki Bandara, our guide, sees me excitedly toss one leafy salad after another onto my plate.”
This after “responses to my trip to the island nation from friends and family quickly move beyond curiosity to concern and even amusement; I, after all, have resolutely stuck to a vegetarian diet over the years. A friend offers tongue-in-cheek advice: “Make sure you visit the Ministry of Crab in Colombo!”.
Shubha writes: “The mental image of prawns and squid swimming menacingly in coconut curry in front of me make me squirm; should I perhaps toss some ready-to-eat emergency rations into my bags? Images of elephants languorously grazing in tropical forests play in my mind; would leaves and berries be my fate?”
But Tropical Village did the trick, she says, including “gotu kola salad made from a flowering plant, and the mukunuwanna, the Sri Lankan staple that vaguely resembles parsley.
“The shredded leaves, mixed with coconut, curry leaves, onions and green chillies, have a distinct, sweet fragrance. When it’s all stirred together this way, the Sri Lankans call it the ‘mallum’, literally, ‘mixed up’.”
She concludes by noting that “Sri Lankan cuisine is a mix of influences – Dutch, Portuguese, who left a colonial impression; Indonesian, and of course, Indian. While dal is common to India and Sri Lanka, their ‘dhal curry’ has some fundamental differences with our dal.”
Read her full report, with recipes, here.