rice, curry and beyond
Whenever we ask a waiter or a store attendant on what food they would recommend, ALL of them would say one, and only one dish… RICE AND CURRY. Be it an unassuming side street eatery or a hatted restaurant, like a busted pre recorded talking doll, press the button and they will utter–RICE AND CURRY! RICE AND CURRY! RICE AND CURRY!
We know that this dish will be omnipresent throughout this trip because we have been warned, so we tried straying away from it on our first day.
We found Theva and made it our sweet refuge in Kandy. The place is unrealistic and the ambiance is surreal. We thought that we deserved a break and it was a place that was a perfect compensation for our semi-shitty lives. Since we were already nested in a perfect sanctuary, we took Gay and Shervin’s experience as a lesson and decided to scrap the whole Nuwara Eliya plan. We shifted to first gear and extended our stay in Kandy where we had the perfect time to talk and catch-up on each others’ beezwax.
Other than digging our heads in books, shedding off wrath through laugh trips, catching up on gossip back home, pruning in the jacuzzi and staring blank like a catatonic lemur from the window… we indulged into an orgy—of FOOD!
But it was not just gluttony; we went on a bit of a history lesson through food trip. Now who would cut classes if this is the class room?
Sri Lanka is an island on the route of the legendary conquests of European explorers to the Far East. Like a big mound of floating forest in the middle of the high Indian Ocean, trade and expedition galleons all had their mandatory stopover to this Eden. This made Sri Lankan cuisine rich and fused with other influences from both The Far East and The Big West.
Spice was considered gold in the past which made India, including Sri Lanka, as a hot spot for bounty hunters. Indeed, spice is placed on a pedestal even by modern Sri Lankans, and the old kitchen favorites remain on mortar stones as they are still being used in everyday dishes.
The Northern African kingdom of Morocco shared spice trades with old Ceylon. Like playing trump cards, they swapped sacks of mills and grains.
Theva serves delicately crafted fusion dishes, their Coconut Crusted Moroccan chicken with curried couscous was the dish Monette and I silently fought over. The desiccated coconut crust gave a texture that went really well with the nibble-worthy couscous and complementing peanut sauce.
To match the imported couscous entree, a parallel dish was served on our table.
Fish baked in banana leaf with olu rice. The olu rice is technically not rice, but seeds of a native lotus flower. The neutralizing gotu kola sambol on the side made the dish truly Sinhalese.
Theva also made our stay in Kandy sinful and sweet. A selection of beautiful desserts paraded in front of us and I was blown away by the caliber of the Chef and his kitchen team to come up with such creative plates. Tropical fruits as core ingredients finished with western style and techniques?! SERIOUSLY?! This clearly made me ask myself “Am I really a backpacker? This is luxuriously unacceptable!“
Guava cheesecake with blueberry coulis
dark and white chocolate and passion fruit sauce
rum flambe pancake with local fruits and home made vanilla ice cream
… and my personal favorite The wicked Watalappan
Made of coconut milk, jaggery, cashew nuts, eggs, and various spices like cardamom, cloves and nutmeg, the Watalappan closely resembles our very own Filipino colonial Leche Flan. With a Moor and Malayan twist, this dessert captivated my heart unconditionally. This is another evidence of Europe-Asia trade influence. And I must say, this Theva’s version is the best among all other versions I sampled in the country.
After the gluttonous afternoon, just like any other Holidays we slept to inexorable slumber until we were awakened for a traditional feast that we requested.
THE famous Rice and Curry. Oh yeah, I knew it was coming but I never saw THIS coming. And this is not an optical illusion! That’s an overwhelming 19 plates of flavor-packed condiments. We felt like we ate half of the spices and herbs known to mankind.
This icon is really something they can be proud of. It represents everything Sri Lankan–the rich culture is screaming pungent as pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, cardamon, nutmeg and the list goes on. Chef Sujith Ratnayake granted our request to adjust the piquancy of the dish as Monette turns in to ash upon eating anything a scoville unit higher from tabasco sauce.
The common route of the Manila-Acapulco Galleon is via Malacca strait to the Indian Ocean, before heading to Cape Town and the Trans-Atlantic, plus a stopover in Ceylon, left resonating influence in using fruits like guava and avocado in dishes and dips.
Our breakfast the following morning was a mini feast celebrating Cinco de Mayo.
The generous serving of burrito and quesadilla, and the magnificent view of the fog blanketed Kandy restrained me to run around dancing like a wild mariachi and start hitting Monette’s puta shorts with a cricket bat like a hideous plaid piñata.
Russel Leonard, Chef Ratnayake and the rest of Theva boys did a remarkable job in making this whole food trip experience truly unforgettable.