Sri Lankan Prawn Curry Recipe by Aunty’s Cooking Class

Having had the pleasure of attending a cooking class at Aunty’s in Colombo, I was impressed by both the execution and authenticity of the Sri Lankan dishes. With such a unique cuisine, I believe no avid homecook should leave Sri Lanka without having a go at cooking up a fragrant curry- Aunty’s is by far the best class I’ve attended.

Continue reading Sri Lankan Prawn Curry Recipe by Aunty’s Cooking Class

Monsoon Restaurant Review- Colombo, Sri Lanka

Think South East Asian cuisine with comforting authentic favourites alongside fusion dishes with the freshest, local Sri Lankan ingredients. Monsoon is no doubt a restaurant born in equal measure of soul and culinary expertise.

In all honesty, there aren’t many restaurants in Colombo that have impressed me quite as consistently. Alongside August by Mama Aida’s, a Middle Eastern foodie’s dream, these are the only two where quality has been wholly consistent, becoming my go to spots to wine and dine family & friends visiting Colombo.

No detail goes unnoticed and there is a real sense of ownership in style. While some restaurants and hotels actively poach ideas from others, Monsoon is no doubt an original.

The restaurant itself is in the epicentre of Colombo’s international foodie scene, a buzzy street favoured by expats and the Capital’s it crowd, Park Street Mews. The good news is that Monsoon is at the end of the Mews and is a kind of foodie oasis, patronised by diners for the incredible cuisine than the desire to be seen.

Speaking with Henry, the managing director of Teardrop, he explained the recent process of choosing new dishes for the menu. They arranged a tasting day with staff to try new ideas by the chefs. The final choices were made and all are now featured in the latest edition of the menu.

One dish Henry was particularly excited about on the new menu is the beef wrapped in wild betel, a leaf popular with locals in Sri Lanka. While Monsoon is not a Sri Lankan restaurant, the seamless marriage of South Eastern flavours with local ingredients is quite an achievement.

Personal highlights include prawns wrapped in vermicelli noodle, Thai steamed barramundi, tom yam goong soup and the refreshingly light young papaya salad. For the meat lovers; Malaysian chicken satay, Vietnamese duck salad, Balinese seared pork belly and slow cooked Indonesian mutton amongst many others.

My favourite dish however is the crispy black pepper tofu, flavoured with a piquant onion and tomato glaze. I had never particularly liked tofu before, but the flavour and texture of this dish inspired me to reconsider my opinion!

Monsoon recently decided to start serving complimentary prawn crackers at the beginning of the meal too which is a nice touch.

Dishes arrive as soon as they’re ready, piping hot and an ideal portion size to share. If dining as a couple, be careful not to over order. My partner and I tend to order starters first and wait until we’ve finished to judge how hungry we still are for mains.

If you’re visiting in the evening, especially on a weekend, it’s best to make a reservation. They have a great value set menu for lunch which tends to be easy to drop in without booking. Be aware not all a la carte items are available until the evening, for the full spectrum go for dinner!

The Kandy Samadhi Centre Hotel Review- Kandy, Sri Lanka

I sit outside the room on the terrace watching the forest awaken before me. A pen clasped in my hand with determination above an empty notebook. I write down thoughts and feelings as they spring into my mind, all of which are abstract. I sit somewhat frustrated with my inability to articulate. It’s 2011.

Freshly graduated from a degree in media studies and photography, my brain had been somewhat programmed by the subject of ‘discourse & representation’. I haven’t quite grasped the notion of sitting in stillness with an empty mind. Everything had to mean something, instantly.

The truth was, I felt something I had never felt before, a connection and awakening of spirituality between myself and nature, a journey continuing to this present day which would bring me back to the Samadhi Centre again and again.

While I could describe the literal appearance of the Centre, it is not at this level where it makes the greatest impact. It is somewhere deeper within, a primal ignition of nature and humanity in its purest, simplest form.

The centre is both silent and incredibly loud, the forest constantly chattering in harmonious synchronicity. A perfectly compiled playlist of ‘nature sleep sounds’ without pressing play. Insects making high pitched, vibrational sounds louder than I could imagine them capable of, the energy echoing though my body. It feels like being reborn and experiencing nature for the first time.

My eyes light up in awe of a tree bearing dozens of oversized jackfruit, balancing almost unbelievably on thin branches from the towering tree. Elegant rose pink jambu fruits hang from smaller trees. An abundance of lemongrass and mint in the upstairs zen lounge herb garden, enticing me to rub a small piece between my fingers and admire their invigorating scent.

So many thoughts, ideas and contemplations come to me without force, reminding me of the quote by Albert Einstein. “I think 99 times and find nothing. I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the truth comes to me”. It’s almost as though, through some divine intervention, 3G and 4G doesn’t work everywhere. WiFi is actively placed in just one area. In the early days I struggled to find connection at all, resulting in an internet dance at the top of the pavilion in an attempt to ‘connect to the world’.

The Samadhi Centre is a space for peace. Its name is no marketing ploy. Authenticity radiates from every corner. A place for reflection, healing of the mind, body and soul. The food is nourishing and wholesome. I find myself eating slower, more consciously and less. As the centre is spread on a hill, an amount of energy is needed to walk from the restaurant to the rooms and zen lounge pavilion (with the wifi!) at the top. In pockets of Japanese culture, one stops eating at 70% full. Here it is necessity.

I even spot Hannah the dog in what appears to be a meditative trance. I begin to wonder what a dog’s thoughts may be. Can they appreciate the simplicity of nature too?

The furnishings and decorations are a combination of antiques and natural materials, collaborating in harmony with the vast surroundings of nature. While many hotels in Sri Lanka use antiques to radiate an air of style, they are used differently here. Waruna, the owner, owns an antique shop in Kandy, previously run by his Father. Antiques are an intrinsic part of him.

The Samadhi Centre cannot be wholly explained, it can only be felt, experienced and imprinted on your soul. One who experiences the Samadhi Centre will experience the simple beauty of life itself. It remains my favourite place to be in Sri Lanka.

The Centre offers yoga, authentic Ayurvedic treatments & massages, bathing in the crystal clear stream or nearby lake and visits to a waterfall (where you can swim) 30 minutes on foot from the Centre. They treat employees ethically and use produce from their organic vegetable garden when possible.

Where to Eat in Mount Lavinia

I’ve been living in Dehiwala for the past several weeks, previously living just a stone’s throw further from Mount Lavinia in Nugegoda and Pepiliyana for about 2 years. I quite like living in the suburbs of the city as it’s less full on than right in the centre.

When Ranjit isn’t cooking a mouthwatering multitude of Sri Lankan dishes at home and we overcome the temptation of ordering Uber Eats, Mount Lavinia is our go to spot for a casual lunch or dinner as it’s just 15 minutes away.

In all honesty, Mount Lavinia has been a little up and down over the years. I tend to avoid the beach after sunset, especially at weekends, as it can at times attract a slightly dodgy crowd. If you do go, choose a safe establishment and stick to it, don’t walk along the beach after dark, especially as a solo female traveller.

That being said, I feel much safer these days than even a year or so ago, especially visiting with my boyfriend. Try to visit in a small group, otherwise go for lunch instead of dinner.

We have 4 favourite restaurants in Mount Lavinia at the moment which we rotate depending on what we fancy, with the occasional day of trying something new. So if you’re planning a trip to the Southern suburbs of Colombo, why not give one (or all!) a try.

FYI All of the recommendations below are from paying visits with no prior knowledge of the staff anticipating our arrival and the food photos are taken on my iPhone instead of professional camera.

Sugar Beach

Sugar Beach is one of Mount Lavinia’s newcomers, and a much needed breath of fresh air along the beach strip. With a well crafted food menu and a diverse range of alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks, Sugar Beach has no doubt independently raised the bar.

There’s a second chain of Sugar Beach down south in Thalpe as well as Sugar Bistro at Crescat Boulevard and Sugar 41 (great live music on weekends) in the city.

It’s more expensive compared to the rest of the strip but the quality of the food is oh so worth it. The most affordable snack options include hot butter cuttlefish, chickpeas and items from the brunch menu such as dukka (a type of middle eastern spice sprinkled on top) eggs on toast served till 3pm.

Sri Lankan seafood curries including prawn and crab are on offer as well as western favourites with a local twist such as pizza and pasta.

They serve their drinks with bamboo straws instead of plastic. Hallelujah! Any restaurant or hotel that makes a conscious effort to contribute in preserving the beauty of Sri Lanka deserves extra brownie points. They also serve one of the best classic margaritas in Colombo.

Mount Lavinia Hotel

Standing proudly at the tip of Mount Lavinia since 1806, the views from Mount Lavinia Hotel stretch all across coast to Galle Face Green and the construction of the new Port City. While the local buzz isn’t as prominent as the main beach strip, the ambience has an air of luxury without extortionate prices.

They often host Sri Lankan and international lunch/dinner buffets which are great for visitors wishing to taste a handful of dishes in one sitting. As I have quite a small appetite, I tend to opt for the a la carte menu.

While there’s a refreshingly cool AC room, my choice of seating is outside (not poolside as it can quickly elevate into a scene from ‘The Birds’ but with crows!), facing the views of the City with the salty sea breeze.

My highlights from the a la carte include the pumpkin ravioli, roasted tomato soup, fish tacos, local Sri Lankan snack parippu wade with green chilli sambol and chilli cheese toast.

We shared the grilled red snapper with garlic butter sauce, roasted root vegetables and chips (using the leftover sauce on the chips!) yesterday before enjoying the pool for the afternoon which was probably my favourite dish of them all.

Order the lime juice with mint or lion beer to quench your thirst or for a more indulgent meal, order from their wine list.

Request drinks without a straw as they disappointingly still serve plastic straws. They’re advertising their participation in World Earth Day at the moment which is a bit baffling considering how many hundreds of straws they must dispose of in a single day.

Pool access on weekdays is just Rs.1,000 per person or complimentary at weekends with a lunch/dinner buffet which is about Rs.2,500 plus service charge and government taxes which makes it approximately 30% more.

La Rambla Thai Cuisine

Having dined at their flagship restaurant Thai Cuisine Boulevard in Colombo, we decided to head to La Rambla Thai Cuisine in Mount Lavinia for lunch. I often flag hotels & restaurants I would like to visit on Google Maps- this had been flagged for quite a while!

I must be honest, if I hadn’t dined at Thai Cuisine Boulevard before, I wouldn’t be enticed by the entrance of the restaurant. Large photos of unappetising dishes (using on camera flash!) are the first impression, alongside items from the menu clinically written on a whiteboard. A chalkboard would be the way to go.

Don’t let this sway you however, the dining experience is worth it. The quality of Thai food is on point and the food served is worlds apart from the large printed photos outside. We ordered a Tom Yum soup each and a papaya salad to share with a glass of tamarind juice. It was a quick, light lunch but a very pleasant experience.

The staff are professional & attentive and serve the dishes on your plate silver service style.

They don’t serve alcohol and I’m not sure whether they allow you to bring your own bottle. We try to visit on our non drinking days so we aren’t tempted. When I find out I will update this post!

FYI Another plastic straw offender! Request drinks without straws.

Harpo’s Pizza

Harpo’s is an ever growing local pizza chain in Sri Lanka. Don’t be enticed to visit international chains Dominos or Pizza hut for a pizza fix, the quality at Harpo’s far surpasses.

Their Mount Lavinia restaurant is tucked away under a cool canopy of trees in the vicinity of Colombo Beach Hostel. There’s only outside seating but there are plenty of fans and the canopy is dense enough to block all direct sunlight. It’s quite a beautiful space to be honest.

I ordered a classic margarita pizza and my boyfriend opted for a pepperoni. They arrived piping hot and delicious.

We ordered the pizza pollo (chicken) and pennette con formaggi pasta from the Mount Lavinia branch recently on Uber Eats. The pizza was great as always but the pasta a little bland so we tweaked it to add more flavour.

I recently used an ice cube tray to freeze cubes of extra virgin olive oil with freshly chopped oregano and basil which we melted in a saucepan before adding the pasta.

I hope these recommendations inspire your foodie travels in Mount Lavinia. If you have any additional suggestions or opinions/experiences of your own, do comment below!

How to fall in love with Colombo

I must confess, I love Colombo. The ever growing sense of opportunity, exciting new start ups, the local and the luxury coexisting.

I haven’t always looked at Colombo so fondly however. The traffic, faster paced chaos, the occasional tuk tuk driver aggressively attempting to overcharge. Feeling uncomfortable being stared at.

It’s all too easy to allow negative experiences to imprint an aura of frustration in your mind for the rest of the day. In extreme cases I’ve heard these kind of experiences putting people off visiting Colombo full stop, advising others to do the same.

Personally, I don’t think it’s possible to experience Sri Lanka without a taste of Colombo. It just needs to be approached differently to the rest of the country.

To experience Colombo positively I’ve learnt to do two things.

Number 1. Patience. Don’t rush. Take it slow, be conscious and aware. Don’t let anyone rush you into making decisions and don’t trust people who attempt to rush you. In fact, don’t trust anyone too quickly. Be cautious of appearing fresh faced and vulnerable as some may see it as an opportunity.

Number 2. It is your sole responsibility to retain your sense of peace. Allowing one bad experience to cloud your mindset will only inevitably lead to a domino effect of another.

If you are faced with a challenging experience accept it as a lesson and move on. Work out how you can avoid/ overcome the same happening again. Smile and be positive while retaining astute and you will see how different your experience can be.

Is this easy? Absolutely not. But it’s the only option, tried and tested by yours truly for many years! It works.

Use transport apps. It is the easiest way to retain your peace. Wait for the tuk tuk or car to arrive under a fan or in AC. Don’t wait outside in the heat.

Wear light, comfortable clothes. Dress modestly, especially if you happen upon a temple.

Download the Pick Me and Uber apps. You can hail transport across the city. There’s no worry of being overcharged and you can connect your card to pay hassle free.

Tuk tuks often have very little change, if you hand them a Rs.5,000 note for a Rs.230 journey they likely wont have enough. Otherwise, be prepared with small money. I’ve been on many a wild goose hunt to break down large notes for drivers!

Colombo is becoming an ever diverse foodie hotspot. Enjoy a British/Lankan fusion afternoon tea at Mount Lavinia Hotel. Sunset cocktails on the rooftop of Jetwing Colombo 7. Local eats along Galle Face Green. A local Sri Lankan lunch at Upalis. A romantic middle eastern dinner at August by Mama Aidas.

Sunday jazz and lunch at Barefoot. Dinner along one of the restaurants along Park Street Mews. My favourite is Monsoon. Book in advance.

There are some incredible hotels in Colombo too. Avoid international chains, save those for foodie visits. Experience authentic Sri Lankan hospitality at Paradise Road Tintagel or Maniumpathy, both intimate boutique hotels. For a touch of luxury on a larger scale, Galle Face Hotel or Cinnamon Grand.

For budget conscious travellers stay at Cinnamon Red, Havelock Place Bungalow or one of the backpacker friendly hostels such as Hangover Hostels or Bunkyard Hostels.

Have a massage at the wonderful Spa Ceylon post flight. Buy some products for loved ones to avoid gifting touristy presents. Shop at Paradise Road. Attend a Sri Lankan cooking class at Aunty’s. Buy spices from local supermarkets to cook for others when you fly back home.

There is so much to enjoy in Colombo. The city is unique, diverse and fascinating. Look beyond the surface, be open to it’s many levels. Take it slow, be patient and avoid expectations.

Research and write a list of everything you may want to do but don’t take the list too literally. Wake up in the morning and see how your body feels.

If you’re tired after a flight don’t go straight into sightseeing mode. Have a massage. Visit a hotel with a beautiful view. Order a nourishing thambili coconut. Relax by the sea or pool and bathe (with shade and suntan lotion!) in that glorious Vitamin D.

Save the days you’re feeling close to 100% for local adventures. Take the commuters train to Mount Lavinia from Colombo Fort station, explore the streets of Pettah, visit Kollupitiya fruit & veg market.

For more tips on exploring Colombo, visit 33 Things to do in Colombo.

Happy travels!

Back in Lanka

It’s been just over a week since returning back to Sri Lanka after almost 6 months in the UK! I’ve decided to start a new journal section here on Style in Sri Lanka to capture everyday life as well as the guides and reviews I’ve been posting for several years.

The photos here will mainly be taken on my smartphone while the rest of the blog features photos (all my own) taken on my professional camera.

My boyfriend and I are incredibly lucky that both of our jobs fall into the digital nomad realm, he with coding & website developing and myself with travel photography. I’ve never been one for living a ‘normal’ 9-5 life!

Since arriving, we’ve settled into our rented house in Dehiwala. A stone’s throw from a local Sri Venkateshwara Maha Vishnu Moorthy Kovil (what a mouthful!), we often sit out on the balcony and listen to the morning prayers while watching the neon green parakeets squabble in the trees.

Talking of mouthfuls, our butler Ranjit is an incredible cook. Last night he prepared one of my favourite dishes, bitter gourd salad, the crispy salty vegetable which fast disappeared as I took my first, second and third helping.

It’s the kind of food that inspires me to make subtle noises of satisfaction, munching away with a smile on my face as I appreciate the meal wholly in the present. Sri Lankan food does this a lot to me, especially when I eat with my hand.

He also cooked a searfish curry, a meaty white fish in a turmeric infused gravy. We bought searfish from the supermarket a couple of days ago for dinner, the difference between what we had last night to the other is incomparable. We learnt our lesson- seafood is best bought from specialist sellers, not supermarkets!

He cooked prawn curry the day before which was also delicious- I snook in the kitchen to take a photo in the pan! It was a treat after an intense pilates session at Om Shambhala!

I look forward to sharing our latest experiences and tips with you and promise to update the journal as often as possible!

8 Unmissable Foodie Destinations in Jaffna

A hybrid of South Sri Lankan cuisine with an Indian flair, food in Jaffna is mouth-wateringly unique for the travelling foodie. Despite this, it’s a surprisingly difficult task mapping out where to begin when searching for the most noteworthy hotspots.

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