Though improved greatly by our evening sampling of rice and curry, the somewhat low ratio of good food to effort from Day 1 was weighing a bit heavily on our minds as we made plans for today’s outing. Expecting more rain, we decided to move our planned cooking class up one day, delaying our second planned Colombo exploration day to one less likely to be waterlogged. Having found exactly zero cooking classes actually in Colombo, we scheduled one in a backpacker resort on the south coast (about 130 km from Colombo). We decided to indulge ourselves and hire a car and driver to take us there. Jai picked us up at our Airbnb in the morning and drove us through the clogged streets of Colombo toward the tollway. Not having had time to get something to eat near our place we were wondering where we might stop to get a little snack to hold us until we would be eating with our class. Jai said he knew a place on the way, but our hearts sank a little as we turned onto the tollway, deeply concerned that the place on the way might be a rest stop chain rather than the quaint bakery we had dreamed up for ourselves.
So it was with no little fear that, an hour or so later, we scanned the signage as we pulled off the tollway into a roadside “oasis,” where the first food ad we saw was for Pizza Hut (pizza being perplexingly popular here). Girding ourselves for the worst of cafeteria corporate dreck, we found ourselves at the counter (Jai recommended) of a place that served Sri Lankan breakfast items. They had one of our favorite dishes there, string hoppers, a sort of pile of rice noodle patties that you use to sop up a range of curries and sambols. Our plate included chicken, potato, dal and coconut sambol. The string hoppers were fresh and delicious, delivering a good texture and proving handy for picking up other items from the plate. Almost as surprising as the tasty airplane food we had had the night before, the bold, aggressive spice of this dish was a welcome surprise.
Our cooking school proved to be a small open porch above a cafe. The beach side town, charmingly named Unawatuna and uncharmingly packed with tourist shops, seemed to be occupied by as many Westerners as local residents. After a short walk to the beach to kill a few minutes before our class started and to capture a perfunctory beach picture, we set off to go shopping with our teacher in the larger town of Galle next door. A market shopping excursion had been a high point of our amazing cooking class in Penang last year, so we were looking forward to it with some anticipation. While our visit to some vegetable stalls, a spice shop and a roadside fish shack was interesting enough, the talents of Penang’s Pearly Kee are not easily matched. Karuna was charming with a great enthusiastic laugh, but unlike our experience in Malaysia, we were not treated to delicious market snacks, nor did we receive quite the level of explanation we had hoped for. Still, after returning to the cafe with our goods, we set to putting together an amazing 6 dishes in roughly an hour and a half. The preparations were decidedly unfussy, with pretty much all the ingredients prepped right into a single pot which was then cooked on a high flame for 10-15 minutes. The day’s fare included eggplant, tuna, green mango, long bean and pumpkin curries with dal and salty fried chilies. Not much new in the way of new cooking techniques, but we did get to use a coconut scraper (to extract the meat), and learned to squeeze our own coconut cream (first pressing) and coconut milk (second).
After another hours-long thunderstorm, another interminable slog through Colombo traffic and a little nap therapy, we were ready to eat again at around 9 pm. In an effort to exorcise the memories of decidedly mediocre kottu roti from yesterday we picked a tiny shack of a place near our apartment. The charming proprietor was somewhat determined to give us a less spicy version (with sides of extra braising gravy and sambol), but after repeated encouragement we got the fully heated version, and brought it pack to our place to eat. It a delicious version of the dish with a rich flavor of the Sri Lankan roasted curry powder, smoky sambol and sumptuous bits of spicy fried chicken.