While we had had some fine food there, we were happy to be leaving the chaos, noise and smog of Colombo. As we prepared to make our way to our train, we cut into the tiny watermelon we had purchased at the market the day before. While delicious and refreshing, especially in the context of having to avoid eating so much fresh fruit for fear of illness, it was a ho-hum sort of thing. No competition for the perfectly sweet Sugar Babies of Oregon.
After another harrowing tuk tuk ride to the central train station we picked up a little food for the trip from some station-side vendors. We’ve found that we are quite viscerally attracted to the shops where the roti dough is stretched paper thin onto the grill top. We equipped ourselves with some of the freshly made roti, one with egg and one without. To these we added an order of ‘chicken fried rice,’ and picked up 50g of roasted peanuts with curry leaves and a bag of tangerines on the way to the station.
Once well on our way to Kandy, the seat of the last historical monarchy and of tea production, we tucked in to our train treats. The chicken fried rice was actually pretty much what you’d expect: fried rice with scrambled egg, scallions and other aromatics, chunks of spicy fried chicken and complimented with a dollop of smoky spicy sambol. The flavors were good, but the texture of the rice left a little something to be desired. Eating with your fingers is even more of a challenge on a moving train than it is otherwise (bring wet wipes). The roti texture was also a little off – B found it too rubbery to enjoy much.
One of the food experiences we had looked forward to on the train ride was getting something from the snack vendors that stroll the isles (and platforms during station stops). Unfortunately, our ticket to Kandy was for a first class air conditioned car, and apparently the vendors access those less frequently. Still at one stop, two vendors made it into our car: one selling leaf-wrapped string hoppers and sambol, and the other providing shrimp fritters, both delicious.
After getting settled at our guest house in Kandy (more complicated than it should have been, don’t ask), we did some actual sight-seeing, taking in the Temple of the Tooth, a Buddhist temple supposedly housing a tooth of the Buddha himself. Being familiar neither with temple iconography nor the Sinhala language (and not provided much guidance otherwise), we found the building beautiful, but lacking what our PT Barnum-sculpted American sensibilities had perversely expected: a display of some kind of tooth, preferably dripping with spiritual aura.
Having plumbed the shallowness of our spiritual selves, we retired to a colonial themed British pub to map out our next conquest (Could have worded that better, I guess). M was determined to try a drink made with arrack (a Sri Lankan favorite made from distilled coconut flower sap) and the local beer (Lion), and B had a chocolate milkshake.
We then made our way to Sharon Inn, a multi-story guest house on the Kandy hillside that featured a buffet dinner with a reputation for offering a range of Sri Lankan dishes. We got to the hotel at about 6:45, not all that hungry but certainly expecting to eat within a short time. We were told however that dinner service wouldn’t start until 7:30 and that we could wait in the rooftop bar (seven flights of stairs above). Once connected to the hotel’s wi-fi we discovered a message from our Colombo Airbnb about one of those not so little travel complications (details to follow in another post), so by the time 7:30 rolled around we were in a bit of a mood somewhere between anxious nausea and hangry. Not really a good state to walk downstairs and find no buffet waiting at all with a kind of quizzical look from the staff seemingly reflecting their surprise that we had shown up so soon. Undetered, we sat and waited for the buffet to be brought out. And waited. And waited a little longer. And waited. And asked how long it was going to be (a few minutes). And waited. This seeming eternity, though really only 25 minutes or so, was ended when we were brought a bowl of …vegetable soup. Needless to say, despite what may be a perfectly common adoption of vegetable soup into the Sri Lankan culinary tradition, this was not what we had come for. After 5 minutes or so the buffet finally started to show up. One of the early dishes was a large bowl of what looked like canned greens beans and carrots, so we contemplated the possibility of a deeply disappointing meal.
To our relief, as other dishes were filled in, things looked up a little. One was breadfruit curry, which we had been meaning to try, and which turned out to be a delicious sort of sweet/spicy/starchy dish. Another dish that was quite good was an eggplant curry, with sliced eggplant fried until the skin was slightly crispy, with a very interesting sort sour/sweet flavor we had not often had before. Also improving our mood was the dish of extra spicy coconut sambol that we ordered on the side after noting the blandness of the default offering. Yet, even with these few highlights we were still anxious as we finished our meal to be done and leave Sharon’s far behind. We wouldn’t recommend going out of your way for this one.