The tradition of homestays in this part of the world is sort of like B&B’s in the States but with an added concierge. We tend to eschew breakfast at most places we go when it’s on offer, but here the chance of home cooked food is too much to give up. So we were happy to see Bernard, our awesome host, coming down the stairs over and over again with more and more food. Actually a crazy conglomeration of traditional Sri Lankan and continental breakfasts. It was hard to decide which to eat first – we couldn’t bring outselves to mix and match. Our split personalities had toast with butter and jam and a fried egg on one side and string hoppers with dal and two sambols (cocout and banana blossom – the first time we had that one) on the other. Add a platter of banana/watermelon/papaya and you’ve got a perfect breakfast. There were also a couple of sweets that we saved for the train for later. Of course we wanted details on preparations and Bernard was very happy to talk us through string hopper processes. Despite B’s fantasy that someone was out back pounding rice in to powder as they did in Bernard’s youth, we found out that most people use a mix from the store now. But they still press the dough through an extruder to set them up for steaming. These are truly the perfect vehicle for people new to eating with their hands as they act like self contained scoopers of starch since the noodles stick together to weave one integrated patty. It’s not like eating with rice where independent kernels are constantly falling out of your fingers making a giant mess around your plate/banana leaf/lap. Anyway, we’re going back to Bernard’s tomorrow and we can’t wait to see what we get for breakfast the next morning!
One of the most popular things for tourists to do in Sri Lanka is take the train from Kandy to Ella. There’s a reason why it’s been called the most beautiful train trip in the world. It is absolutely stunning! Tea plantations on one rolling hill/mountain after another, shrouded in wispy clouds and mist. We don’t usually follow a regular tourist path, but this really couldn’t be missed. We read a lot about the best ways to take the train (observation car or second class), but didn’t manage to figure out the system quite quickly enough and ended up in the first class car. Obviously a more comfortable ride, but the others have either better views or more character. Or, in keeping with the theme of this blog, more people walking up and down the aisles selling short eats at various train stations. We bought a few to eat near our train station and then were thrilled when about 2/3 of the way through a vendor came to our window to sell some more! We definitely preferred the hot, freshly made ones we had a couple of nights ago, but the tradition seems to be to eat them cold in most settings. You get over the cold, greasiness pretty quickly if the filling is tasty and delicious. Which most of these were. The ones we bought out the window of the train suffered mightily from a low filling/dough ratio, but they were still tasty.
Now, we’re sure you’re all stunned to think that we would do something purely for beauty’s sake. But truly there was an ulterior motive. In Ella there is a rice and curry restaurant, Rawana Holiday Resort, that serves garlic curry and we got off the train and headed right over there. This assortment of curries made all of the others we’d eaten immediately seem second rate. There were flavors we hadn’t had before as well as vegetables that were new to us (wing bean, anyone?). The garlic curry was worthy of all the online praise – creamy garlic cloves in a fantastic, light curry sauce. The cook came to ask us if we liked the food and we peppered him with questions. He happily gave us instructions on how to make everything (cook the garlic in milk/water for the creamy texture! Use ketchup and soy sauce in the eggplant!). He also asked if we were going to take his cooking class. We had vaguely heard that most guesthouses in Ella let people watch the cook make dinner, but what he described was much more hands on. We were really regretting the class we took earlier because it really was very limited in terms of new techniques for us. If anyone is a relatively experienced cook, we would instead highly recommend the Rawana class.
This was the second night in a row we were given forks to eat with…even after just a few days this feels odd and pretentious. We’ll be turning them down if offered in the future and eating with our hands like the locals do. Realizing that’s pretentious in its own way…