What can be better than hosting your family when they come to visit half way around the world? Getting a suitcase full of presents from them! I told you a story of my brother bringing 8 boxes of sweets from Russia just a month back.
This week my parents-in-law brought 15 kilos of goodies from Sri Lanka. I won’t show you all the organic cosmetics, dresses, handloom tableware, scarves, cups with local motives and handmade jewelry – just believe me, it’s amazing. But I will tell you about the food souvenirs from Sri Lanka I received. And if you think I am going to show you a couple of Ceylon tea packs, you are up for a big surprise. Take some notes on what to bring from the island next time you travel there!
One thing I always ask family and friends to bring me from Sri Lanka is jaggery, or hakuru, as it’s called in Sinhalese. Jaggery is a natural sweetener that is made using treacle of the kithul tree. It usually comes in blocks or semi spheres. Jaggery is the best when you bite on a piece while sipping unsweetened black tea. It can substitute sugar in baking recipes, too.
Where to find: Good Market shop has several types of jaggery, for example, Haritha Lanka.
Address: 14 Philip Gunawardena Mawatha, Colombo
If you want to cook Sri Lankan food, you must have Sri Lankan spices. Theoretically, in other countries you can get spices in Indian grocery shops, but in reality, Indian spices differ from Sri Lankan spices a lot. And it’s not one of those things only locals can feel. Even if you are new to this cuisine, by simply sniffing on spices you will comprehend the difference. So what we have here is roasted and unroasted curry powder (the former one is used for meat curries and the latter – for vegetables). Chili powder, chili pieces, coriander seeds and goraka – black sticky paste that is used to add slight sourness to fish curry.
Where to find: the best spices are prepared by Sri Lankan women in their own kitchens (that’s why most of the spices on the picture are packed in simple plastic bags with no brand). But any supermarket will have a good range to choose from.
Another good choice for a present is cashew nuts since cashew trees grow on the island and these nuts are common in Sri Lankan cuisine. I can even make cashew nut curry now that I got both cashews and spices.
Where to find: any supermarket or market. But a famous place to get cashews among locals is Kaju Gama (Cashew Village). It’s located on the road between Gampaha and Kegalle: if you pass by you will see women in traditional Sri Lankan outfits selling cashews by the road.
Devilled Manioc Chips and Parippu Kadala
Local snacks, like manioc chips or parippu kadala (split yellow lentils) are very spicy and make a perfect accompaniment for drinks. No party in Sri Lanka is complete without a bowl of devilled snacks. Manioc chips are very much like potato chips except that they are made of manioc, also known as cassava. Parippu kadala is made of split lentils that are fried and mixed with chili and curry leaves.
Where to find: any supermarket
Thala in Sinhala means “sesame seed” and bola – “ball”. These local sweets, popular in the North of the country, are made of sesame seeds and honey. Sometimes coconut can be added. They have very distinct sesame taste, are unexpectedly hard to bite and easy to get addicted to.
Where to find: supermarkets
Thala karali is similar in ingredients to thala bola – sesame seeds, coconut and jaggery – but more chewy and softer. It also comes in form of candies: karali means “roll”. The mixture is stuffed into a tube to make a long log, then cut up into pieces.
Where to find: Jinadasage Thalaguli, a shop famous for their sweets, and specifically for the most delicious thala karali.
Address: Kandy Rd., Ambepussa, Warakapola, Sri Lanka.
Konde kawum is one of traditional Sri Lankan deep-fried pastries. I have written about it in detail in post about foods that are common on Sri Lankan New Year table. In a couple of words, it’s batter poured into boiling oil. The process of making kawum is much harder than it may seem: shaping the top of this little bun – the “konde”- is a subject of complaints from many women who tried to make it at home. These babies, though, are perfectly shaped.
Where to find: it’s not sold in supermarkets or shops. Some women make it at home for order, so you need to know somebody who knows somebody if you want to try this treat. Unless you are in Sri Lanka during New Year (13-14th of April), then you will easily find it in any shop across the country.
Polos Curry and Ambarella Curry
From sweets to something more substantial – curries! Yes, you can even bring curries as a present from Sri Lanka. These curries come from a shop called Agro. No preservatives are added to make it last longer, vacuum packaging is what keeps it from spoiling. Polos is unripe jackfruit which is my all-time favorite fruit! In its early stages you can make curries of it; in later stages, jackfruit turns sweet and can be eaten raw.
Ambarella is another fruit that you can use to make a curry. The pit is very fibrous, so expect to have a lot of fibers stuck in your teeth after lunch. Smiling is not recommended.
Where to find: Agro Spice Food Packers (Pvt) Ltd
Address: 273/57A Hokandara Road, Thalawathugoda, or 273/57A Hokandara Rd, Colombo.
This was the most fascinating of all presents. Just think of it: a packet of cooked rice and chicken wrapped in banana leaf flying across ocean for 22 hours! It was frozen and properly packed before going on such adventurous trip. Lamprais is a Dutch Burgher dish of rice, several types of meat, and vegetables, baked in banana leaf. When you unwrap the leaf, incredible aroma fills the room immediately.
Where to find: one of the best lamprais in Colombo is prepared at home by Mrs. Warusawithana. You can place an order by calling 0112573908. If you are planning to take it abroad, ask for frozen lamprais.
Address: end of Pedris road (off Thurstan road), Colombo.
These are, of course, only some ideas on what food souvenirs to bring from Sri Lanka, the list can continue on and on. Make sure to check what foods are allowed to bring into your country before going grocery shopping!
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AUTHOR: YULIA DYUKOVA
Yulia is a Russian food and travel blogger who found home first in Sri Lanka for 3 years, then in Brazil for a year and is currently based in Austin, Texas. She is the kind of person who starts a research of the new country by googling “what to eat in…” instead of “what to visit in…” Yulia is a self-proclaimed “food nerd” who will spend hours reading on the origins of pecan pie before trying it and who doesn’t consider waiting in line of 50 people to get a cronut a waste of time. She finds it hard to keep her delicious findings to herself and that is the reason why this blog exists.