I admit, I have never been a fan of cooking. Don’t get me wrong, I love eating food, but preparing it hasn’t been something I’ve been remotely interested in until recently.
I look back and laugh on the time when myself and a friend decided to choose cookery as our “skill” for the Bronze level Duke of Edinburgh award. We were about fourteen years old and this was both of our first times cooking. You were supposed to choose something that a qualified supervisor would be able to monitor your progress on. I can’t quite remember the details of our meal apart from that the mashed potatoes were very lumpy and the carrots were way too undercooked.
Since then, I like to think I’ve progressed a bit with my cooking – but there is definitely still room for improvement. So when James suggested partaking in a Sri Lankan cooking class, I was nervous but excited!
If you ask anyone who has been to Sri Lanka about the food, I guarantee they will tell you it’s delicious. The curries are without a doubt, some of the most flavoursome dishes I’ve ever eaten. When I travel, I like to try the local delicacies where possible, so James and I often ate hoppers and dhal for breakfast, rice and curry for lunch, and kotthu or another curry for dinner. If we were taking a long bus journey, we’d stock up on veg rotti, veg rolls and samosas.
It’s all well and good asking your waiter what the specialities are, or even asking about how the food is cooked in Sri Lanka, but I believe there is something much more rewarding you can do to truly learn about the cuisine. With EcoWave, we had the opportunity to work with a local chef for four hours during an authentic Sri Lankan cooking class, where we learnt the secrets to the local cuisine.
Lunch was to be the traditional Sri Lankan dish of rice and curry. If you are thinking that sounds like a dull meal, you could not be further from the truth! There is a reason this is Sri Lanka’s speciality – it’s a real must if you visit the country.
Perhaps they may look bland, but Sri Lankan curries are bursting with flavours. Even meat-eating people I’ve met in Sri Lanka have agreed that the vegetarian options are often better than the meat options… this is something I love to hear as an undercover vegan activist!
Fortunately for those who are, like me, a little hopeless in the kitchen, Sri Lankan curries are very easy to make. I found this surprising after having eaten this dish throughout our travels in Sri Lanka; with so much flavour I thought each recipe must be very difficult!
Without sharing too much detail of the recipes (which I did scribble down frantically as we made each dish!) I’ll give you an insight into what went on during our 4 hour long Sri Lankan cooking class with EcoWave. You’ll find out the secrets when you visit yourself!
Our first port of call was preparing the vegetables. All of the food in the cooking class is made from scratch – right down to the coconut milk! We set about carefully chopping our vegetables, trying to imitate the chef as best we could, peeling where necessary and ensuring the peices were the right size.
On the menu were eight different curries, hugely varied in flavour but equally delicious in taste! These were:
While I chopped the veggies, James got to work on the coconut, which would be used for the sambal and for the milk. You sit on the bench with the tool between your knees and use the sharp edge to scrape the fruit out of the coconut. The flakes fall onto your plate below – just like the dessicated coconut you can buy in British supermarkets! The scraping was quite hard work so I was happy James took care of this job!
We added water to the coconut and squeezed the fruit into the water – making all of the delicious flavour fall into the liquid. This makes the coconut cream. We then used the same coconut flakes and added more water to it, again squeezing the flavour into the liquid, which makes coconut milk – thinner in consistency than the cream.
To the various bowls of veggies, we added generous lashings of cinnamon, curry powder, tumeric, cumin and chilli powder, as well as entire branches of curry leaves and chopped onions, crushed garlic and diced tomatoes. Green chillies were tossed into the mix, and more were added afterwards until we got the perfect taste. The ingredients were mixed by hand and cooked over the flames before the milk or cream mixtures were added and heated through.
And just like that, ta-daaa! With our hard work completed, it was time for the reward – our eight curries were lined up along the table with a huge bowl of fluffy white rice and poppadoms beside them. I took a little of each, then a little of everything once again… it was just too good to refuse!
Our favourites were the pumpkin curry, the dhal and the coconut sambal, but the aubergine salad was also really delicious. Possibly even better knowing that we had made the food ourselves! Plus, when plating up my lunch, I realised that all of the curries we had made (apart from the fish one of course) were vegan!
We arrived a little early for the cooking class so wandered around the outlet and chatted to the staff members about what the company does.
EcoWave is a not-for-profit organisation. The Outlet operates as a gift/souvenir shop and an organic produce market. It also functions as a tourist information centre, providing bike rental and activities such as the cooking class, as well as offering eco-tours of the area and the entire island.
I highly recommend choosing EcoWave if you are based in Arugam Bay, or if you are looking to support a not-for-profit organisation that helps local communities.
All of the products in the gift shop are handmade by local people who live in the nearby villages such as Panama. Coconut shells are turned into keyrings, hair accessories and serving spoons. There’s beautiful jewellery, bags made from recycled rice sacks, and notebooks created from recycled paper.
You can also buy organic produce to recreate the curries at home! All of the fruit, vegetables and spices for sale in the Outlet are sourced locally and all profits directly help the local communites that supply the products to EcoWave. On the wall, there is a display showing photographs of the local farmers.
There are a huge range of eco-tours to choose from, all of which are unique and authentic experiences. You could visit the village of Panama and meet the local people, or perhaps go on safari in Kumana National Park. Maybe you would enjoy a tour of Pottuvil Lagoon, home to many species of birds, crocodiles, monitor lizards, elephants and water buffalo. All of these options are available on the ecowavetravels.lk website.
If you’re visiting Arugam Bay, consider staying in Panama, the gateway to Kumana National Park. EcoWave can organise accommodation in a homestay for you as well as a trip into the national park on safari. If you’re interested in going on safari, check out this post.
Thanks for reading and happy travels!
Disclosure: James and I received a complimentary Sri Lankan cooking class in exchange for writing this blog post and providing coverage of it on Spin the Windrose’s social media channels. All opinions are my honest encounters of my experience with EcoWave on 28 March 2017. I would like to thank EcoWave for the opportunity to work with them.
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