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How to Take a Piece of Sri Lanka When You Move Abroad

A random but weirdly comprehensive list of stuff you cant leave the country without. Brought to you by exiles.

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For those that forsake our motherland for the bigger brighter West, those that burst out of the tropical bubble and fly away to that far-off somewhere, suddenly find themselves, amidst all the shiny new lights, huddling in a corner of their freezing foreign apartment or dorm room desperately and ardently longing for home.

You could collect enough of your tears to replicate a mini ocean, or talk to yourself in your rapidly breaking sinhala to try and keep some semblance of the island alive but soon you realise more concrete measures are necessary. 

So here’s a handy shopping list gathered from all the exiles I know.


Photo from SL Business

Spices are a great conductor of heat. You need your curry powder mixes: thunapaha and amu thunapaha. Mustard seeds are a must. And for the love of Lanka, cinnamon sticks. Only our island can do cinnamon right.

The Jars

Photo from Chicago Reader

Mango chutney, Seeni sambol, Chillie paste, lime pickle... as many jars as you can cram into your suitcase, they make any meal interesting.


Photo from Nestle

Either powder or the packets. Seems like a strange luxury, but some can’t live without the stuff.

Coconut spoons

Everything tastes better out of a coconut spoon.

Frozen lamprais

Or any kind of frozen bath packet. This was a special case of one determined individual, with high risk of food going terribly bad or a confiscation at customs. That’s why thambili and any of the other awesome fruits and vegetables don’t make it on this list. They must remain in your dreams.

Love cake

Gooey oozy sickly sweet crunch in a neat 4 x 6” box. Its when you can’t be bothered to cook and the munchies set in.


Or Arrack. The local alcoholic elixir, that will warm your belly in the winter, get some of the tropical madness flowing in your veins again.


Also weird, but I had a friend who took the bedsheets he’d had all his life, with him to uni. They smell like musty moth balls and Sunlight washing powder.

Bedcovers, sheets, pillowcases, there is something to be said for having that soft familiar fabric around you.


Photo from Barefoot

One of the comfiest most functional pieces of fabric ever. In Sri Lanka, its cool and breezy, and over there it wraps like a blanket for home time chilling or a bathrobe after your steamy shower.


Always a favourite is pinning up our proud lion;  a Lankan flag and/or map. Or one of those retro posters from Barefoot. Any barefoot product really, even if barefoot isn’t your thing there’s a weird colourful comfort in carrying all your pens in one of their cases to your lecture hall.


Sooriya Gini Petti. They are explosive, temperamental and often inefficient, but that spark is warming when all your lighters fall apart and you just want to sit in candlelight. (ED WARNING : Do not ever take sparklers, even in your check-in luggage. Getting frog marched to a holding room to explain the gunpowder residue in your luggage is not pleasant. Even if it makes for great cocktail conversation.)


The thing about all these items is that they are random and eclectic, unnecessary for some and absolutely vital for others. My own collection is in there and the rest I’ve gathered from the stories of others. They all contain a little bit of home though, some of the warmth, the spice, the flair, the familiarity.

What do you take with you?

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