Within my not so long life of living as a middle-class child of rather liberal parents who live to travel, I have seen many things. Maybe not in the likes of Machu Picchu or the Eiffel tower. But, thanks to a number of slightly eccentric family friends and relatives who crave the idea of covering as much mileage as possible within one trip, I've managed to see a pretty hefty amount of the island, if nothing else.
And if there's one thing I've learnt through all these excursions is that trip food is an actual thing. As a child, trips are one of the only times that your parents will quite literally buy any kind of food your heart desires without making as much as a fuss as they usually do when you ask for it. And amongst all the hogwash we've put in our bellies, there's always those chosen few who keep turning up.
I distinctly remember the first time my parents bought me my first "my Cola." Traipsing through pine needles on our way to Fox Hill, 2 people who detest the idea of Coke and their children being in the same picture bought their youngest a low budget version of her favourite drink just to get her to shut up. And ever since then, the drink has turned up at almost every corner of rural Sri Lanka, whenever they decided to leave home for a couple of days.
And while I've learnt to get my share of coke at supermarkets well in advance, there still are times when I turn to this childhood memory because it's usually the only kind of cola around.
This is one we can all relate to. Puffed up takes on salty diseases (according to my mother), Tipi Tip is all our favourite childhood food. And no matter how cheap it actually is, it's highly unlikely that your parents would buy you a packet no matter how much you beg for it. That's only when you're in Colombo, of course.
One day into your pilgrimage in Anuradhapura and you'll find yourself in the back of the van with the big kids munching away at your onion tipi tip or Mr Pop packet as happy as a goose.
For me, the beli mal craze started in Anuradhapura. As in, it's been around for ages, but, the first time I truly fell in love with the drink was when we went around pilgrimaging a couple of years back. Cheap and all-together a healthier option on our list, beli mal requires very little begging and is easily one of the nicest things ever. Seated on the side of the road on planks of wood that have smoothed out over time, a cup of steaming beli mal in one hand and a minute piece of jaggery on the other, making small talk with the lady of the shop.
Achcharu isn't necessarily "trip food" per se, but, every now and again, you somehow find yourself, tears streaming down your face, with a bag of mango achcharu from the kadey in front of the temple that your parents bought you instead of that super cool fake shark tooth chain that you asked for.
Corn is one kind of food that I know most of us can even remotely relate to. Salty or sweet, the BBQ (not an actual bbq, smh) or boiled with salt, corn is a trip staple! It's that one thing that your parents will never say no to because it's not like Tipi Tip, it's healthy and it's also pretty cheap. Thus how most of us have memories of us waiting impatiently as the corn cools down enough for you to grab hold of it while it tempts you by swamping the entire interior with its almost siren-like smell.
Thambili, for most of us, isn't something we necessarily drink when we're in Colombo. unless you have a tree of course. Unfortunately, most of us do not which is why every time we go outstation, we somehow manage to convince our parentals that thambili is great, thus including at least 3 bathroom breaks before you get to wherever you're going.
Found at literally every corner of the island, vadei, more or less goes with the section titled bites. But, at the same time, it deserves to have a subheading of its own. Embedded with bits of chilli these teeny-tiny bites sized balls are practically an OG of the trippy food scene in Sri Lanka. Fried in oil as black as your soul, it doesn't really matter if it's parippu, isso or on very rare instances, kunisso, no trip is complete without the addition of at least 2 of them.
If you, like me and most other Lankan families travel in herds and have a number of people including a set of relatively middle-aged people who smuggle a bottle inside their bags before they leave Colombo, you already know that there's going to be a party every night. A mix of booze, cards and a heap of bites which will eventually be eaten by the set of people who don't drink, bites have become an almost staple in the travel scene in SL culture.
Combinations usually span through a mix of 10 rupee samosas (that will eventually get you a stomach ache), wild boar and any other kind of meat they can find, any bite-sized food item and nuts, lots and lots of nuts.
While fancy alcohol is cool and all, it makes into nothing when you compare it with toddy. Whether it be down South or up in the North, toddy is and will always be saved for trips with your entire entourage of a slightly psychotic family.
The picture of your low-key bebadda uncle laughing at your very religious aunt spitting the drink out when she figured out what it was and then proceeding to shout profanities at said uncle whilst saying a prayer will be one memory that will (if you've gone through it) be etched in your mind for eternity, we guarantee it.
Peanuts are an everyday item in most Sri Lankan homes. But, the peanut we refer to here isn't necessarily the normal pan-fried peanuts that you get at David Gram Stores. Found in little bags by the side of the road, these peanuts are either usually boiled or fried and requires much effort in your part in terms of taking off the shell. Covered in bits of soil that didn't go away when they washed it, the boiled peanuts are usually bought at the result of children begging and mothers giving in and is usually only half empty even when you get home.
The pol roti epidemic started not too long ago with almost every tiny street-side shop putting up a board that said pol roti ekka inguru kahata ekak bomuda? A combination that's only for winners, the pol roti coming in straight from the pan in all it's floury goodness (with as little coconut as possible) served with a spicy katta sambol and a slightly brownish teacup filled to the brim with sickly sweet plain tea no matter how many times you said low sugar, all pulled together with a hint of ginger is more or less more of a modern-day trippy food than anything else.
“අම්මේ… අර ලුණු දෙහි බෝතලේ කොහෙද…?” කරවල හොද්දක් හදපු…
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