From the vertiginous 24th floor of Vistas Bar at Movenpick Hotel, I soak in a shimmering expanse of the Indian Ocean as well as the glittering Colombo skyline. It’s a Monday night but the most happening bar in Sri Lanka’s capital city is packed with hip folks enjoying a breezy, panoramic setting and some inspired cocktails. Bartenders twirl and flip bottles while mixing cocktails like Gal Pol and Lemon Gin Tea. Tropical beats and jazz resonate in the air. A little distance away from our table, I can spot an array of multi-hued shishas.
Competing closely with the breathtaking views is the food, presented on modern cutting board style plates, ready to be shared. Crispy prawn tempuras, succulent chicken satays, an array of Sri Lankan snacks as well as a Strawberry Mojito tease my taste buds!
Colombo — a bustling metropolis of 2.5 crore people — is fast becoming a compelling draw for Indian gastronomes, offering everything from buzzy bars to atmospheric restaurants to street food options. The fact that it is like a home away from home further adds to the destination’s lure.
And indeed what could be better than a fun tuk-tuk (colourful three-wheeler) tour that takes you to the city’s top destinations with local food/drinks stops thrown in? My odyssey begins with the Pettah Market with an atmosphere is so thick it can be sliced with a knife! From apparel to footwear, utensils to handicrafts, Pettah is the go-to market for locals as well tourists. To make my experience even more immersive, the driver flips open the tuk tuk’s top so that I could stand up and soak in the bazaar’s sights, sounds and smells more intently. A must do!
The tour takes me to top local attractions like the exquisite Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, the serene Independence memorial Hall as well as Manning Market. Soon, we stop at a roadside fruit stall to relish some spiced Sri Lankan fruits. The mélange of tropical fruits and piquant spices was like a party in my mouth. I couldn’t stop eating it even though my tongue was on fire and tears were rolling down my cheeks!
Colombo’s colonial heritage (a mix of Portuguese, Dutch and British) and its history as a strategic spot on the ancient Silk Road linking China and India to Europe makes it a remarkable showcase of different architectural styles. Its food is similarly eclectic. However, my sight is set on an authentic experience, so after viewing the city’s salient landmarks, we stop for a Sri Lankan lunch at the famous Curry Pot restaurant. With the lapping of the Indian Ocean across the street providing an ear-pleasing background score, I dig into some delicious fare at this tiny, unadorned eatery that focusses more on quality than food theatrics. The buffet-style lunch has a bewildering array of vegetables, curries, pickles, rice and more. I leave the restaurant kilos heavier, struck by serious food coma.
I have no plans for dinner that night but when I learn that AYU, Movenpick’s all-day dining restaurant, was offering a range of Western, Indian and mouth-watering Sri Lankan dishes, I change my mind. After the sumptuous dinner, I sleep like a baby only to wake up and learn that the resident chef has cooked up an elaborate Sri Lankan breakfast for me with 16 dishes! Seriously, there’s nothing to beat Sri Lankan hospitality.
Increasingly, cooking classes have become all the rage in Sri Lanka with tourists queuing up to master the country’s native dishes. So in the kitchen of Movenpick Hotel, I too learn how to rustle up a three-course Sri Lankan meal under the expert supervision of Executive Chef Meththa Ekanayake. The class is also a lesson in Sri Lankan history, culture and people’s lifestyles. At the end of the class, we enjoy the food we had cooked, laughing and joking at my pronunciation of local dishes like thalapath malu mirisata (fish curry)!
No trip to Sri Lanka can be complete without an authentic tea tasting. For this, we visit the Tea Triumph boutique which retails the famous “Embillian Tea”. My tea tasting session takes place at the boutique set against the scenic backdrop of the Indian Ocean. The tea sommelier begins by telling us about the mind-boggling range of Sri Lankan teas – from Orange Pekoe to Silver Tips to Oolong, the terroir, the packaging, the aromas, the bouquet.… The staggering information was an eye-opener for a novice like me who thou-ght there only two aspects to tea – hot or cold!
We’re tutored how to analyse the brew's aroma, flavour profile, body, colour and clarity. The first sip told us whether the tea was sweet, bitter, acidic, or umami. Next, we focused on aroma, palate notes, body (light, medium or full), astringency level (low to high), pungency, texture (creamy or velvety), complexity of flavours and length of flavour (short, medium or long).
“Take a sip of each tea and roll it in your mouth,” the brewer instructs me at the end of the class. I do so obediently. But not before raising a toast to Colombo and its warm people who’d made my trip so memorable!
Neeta Lal is a Delhi-based editor & journalist; email@example.com