20 Things to know about Sri Lanka

by | Mar 10, 2020

  1. Sri Lanka is Serendipity.
    Serendib is an old name for Sri Lanka, and this is the word that Serendipity is derived from – meaning ‘happy accident’. An ideal expression for the happy-go-lucky lifestyle that you will see in Sri Lanka.
  2. Be patient. Plan in advance.
    Sri Lanka is a popular tourist destination as we all know. Making your tour itinerary, booking your accommodation, and transport reservations (particularly train tickets) well in advance is highly advisable to avoid disappointments. Also while you tour, popular attractions may be physically crowded. Hence patience is needed to wait for your turn.
  3. Order from the combination dishes as opposed to the Western menu.
    Instead of the ‘English’ breakfast that most restaurants have on their menu, try the Sri Lankan-Chinese menu which will be more superior in freshness and execution. Chinese Fried Rice, Devilled Chicken, and Hot Butter Cuttlefish are popular fusion dishes in addition to the Rice and Curry or Kottu Rotti authentic options.
  4. Expect to be scanned with proof of identity at certain locations as this is a security formality.
  5. Sri Lanka is a spiritual, multicultural country.
    70% of the population is the Sinhalese Buddhist majority, which is why you will see Stupas across the country and people making it a habit to leave some cash at Buddhist shrines that they come across along the road. In general, though, Sri Lanka is shaped by spirituality in more than just one particular faith. Centuries of living together with Hindu, Muslim and Christian faith, spiritual lines have been blurred. Sri Lankans attend each other’s religious festivals and are taught to be respectful to all religious objects and buildings while also dressing appropriately at pilgrimage sites.
  6. Eating is serious business in Sri Lanka.
    Food-focused travelers have Sri Lanka’s cuisine on their bucket list due to its spice and variety. But the phrase “we ate, we drank, we left”, is what sums up the phenomenon of people attending occasions such as weddings and parties.
  7. ‘Rice and Curry’ is the heart of Lankan cuisine.
    But rice and curry is not just a bowl of rice and curry; it includes a variety of curries including meat and vegetarian varieties, accompanied by a combination of ‘sambols’ (a blend of spices). The curries in Sri Lanka are defined by their spices. The original is with black pepper and roasted spices while the red curry is from chilies that are introduced to the original version. Brown curries are with unroasted spices and white curries have an addition of coconut milk to its taste.
  8. Know your ‘Sambols’.
    Sambols are a mixture of Indian chutneys, Indonesian sambals, and salads. Sri Lankan chefs like to accompany every meal with some spice. Popular sambols are:
    Seeni sambol – a tropical form of onion jam: deep-fried onions with chili flakes and a touch of fish flakes.
    Pol sambol – a dry, tangy coconut chutney.
    Katta sambol – abundance of chili flakes, finely grated onions and tiny dried prawns or fish flakes.
  9. Carry a travel plug.
    Some older buildings in Sri Lanka may not yet have facilities for all three plug types. But if you don’t have a multiple socket, you can purchase it at the Pettah market or any electrical store.
  10. Dress codes matter.
    Sri Lankans are still shaped by colonial legacies. Particularly at fine dining restaurants and members-only clubs in popular cities such as Colombo, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya, strict formal dress codes are adhered to. The dress codes in Colombo are a bit more relaxed – no shorts or open shoes, while in Nuwara Eliya, men are required to wear coats and ties.
  11. Eat hoppers all day.
    Hoppers are available in two forms: one is the bowl-shaped crispy crepes made from fermented rice flour batter, and the other is called ‘string hoppers’: steamed, ultra-thin rice noodles. These are available at breakfast and dinner timings at all roadside stalls and are eaten with curry and sambol varieties.
  12. You will need to ride in a tuk-tuk at some point.
    Tuk-tuks are an alternative name for three-wheelers – a form of taxi service in Sri Lanka. these are privately owned and the drivers usually know their way about the city very well. Hence tuk-tuks are a good way of getting around town fast and avoiding traffic.
  13. Roadside ‘Hotels’ are not really Hotels.
    These are mostly Muslim-owned restaurants that serve Sri Lankan and some south Asian staples such as biryani and samosa. Kandy’s center has a Muslim Hotel which is very popular and visited by most tourists.
  14. Colombo is in its makeover stage.
    The city has partly transformed into its contemporary self with sprawling gardens, open spaces blended with multi-cuisine restaurants, chic designer stores, and the city’s skyline is soaring with five-star hotels and a mall; with more high-rises to come in the near future.
  15. Short eats are a must-try.
    Sri Lankans have a strong affection for deep-fried snacks such as bite-sized cutlets, patties, samosas, pastries and more. These are seen at tea-time, ferried around across the city in tuk-tuks hired by local bakeries. If you happen to be on a train tour of Sri Lanka, you will see these savories being served by vendors walking up and down all the carriages. Some popular items you will see at bakeries are maalu paan (buns stuffed with peppery tuna mix), Elavalu rotti (vegetarian), kimbula bunis (dense, croissant style buns topped with sugar), mini-pizzas, and stuffed pastries.
  16. Visit the North.
    Direct trains from Colombo-Jaffna and daily premium bus services have now made it very convenient to travel to northern Sri Lanka such as Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, and Jaffna. It is interesting indeed to see the civil war-torn remnants in these areas while also studying the intense Tamil culture.
  17. When in Jaffna, try Jaffna food.
    Kool, a spicy seafood soup, crab curry, and the popular Rio ice cream are things you should be on the lookout for.
  18. Tea will come sweet.
    In the hills, visit tea plantations, and in Colombo, several café style tea houses are available. But keep in mind, the standard cuppa in Sri Lanka is not very strong and undoubtedly includes more than a teaspoonful of sugar. So if you prefer otherwise, you must state so!
  19. Every full moon is a holiday.
    Every month, the day of the full moon is a public, bank and mercantile holiday in Sri Lanka. liquor and raw meat are not sold on these ‘Poya’ days. If this holiday falls on a Friday or Monday, expect popular tourist attractions to be populated with locals holidaying themselves at the expense of the long weekend.
  20. English language is understood by many Sri Lankans.
    Although Sinhala and Tamil is the primary language, even the villagers have a few English words in their vocabulary, making it easier for tourists to communicate themselves.