One of the most memorable gastronomic adventures I have experienced was a cooking lesson in a traditional Sri Lankan home. Sri Lankan food is highly aromatic and rich, featuring all sorts of tropical vegetables not to mention roots, herbs, chills and curry powders. However enjoying authentic Sri Lankan food can be a real challenge because most of the restaurants in Sri Lanka cater to tourists rather than locals. In Sri Lanka, it is commonplace to cook and eat at home with the family rather than dine out.
When I visited Sri Lanka earlier this year, I spent a week travelling along the south west coast. During my trip I arranged an intimate half-day cooking lesson through AGS Cooking School near Galle Fort. We booked our lesson two days in advance by texting a helpful chap named Sudesh on +94771659659 via WhatsApp. The booking process was easy and we arranged to meet our guide named Madu outside our hotel.
The Market Place
Madu picked us up bright and early and we headed to a nearby market to purchase the ingredients we needed for our cooking lesson. Markets in Sri Lanka are wonderfully vibrant places. Madu pointed out all the exotic vegetables to us, such as banana flower, snake beans, bitter gourd and bell peppers. She also let us choose which vegetables we wanted to add to the curries we would cook later.
In Sri Lanka it is completely normal to get ripped off if you are white-skinned. Don’t try to resist it, that’s just how it works. After browsing the produce, Madu then led us to a spice seller where we were intimidated into buying bags of turmeric and curry powder at exorbitant prices.
A Traditional Sri Lankan Home
After the shopping was done, we drove to Madu’s home. Her house was quaintly painted blue and white with a beautiful garden and ceramic bird fountain. Both Madu’s mother and daughter were waiting for us in the garden as our cooking lesson was going to be a family affair! Just as well, as I’m not very good at washing dishes.
The first thing we did was to light the wood-fire stove in the kitchen. Sri Lankan cooking is based on a number of core ingredients, which were laid out on the table and included curry powder, roasted curry powder, turmeric, chilli powder, cardamon, cinnamon, black pepper, sea salt cloves, dried coriander and coconut oil.
Fresh Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is essential to Sri Lankan cooking and helps to make their curries taste deliciously creamy. In a traditional Sri Lankan home, coconut milk is never store-bought but made from scratch! Madu showed us how to make it. Firstly, we cut the coconut in half using a long blade. We drank the fresh coconut water that burst out. Next, we scraped out the hard, white coconut flesh and simmered it in water. The process was physically hard work but the richness and thickness of the milk made it totally worth the effort!
Time to Cook
The last vital step we needed to take was to crush some fresh garlic, chilli, lime and purple shallots in the mortar and pestle. We then cooked seven different curries in traditional clay pots using different meats and vegetables as well as a variety of spices!
A Delicious Home-Style Meal
After two hours of hard work in the kitchen, we were able to kick-back and enjoy the fruits of our labour. Home made food has never tasted this good! Madu and her family were incredibly hospitable and the food was really delicious. The fragrant roasted curry powder and thick, creamy coconut milk made the curries really “pop” and we devoured them with plenty of white rice and fried papadum.
AGS offer cooking lessons near Galle Fort as well as Kandy. It really is an incredible experience as well as a great way to experience authentic Sri Lankan food! Follow the hyperlinks for more information or text Sudesh via WhatsApp on +94771659659 to book your class.
If you need a driver whilst in Sri Lanka, you can also check out their sister company here.