Although sometimes known as the Teardrop of India, I can assure you, there was nothing to cry about here ...
This was our first visit to Sri Lanka. A country with history, wildlife, beautiful and varied countryside, delicious food and of course, TEA! A predominately Bhudist country, Sri Lanka has a gentle attitude. It was described more than once as ‘India Light’ and we were certainly welcomed with great pride and wide smiles wherever we travelled.
Our route took us firstly to a coconut plantation. Accommodation was in an old planter’s house complete with original furniture and features, wide shaded verandas and a huge Frangipani tree in the garden. What a lovely introduction: we feasted on all things coconutty! Passionfruit leaf, chilli and coconut salad, baby loofah cooked with coconut milk and lime, coconut dosahs. I was impressed already by the many ways with coconut … then we visited the coconut processing plant! It takes 6 coconuts to produce 500mls oil. The nut is split, shredded, dried and pressed and what remains is fed to cattle. The husk is used to make brushes or coconut matting. Well done the coconut, I say!
Next a drive up to the hill country, (taking in the site where the bridge over the river Kwai was filmed –amazing, it wasn’t even Christmas!). We arrived high up in this tea covered landscape, cool and lush. It was arresting in its beauty and also by the vastness of the cultivation, tea as far as the eye could see and in every direction. The plantations have names such as Rosyth, Strathdon, Elgin – I really had come home !
Tea bushes need to be plucked every 7-10 days, so the plantations rising up from road-sides, and covering every tiny area, are dotted with jewel coloured saris worn by the ‘Tea Plucking Ladies’. These women pluck the top three leaves from each bush by hand and toss them into a bag on their backs - two bags a day each weighing 25 kilos is the average. Respect for my daily cuppa(s) was growing by the minute. Our accommodation was outside the hill top town of Hatton, a stop on the railway line that the British built across this hilly landscape, and a good two steps back in time – quite charming. An old manager’s bungalow, 6 rooms in a low slung building within a plantation was where we rested and enjoyed delicious food and warm hospitality. Rice and curry – of course. Spicy chicken curry, the most delicious dahl, beetroot and coconut sambal, carrot tops with tomatoes, chillies and lime, stir fried banana flowers, just some of the exceptional combinations. I have to mention here my delight with another leaf; fresh curry leaves. They are present in many of the dishes, salads and curries, either dropped in fresh or tempered in oil before their addition, they add a warm, fresh depth to the dishes they inhabit. My highlight here was the dahl, rich and comforting with the addition of the all important leaves it was so good I had it at both dinner and breakfast – tea leaves and curry leaves at one meal. I truly was in Heaven ... Try our Sri Lankan Curry Powder Spice Blend recipe below.