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Month: August 2021

Lamprais, the Dutch-influenced rice dish which is loved by all!

Lamprais, the Dutch-influenced rice dish which is loved by all!

Lamprais is a complex Sri Lankan dish usually consisting of stock-cooked short-grained rice, three meat curries (beef, pork, and lamb), wambatu moju (eggplant pickle), seeni sambol (onion relish), blanchan (shrimp paste), frikadeller meatballs, eggplant and ash plantain curry. 

From the 15th century, Dutch ships sailed across Asia with merchants from Northern Europe. These merchants from Holland, France, Germany, Switzerland, England and other European nations belonged to the newly emerging middle class. Many of them joined Vereenigde Oost Indische Compagnie (VOC), or the Dutch East India Company founded in 1602. Their headquarters were in Batavia, present-day Indonesian capital Jakarta.

During this time, the Portuguese, who invaded Sri Lanka in 1597, ruled over the low country coastal belt. They controlled the island’s rich spice trade. In 1658, Dutch took over the Portuguese to rule maritime Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, until the British arrival in 1796. Many of these Northern European merchants settled down in Sri Lanka and married people of Portuguese and local origin. This new social group of European descendants came to be identified as Burghers (this German-originated term translates to residents of a city). In Sinhala, the commonly used language in Sri Lanka, they were called Lansi, a term derived from Dutch Hollandsche, meaning inhabitant of Holland. From this sociocultural concoction birthed the Lamprais.

The word Lamprias comes from the Dutch word lomprijst, which loosely translates to, a packet of food. In her book A Taste of Sugar & Spice: Cuisine of the Dutch Burgher Huisvrouw in Olde Ceylon, author Deloraine Brohier writes that Lamprais was not European in origin, rather an improvisation of the Burghers, pairing the Asian staple rice and spices.

“Not to mention the plantain leaves in which they are packed which again are of tropical provenance,” writes Brohier. A common belief is that Lamprais has roots to the Indonesian dish Lemper, sticky rice sandwiched with a curried diced chicken mix that comes wrapped in a plantain leaf.

In traditional Burgher houses, preparing Sunday lamprais begins the previous night, with meat boiling for two hours and plantain leaves being cleaned. The next morning, women in the household begin their chores, adding curry leaves and pandan leaves to butter browning in a pot. Boiled rice goes into the frying mix, followed by the meat stock. A crushed mix of spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, lemongrass and peppercorns wrapped in a muslin cloth is placed in the pot, scenting and flavoring the rice as it cooks.

For one Lamprais, a lump of boiled rice accompanies a dessert-spoonful of the mixed meat curry cooked with diced chicken, pork, beef and mutton. A traditional Lamprais features exactly two frikkadels, meatballs spiced with finely chopped garlic and fresh green chile.

There are condiments like blachang, dried prawn ground into a paste with pepper and garlic; seeni sambol, a caramelized onion accompaniment sprinkled with fish flakes. There is brinjal pahi, pickled eggplant with notes of sour-sweetness, and a vinegar-infused tang.

But over the years, commercially made Lamprais took many forms, adapting to the demands of the dominant Sinhalese culture of the country, and even going through gross misinterpretations. Even at the Dutch Burgher Union in Colombo now, the Lamprais is a large packet of rice, as opposed to the handful of rice.

“It became very Sri Lankan,” says Rienzie Trek, food and beverage manager at the VOC cafe by DBU in Colombo, laughing as he talks to me about the history of the dish. “It was a snack in the past. When our ancestors tottered long journeys, they would carry a few packs of Lamprais with them,” he says. “But now everyone eats it as a main meal.”

In Sri Lanka, influenced by the majority Sinhalese culture, rice is the centrepiece of every dining table. A popular phrase in Sinhala “udetath bath, dawaltath bath, retath bath,” meaning “rice for the morning, afternoon and night,” suggests the island’s fondness in devouring rice for every meal. Ancient farmer-families gathered energy for hard labour from their carb-heavy rice meals. With time, societies and economies changed with people shifting to desk jobs and the common use of machinery in agriculture. However, the carb-rich rice culture (which birthed to fuel energy for hard labour) continues even today.

During the British colonial regime, many Dutch Burgher families adopted English as their mother tongue. English became a deciding tool for one’s status in society. It’s during these days that the Burghers rose as the new elite in the island, acquiring reputed administrative posts in British Ceylon as English speakers. British left in 1948, and in 1956, the Sri Lankan government passed Sinhala Only Act, replacing English with Sinhala as the sole official language of the country. This turn of events threatened the sociocultural status of the Dutch Burghers. Many families fled Sri Lanka in the coming decades. In her book, Brohier notes that a census done in the 1940s revealed that 0.8 percent of the total population were Dutch Burghers, which was reduced to 0.2 percent in 1981. In her 2012 book, Brohier mentions that Burghers number to only 15,000-30,000 today in a total population of 21.67 million.

The authentic Lamprais disappears fast and wide, just like its creators, the Dutch Burghers from the island. The quest to save the Lamprais is also a quest to reclaim the legacy of the Dutch Burghers.

Classic Sri Lanka strives to showcase culinary specialities like the Lamprai to our clientele and hope to impart the flavours of Sri Lanka to the world. A journey across Sri Lanka should also be one of trying the diverse flavours and specialities on offer on this vibrant island.

Savoring the simple life of a Rural Village

Savoring the simple life of a Rural Village

The village of Weerawila located in the Deep South of the island is still remote and quaint despite being in the modern era. Many age-old practices are still carried out as they did for hundreds of years. We explore three unique households that still hold some unique practices to this day.

Early morning we visit the home of Kusuma and her family. Their family has been making buffalo curd for many generations. This age-old practise produces one of Sri Lanka’s most refreshing desserts, a greek yoghurt style product using the milk of water buffalo. This is a dessert enjoyed especially after a heavy meal of curry and it cools down your stomach. Enjoyed either unsweetened or with fresh Kitul (fishtail palk) treacle syrup this is a delicious and refreshing way to enjoy a lunch of spicy curries.

As we ventured into the back yard of this home we met Kusuma and her daughter Leela stirring a large pot of boiling milk brought in fresh every morning. After boiling and ladled for over an hour, the milk curdles and is then brought into the home, where fresh clay pots are laid out in a cool dark room. Here she pours the hot milk into these pots and adds some previously made curd into the milk which starts the culture process which makes curd. Thereafter these pots are covered and left for a day to set.

We enjoyed some curd which was prepared earlier for breakfast, and it was by far the creamiest we have ever had. Combined with the sweet treacle this is a filling and delicious breakfast.

Afterwards, we headed towards Tissa Wewa, where next to the lake is the home of Lionel, who is a traditional potter. An elderly gentleman – he was busy kneading the clay he’s brought in using his feet. Stepping and stomping on the clay, he keeps folding the clay in two and repeats the process. Meanwhile, his wife and daughter prepare the spinning wheel. Thereafter he brought the prepared clay and carefully crafted a beautiful vase for us. Trying our hands in this delicate art, we could not master the fine tough which Lionel used to design such a product. Thereafter we stepped into his workshop, where we saw the many products he makes for the village, which include many pots which are used in the village for daily cooking which is known as “hutti and mutti” as well as water pots which are known as “kalaya’s” and were traditionally used to carry water from the well or water source back to the home. Also, the “Gurulettuwa” which is the traditional clay water jug used to store water in most traditional Sri Lankan households. Due to the cooling nature of clay, the water usually remains cooler than room temperature, not requiring refrigeration. He also designs creative designs such as vases, ashtrays etc.

But he also emphasized that except on daughter his other children are not interested in learning this old craft, and he fears over time it would be lost like many of the old ways of Sri Lanka.

Bidding farewell to Lionel, we headed back to Weerawila where we changed vehicles to a farm tractor known as a “Landmaster” by the villagers and went deep down a remote dirt road through the village. A few kilometres and we came to the farm of Kusumpala, who invited us to his home for a village lunch prepared by his family using all the products grown on his farm. Welcomed in by a refreshing king coconut we were taken to the back of his garden, where a feast of a meal had been laid out in traditional mats on the floor. The dishes included over 7-8 types of vegetables, as well as freshly caught fish prepared in two ways. The flavours and taste were amazing and the meal truly was fit for a king. After the amazing feast, we ended the meal with some buffalo curd once again, thus ending an amazing village experience. Classic Sri Lanka is dedicated to bring such experiences with real Sri Lankans closer to you, and create amazing travel moments which are authentic and unique.

Up close with the Saltwater Crocodiles of the Nilwala River

Up close with the Saltwater Crocodiles of the Nilwala River

Sri Lanka is home to around 2,500 to 3,500 saltwater crocodiles, more than half of which are found in national parks. Though not as common here as the mugger crocodile, salties occur in estuaries and riverine systems on the western, southern and eastern coasts of the Indian Ocean island. An increase in the number of crocodile attacks on people has been recorded in recent years, despite some measures introduced to prevent conflict between man and croc.

The largest reptile on Earth, the saltwater croc (Crocodylus porosus), known as geta kimbula in Sinhalese, can grow to lengths surpassing 6 meters (20 feet). This prehistoric creature is the apex predator of riverine ecosystems, found in a vast region around the world, including Sri Lanka, India, to Papua New Guinea and the Indo–Pacific, all the way to Australia.

In Sri Lanka, they’re not as common as the mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris), also known as the marsh crocodile. Saltwater crocodiles are found in estuaries and riverine systems mainly on Sri Lanka’s south, west and eastern coasts. Sometimes they can even be found in urban areas such as the nation’s commercial capital, Colombo – moving around the canals and waterways in the city. Some specimens have been seen out at the ocean and even in locations such as suburban Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, as the crocodiles move between rivers using the ocean as a connector.

In appearance, they are easily identifiable from the mugger crocodile. The head of the mugger is much wider, while the saltwater crocodile’s head tapers toward the snout. The neck of a saltwater croc or “saltie” doesn’t contain any prominent scales compared to the mugger. The mugger is usually greyish in colour, while the saltie has a yellowish hue on the body, especially the belly. The sides of the belly have rough scales similar to the texture of a jackfruit.

It’s in their temperament where the two species differ the most. Muggers are generally timid; only a few attacks on people have been recorded. In contrast, salties are aggressive and there are many cases of deaths recorded due to their attacking behaviour.

Fables about crocodiles swimming in the Nilwala River in southern Sri Lanka’s Matara district are legendary and have influenced both folk tales and folk songs. Of late, the Nilwala and the crocodiles that inhabit the river have been the subject of news, with people being attacked and killed by the riverside.

Such is the saltie’s unparalleled reputation, I took off to the island’s southern coast in search of these magnificent reptiles myself. With the help of local boatmen, I embarked on my first self-styled “crocodile safari” in 2016. The boat ride did not take too long to yield up the first saltie.

It was a small individual, rather shy, and went quickly underwater before we could draw close. We soon realized that there were many crocodiles hiding in the riverbanks and mangroves, mostly in plain sight, but they would quickly go underwater whenever we drew close to them, most of them semi-adults or juveniles.

Going further upriver, we were amazed at the vast variety of birdlife that formed part of this unique ecosystem, ranging from stork-billed kingfishers (Pelargopsis capensis), common kingfishers (Alcedo atthis), striated herons (Butorides striata) and purple herons (Ardea purpurea), to white-bellied fish eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster), grey-headed fish eagles (Haliaeetus ichthyaetus) and many more.

The further upstream we went, the less populated it became, and there were some areas covered in fast reed beds with no humans in sight. It was in one such area that we came across a large male crocodile swimming across the river. This giant individual measured about 4.5 meters (15 feet) in length. He displayed his dominance over the river by swimming with his head and tail raised high above the water. It was amazing to witness this top predator of the river in its natural habitat, proud and strong. Being in a boat almost at the croc’s eye level gave me an uneasy feeling.

The boat people told me about an even bigger crocodile often seen in the Nilwala, more than 5.5 meters (18 feet) in length. Though we didn’t see him during my first tour, I continued to visit the river over the years and, on one occasion, came across this legendary reptile.

He’d crawled up to a riverbank to bask in the afternoon as crocs do, and could have easily been mistaken for a massive log, given his tremendous size and the colour camouflage. This croc was spellbinding, and I felt privileged to have seen such a giant croc, a rarity these days.

He was as wide as our boat, and as we approached closer, he slid calmly back into the water and disappeared, without trying to overpower us. During my many tours to Matara, I also came across many hatchlings, indicating a healthy population in this ecosystem. One tour up the river gave me a count of 21 individuals.

More croc attacks are being reported, but local people told me that 20 years ago this wasn’t the case. Boatmen have told me that they used to hold swimming competitions in the river without any fear. It’s quite possible that the crocodiles from neighbouring rivers such as the Walawe might have moved to the Nilwala as they gradually lose much of their habitat.

Locals told me there are more crocodiles now, and also that people throw their rubbish, from fish parts and meat, into the water, attracting these giant reptiles and making them lose the fear of humans. This, in turn, imprints in their brain the link between easy food and people, making them swim toward human-habituated areas.

I heard some uncanny tales about how meat shops and even funeral parlours disposed of their waste into this precious water resource, which is now bearing the impacts of pollution and also giving rise to conflicts between man and crocodile.

To prevent crocodile attacks, there are several “croc-proof fences” set up on the riverside, enabling people to bathe in the river. But most that I saw were derelict and in need of repair. Still, I saw people bathing outside the fences, at ease with the river and the lurking dangers.

There are also some barriers across the river upstream using sandbags, an attempt to contain the flow of brackish and saltwater upstream with the tide. The effects of this project need to be assessed along with its environmental impact on the wildlife and fish in this river ecosystem, as well as the livelihood of the fishermen living downstream, and the impact this barrier has when rainfall is at an all-time high and large volumes of water flow downstream.

The Nilwala ecosystem has prevailed and persisted over centuries without disturbance. But its survival and continuity into the future depend on the sustainable strategies adopted by the authorities. The conflict between humans and crocodiles need to be carefully studied and addressed to avoid human deaths while the largest reptile we have known is allowed to survive in the fabled river. The call is for coexistence and not extinction.



Ok, Imagine…

At first, it looks like a giant square building block, sticking out oddly against the far-stretching Weligama Beach along the southern coast of Sri Lanka. But, as you set foot into the hotel, you will be instantly distracted by the ambience. The upscale interior, the atmosphere, combined with the welcoming nature of the staff, creates a warmness and a modern chic surrounding.

Sure enough, as you step in, you are greeted with the ocean wind that pours in generously through the open space entrance to the hotel grounds from the lobby. The scenic coastal view is your immediate scenic setting. The salty smell mixed with the aromas of the hotel relaxes you, making you feel giddy in anticipation of the exciting beach holiday you will be soon enjoying in Marriott Weligama.

The story behind the beauty

What started as an ambitious family-run business in Washington D.C. between the founder J. Willard Marriott and his wife, Alice Marriott, nearly a century ago – took off successfully for a historical turn to the hotel business and finally growing into the International Marriott brand that we are all so familiar with today.

Out of the many ventures taken under the brand, the Marriott found its way into the golden shores of Sri Lanka, where it nestled in one of the most famous and gorgeous coastal towns on the island, Weligama. There it built its vision in 2017, creating a 5* tropical beach hotel for locals and foreign travellers alike to come and experience and make wonderful memories.

The Room Concept

With over 198 rooms – whether you choose a superior or vista room/suite, there is something they all have in common. Flooded with spaciousness and natural light through the floor-to-ceiling windows, each room set-up is comfy yet luxurious – with the king-size beds and the lounging chair set perfectly next to the large window, AND it all comes with an incredible ocean view of the Weligama Bay as well as the island coast as far as the eye can see. How amazing is that?

The interior is such that it creates a sense of immense space for you to stretch out and relax. The marble bathrooms are designed with such care, making something as simple as taking a shower an experience. It’s obvious there is style and character in the design and interior, constantly reminding you that when you stay at the Marriott Weligama, you always do so in style.

(All necessary room facilities such as round retro bedside tables, lounge banquettes, large television, minibar and wardrobe with ironing board, bathrobes and an electronic safe are available)

The Food & Drink Concept

From all-day dining restaurants and bars like the Weligama Kitchen, Big Fish, Tides Bar and the Surf’s Up Pool & Beach Bar, the Marriott Weligama is ready to keep your taste buds entertained and your food cravings constantly satisfied with the very best of dishes, diverse cuisines and refreshing beverages and cocktails.

Using the best local ingredients to create local to more international cuisine, all presented in the form of 5* culinary style and flavour – so your taste buds can take a journey around the world. From Chinese, Thai and Indian to Western! You can even have a good wood-fired pizza next to the pool as you enjoy the ocean breeze and view. There are so many options for breakfast alone! And there is never a wrong time to indulge in the most flavour-filled gastronomic adventures during your stay.

The Dream Service & Amenities

A hotel can be an absolute paradise. But, careless and ill service paired with cold attitudes can turn that whole experience into one bitter memory.

The quality of service at the Marriott Weligama hotel is something that you won’t have to worry about. From the moment you enter you are greeted with a contagious smile, and from then onwards, till you get in your vehicle to head back home, you will feel like a VIP, being taken care of with the cheeriest attitudes and warmth – all while maintaining professionalism. 

If you are taking your kids too, then you won’t have to worry for even a millisecond as they too will be catered to in the best possible way.

What about the available facilities? As a 5* hotel, the Marriott Weligama offers you the best. From a well-equipped fitness centre to nicely spread-out blue pools to cool down in, to spas that help create almost other-worldly techniques to help you relax and enjoy and so much more. You will experience world-class service and amenities to make your stay all the more magical.

The Area Neighbourhood

Weligama Bay is a popular beach destination for many beach lovers. Its golden coasts and the clear blue waters are enchantingly inviting, BUT that’s not all you can enjoy while staying at the Marriott Weligama hotel.

You can visit the historic and super famous coastal town of Galle, which is just 40 minutes from the hotel on a vehicle. Here you can walk on the colonial ramparts and explore the Galle Fort, which is a world-renowned UNESCO site.

Go Whale Watching in Mirissa (which is just 10 minutes from the hotel), dip in the beautiful beach waters there – maybe even visit a Turtle Conservation centre! The choices are ample.

If you are choosing the Marriott Weligama for your beach stay, then be assured that your agenda is going to be fun-packed till the moment of departure. From exploring the coastal wonders of the southern regions of the Lankan land to immersing in the beach magic, you will be transported to a tropical paradise. If that is the kind of holiday experience you are seeking, after being cooped up in your living space for so long, dreaming of travel. Then look no further.

As a Safe and Secure Certified travel partner, we at Classic Sri Lanka, can look into ensuring your stay here, will be magical as well as a safe one. We are always at your service round the clock to ensure we make your holiday dreams a memorable reality.