Arriving in Colombo, Sri Lanka after two flights I'm sticky, tired and it's 4am in Sydney. But I'm happy, truly happy and the smell of the tropics hits me straight away as soon as I emerge from the airport's air conditioned surroundings. Later what strikes me is the people. Sri Lankans are friendly, polite and honest and love to engage in talk of their favourite topics. Within the first 5 minutes I've discussed cricket, volleyball (the national sport) and crab.
The teardrop shaped nation has had a tough time of late with tourism. The Easter attacks have taken a significant toll on tourist numbers, the third biggest industry in Sri Lanka and hotels experience lower than usual capacity.
Colombo is large and to get from one end to the next takes over an hour especially during week days at peak hour and for my first night before I start travelling around Sri Lanka I'm staying just 20 minutes from the airport.
Wallawwa is the word for an ancestral house and in this case it is a 200 year old Colonial House. The Wallawwa hotel is part of the Teardrop Hotels, a collection of small, luxury boutique hotels and for the past 11 years it has been operating as an 18 room hotel.
My suite is the hotel's Mountbatten Suite. As befitting the royal name, it's expansive and luxurious. As it's late at night the blinds are drawn but there's a lit plunge pool out there waiting for me tomorrow. The netted bed is comfortable and also beckons sleep.
The show stopper is the bathroom. It's rare to get a bathroom this big and there's a free standing shower, an enormous bath as well as a sitting area with a skylight up top.
I'm a tea drinker so I'm delighted to that there are four types on offer: black tea, jasmine green, cleanse tea and a rather mysterious Cleopatra's Secret tea. The fridge also holds a range of complimentary soft drinks that are replenished daily.
My first priority is taking a bath. I start running the bath and unpack. I lather up in heavenly scented house toiletries trying to scrub off the smell of the flight. Sri Lanka is a haven for ayurvedic practices and the spas offer a range of treatments from ayurvedic to Balinese.
In my jetlagged state I don't realise that there's a second bedroom with two netted beds and its own separate bathroom.
The next morning I wake up early, more as a function of the time difference than the bed on which I fell upon and slumbered deeply on. The a la carte breakfast is an elaborate affair. You choose a hot dish and it comes with juice, pastry basket with jams, tea or coffee and a fruit plate.
For me it's a given: hoppers with a chicken curry. I nibble on the artfully cut fruit platter, sip a herbal porridge which is utterly delicious, sip on the papaya juice and take a warm croissant (all pastries and food served here are made on the premises).
There are two hoppers: a plain and an egg and they suggest that I spoon some curry into the centre of the hopper and wrap it up to eat it along with the seeni sambal made with sweet caramelised onion. I wonder how I'll be able to cope with a non-hopper breakfast when I get home.
I wander around the grounds-the fruit and vegetable garden provides the kitchen with much of their produce. There are pineapples growing along with dragon fruit, lemons and pandan leaves. They used wine bottles and coconuts at the base of plants and trees.
There's also a cinnamon tree- Sri Lanka is of course known for the quality of its cinnamon. "Does it smell?" I ask. They pass me a leaf that has fallen to the ground and instruct me to take a bite of the stem. It bursts into the most wonderful cinnamon flavour and aroma. I've never tasted fresh cinnamon before, just the curls and powder and it is a much fruitier, more complex flavour.
Lunch is at the Ministry of Crab restaurant. It's the sort of restaurant that you feel compelled to try at least once and it's best to book ahead of time.
The restaurant is owned by Sri Lankan cricketers Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara with chef Dharshan Munidasa. It is located at the Old Dutch Hospital and as expected the menu is a shrine to crab as well as prawns. It is a very popular restaurant with Chinese clientele and every customer in there is Chinese.
Prices aren't cheap and a single prawn, albeit jumbo will set you back $35AUD. Our waiter tells us that there are only small crabs available but they are expecting larger ones later that day.
Service from the main waiter is great but the rest of the staff are a bit lacking in enthusiasm and care.
Crab Liver Pate 2200LKR/$18AUD
The food comes out quickly and that's not a bad thing as I am seated outside next to a large, noisy table of smokers and a kid playing his iPad at full volume so I'm keen to eat and go. The crab liver pâté is served with crisp square crackers and a shallow pot of creamy crab liver and a small pot of kithul or treacle. It's nice without the kithul but better with it and if you like the brown part of the crab then you'll like this.
Yodha Prawn 4300LKR/$35AUD, Garlic Bread 300LKR/$2.46AUD, Coconut Sambol 300LKR/$2.46AUD
The prawn comes out next and it's the jumbo sized prawn but it is mostly head so if you love prawn brains then you might enjoy this. This is cooked with garlic and chilli. I wouldn't order this again only because the actual meat while tender is a rather small portion. This is well paired with some thick garlic bread and a pol or coconut sambol made with Maldivian fish flakes.
Small Pepper Crab 700g 7300LKR/$59AUD
The crab comes out and I've chosen the black pepper crab. The sauce isn't as sweet as other Sri Lankan black pepper crab I've eaten but it is lovely and spicy. There's some rice at the bottom of the sauce too which the sauce a sheen and thickens it. It's a very good crab and I am told it's a river crab so there is more meat in it than a sea crab (which is less expensive). In terms of black pepper crab I did prefer the one I had at Finolhu in the Maldives as it was a bit more gutsy and I loved the drumstick leaves that they used there.
There's no room or time for dessert nor any want to because when a Dear Reader saw that I was in Sri Lanka on Instagram he recommended to me that I pop in next door to Next Innings, also owned by the Ministry of Crab trio. Next Innings is a sports bar and not my usual territory admittedly and I'm surprised at how dark it is, mainly lit up by the many screens playing a Rugby game with the Wallabies. I'm here for an entirely different reason: the bone marrow curry.
Bone Marrow Curry 1500LKR/$12.30AUD
The curry takes while to make and I had no idea that it was going to be an entire loaf of bread. It's sort of like a version of South Africa's bunny chow where a curry fills a hollowed out bread loaf. Underneath the top it is packed full of soft marrow bones and in a dark curry sauce. It's spicy and packs a punch.
You take a small spoon, scoop out the marrow and tear off some bread. There's a jug of marrow sauce on the side too if you need it - and really this would feed several or perhaps one enthusiastic rugby player...
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever been to Sri Lanka? Have you ever tried hoppers or Sri Lankan crab?
Tips for Sri Lanka
Plan your Colombo stay for a weekend if possible. During the week, traffic in Colombo is very hectic and you will spend triple the amount of time getting somewhere.
Guides and drivers will offer you their services especially since there are fewer tourists. I recommend getting a guide/driver for your time in Colombo and book them by the day or however long you're there. Email me if you would like the name of my guide.
English is widely spoken in Sri Lanka.
For internet, it is easiest to get a SIM card at the airport. You will need to pay cash for this and show your passport. 16GB is around $8USD and most hotels include fast and free wifi. The internet in Sri Lanka is better than in Australia (no surprise there).
Tipping is very much appreciated. At upmarket restaurants, a service fee is usually included in the price or bill.
NQN was a guest of The Wallawwa and Unique Tourism Collection. The meals at Ministry of Crab and Next Innings were independently paid for. All opinions remain her own.
Minuwangoda-Gampaha-Miriswatta Rd, Kotugoda, Sri Lanka
Phone: +94 112 281 050
Ministry of Crab
Old Dutch Hospital Complex, 04 Hospital St, Colombo 00100, Sri Lanka
Open 7 days 12–3:30pm, 6–10:30pm
Phone: +94 112 342 72
Dutch Hospital, No 2, Old, Bank of Ceylon Mawatha, Colombo 00100, Sri Lanka
Phone: +94 77 562 4624