Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Supermarket Experience - The Sri Lanka Chronicles

Wherever I go I like to check out the markets. I love markets and I don't discriminate between supermarkets, wholesale markets, or local markets - I love them all! Our second visit to Sri Lanka was a relatively long one (18 days) and since we were staying in a bungalow with a fully equipped kitchen I knew I would not only be visiting the markets as a tourist but I'd be shopping too. Markets are a great way of getting a glimpse of the food culture of a place and supermarkets can give you a broader perspective, beyond fresh fruit and veg.

For practical purposes I shopped at the supermarket because communication was easier - the staff at the supermarkets usually had at least basic English so I could ask for stuff and even get basic instructions and descriptions about unfamiliar ingredients and products. Supermarkets are very popular in Sri Lanka and we'd see one nearly every half a kilometre whenever we stepped out to go anywhere in Colombo. I saw them frequently on the highways on our trips to Galle, Kandy, and Dambulla too. Basically, you're never too far away from a supermarket in Sri Lanka! Take your pick from the Cargill's Food City outlets, Arpico Super Centres, Laugfs, and Keells Super outlets, to name a few. 

Though I found Cargill's outlets very near our house next to the University of Kelaniya, I preferred the Arpico around 10 minutes away at Wattala. It is a huge store and I spent many a happy hour browsing in the aisles, drooling over the meat and fish counters, exploring the vegetable section, and picking up random things from the kitchen good department. They even have Noritake! The local Cargill's outlets are also very well stocked but being smaller were restricted mainly to food. For fresh produce both at absolutely at par. 

Fresh fish, cleaned, cut, and each piece individually wrapped

All sorts of fish and conveniently labeled 

On one of my visits to Arpico I saw this and it completely spooked me! There nestled among the chicken nuggets and other ready-to-fry goodies sat this hideous carved face. Eeeek! 

Milk is of excellent quality and there are many varieties of flavoured milk. Apart from the usual chocolate and vanilla, we also found this falooda flavoured milk which the hubby absolutely loved. It didn't have sabja seeds or the actual falooda noodles but was a fun flavour all the same 😋

Good old Maggi in Sri Lankan flavours 

Fresh veggies at Cargill's. What I loved about shopping for vegetables was that there were plenty of familiar veggies and a good number of new things to try so cooking wasn't a daily challenge where I had to constantly Google before I cooked. 

If you like salad then you will love Sri Lanka! The veg shelves are packed with varieties of salad greens and they are as fresh as ever. I don't think I saw one wilted leaf anywhere! 

Fresh pork at Cargill's

And at Arpico

Elephant House is a big brand in Sri Lanka and they also make some amazing pork products. Here's a part of the haul I brought back home to Mumbai with me. 

My prop and equipment loving self also went a little nuts at Arpico! It's not like you don't get stuff in our supermarkets here but the joy of finding all manner of unfamiliar bits and pieces or just mundane things but of good quality made my heart sing. take for example this display of coconut and kithul wood spoons - 

I think I bought a few EVERY time I stepped into Arpico! 😊

I didn't buy a single mortar and pestle even though they are so pretty! I need a prize for such self restraint! 

And that is Noritake on the shelves at Arpico. Noritake has three or four ranges in quality and the middle range is available at Arpico. I loved this classic white and gold set but since we don't drink tea at our house I couldn't justify bringing an entire tea set with me regardless of how much I liked it. Sigh!

The one disconcerting thing about the supermarkets is their lavish (and wasteful) use of plastic. At the checkout coutners I struggled every time to get them to use fewer bags (getting your own bag wasn't allowed). Nearly every category of goods would be bagged separately and on my first visit I came home with more than 10 plastic bags!  Seeing individual pieces of fish, pork chops, steaks, etc., wrapped in miles of clingfilm made me unhappy too. It's such a beautiful country, I hope they cotton on to basic concepts of keeping their enviroment clean and safe really soon. 

We were lucky to have been in Sri Lanka for a long-ish visit and one where we weren't in a hotel. Our breakfasts and numerous meals were home cooked where we tried out local products and local variations of familiar things. I could even host a dinner when the hubby's friends and colleagues from the University of Kelaniya came over one evening. 

Daal, rice, jeera aloo, pan grilled masala chicken, and fish curry

It was lovely to live a bit of the Sri Lankan life doing mundane things like going to the supermarket and running a house in Kelaniya. It wasn't very different from our life here in Kharghar but there were many new flavours. Even if you're staying in a hotel do visit a supermarket near you so you can try some of the local stuff. There's no better way to enjoy local food beyond what you get at restaurants. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Dambulla Cave Temple Complex - The Sri Lanka Chronicles

Seated Buddha

On our previous trip to Sri Lanka we only touched base (quite literally) at Dambulla without going up to see the cave temples. This time we made it to the top along with our enthusiastic bunch of students from the University of Kelaniya.

It's an approximately four hour drive from Colombo, a scenic drive through hills and plains and plenty of lush greenery, small towns, bustling markets, and plenty of Buddhist dagobas too. Most restaurants have exceptionally clean washrooms making the long drive quite stress free.

This complex of cave temples is part of a living Buddhist monastery - the longest known actively used Buddhist monastery. At the base of the site is the Golden temple with an enormous seated Buddha image. This is one of the most dazzling sights in Sri Lanka - the huge temple with that massive image of lord Buddha seated atop against a clear blue sky.

The ancient painted caves are far above this spectacular looking temple and it's quite a climb up to get to them. Dambulla is not a site for handicapped visitors or for those who have difficulty walking or climbing. You can either take the winding paved pathways or the stone stairs. There are numerous places to stop and rest as you climb. The hubby was determined to get up there so we went up really slowly taking many breaks. We found the stairs easier than the winding paths going up. Be sure to carry drinking water with you, climbing is thirsty work and there aren't any stalls selling water/soft drinks or cheap knickknacks here. Wear dark glasses and a cap, the glare of the Sun can be quite sharp.

You can drive up to a certain distance reducing the climbing by about 50%. Ask for directions at the ticket counter while buying your tickets. Like with most active temples in Sri Lanka you have to remove your footwear before entering the temple complex at the top. Carry socks as the rock floor can get quite painfully hot. You will also have to buy a separate pass for your camera (not for the phone camera).

The climb is scenic and the views around as you get higher are quite spectacular. You will encounter troops of mischievous toque macaques as you climb. They are quite comfortable around humans and we saw one grab food from a passing tourist, so keep food out of sight to avoid thievery!

Grooming session

I could easily spend a couple of hours watching these macaques and shooting endless photos! I did manage to tear myself away and eventually make it to the top, to the cave temples.

Here we are, me, the hubby, Prof Manatunga, and the students

There are five caves in the complex at the top, each with numerous Buddha statues interspersed with a few figures of kings and of other divinities. There are paintings on practically every surface except the floors. What I really liked is that the caves are softly lit inside so one can see the interiors quite easily. 

A seated Buddha and standing figure of Ananda, his favourite disciple in the first cave.

The first cave houses a large image of the Buddha in the reclining mahaparinirvana pose with a couple of other images at its feet, one of which is of Ananda, his favourite disciple. The walls and ceiling are covered in painted decorations depicting devotees, bhikshus, and legends from the Buddhist texts. Even though its a small cramped cave it is still quite awe-inspiring!

Floral motifs under the Buddha's feet

The next two caves are quite vast and are full of Buddha images in standing and seated poses, and in the reclining pose too. These caves also have images of patron kings, and the gods Vishnu and Saman, and stupas. The frescoes depict Buddhist legends, episodes from his life, and animal, bird, geometric, and floral motifs. Like I said earlier, every square centimetre of the interiors of the caves is painted and the sight is simply spectacular. The last two caves are not as large but are as heavily decorated.

Row of seated figures

Standing figures 

Mahaparinirvana Buddha - the Buddha attains Nirvana

One of the numerous paintings on the ceiling in the second cave - a close up

A broader view of the cave with the figures and frescos

Patron King

The mahaparinirvana Buddha depicted on the ceiling. The detail is simply incredible!

Frescoes in the last cave - Hindu deities and a king

Keep a day for Dambulla. The temple at the base, the climb to the cave complex at the top, and then the cave complex itself will require time. Once you're done with this site you can have a quick look at the market on your way out. The sheer variety of fruit and vegetables will leave you impressed. Read about my visit to the Dambulla market here. 

On the climb down we caught a glimpse of the Lion Rock, Sigiriya as the skies were clear. What a thrill to see that incredible landmark from so many kilometres away!