1. EAT Street Food at Hulftsdorp
Few people have ever set foot into this area and if you ask your friends about Hulftsdorp, the chances are quite high that you will earn a questioning gaze – where is that place? And why would you want to go there? The answer is quite simple: in addition to serving as headquarters to Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court, this traditional area holds an unexpected, yet delightful culinary surprise. The small strip of Abdul Hameed Street to the right of Old Moor Street in Colombo 12 offers a variety of extremely tasty and very reasonably prized street food delicacies for those who have the guts (literally speaking) to embark on this gastronomic adventure.
A mixture of appetising and inviting scents fills up the air, as soon as you enter the buzzing narrow road. Flashing colourful fairy lights will guide your way to the different small kadés (food shops) that lie scattered along the street between the various grocery shops and stalls selling shoes, wallets and toys. Be it kottu, biryani, hoppers, curry, seafood, grilled chicken or beef, there is almost no goodie that you can’t taste here, except for pork.
The shop with the most comprehensive choice of food and probably the oldest one around the area is the Rasik Kadé at Askar Hotel. It has been operating since 1956. Mohamad Naleer, the 55 year old owner who goes by the nickname of “Dudley”, recollects to have been involved with the family business since he was a little child. The stout and a little coarse-looking, yet friendly man likes to stand behind the simmering pots himself and manages to oversee the preparation of about 50 dishes. There is no menu, but if you ask Dudley what they serve, he won’t hesitate to recite the names of all the dishes they offer by heart. Some of these are rather exotic, like cuttlefish eggs for example. He is very proud of his business and if you show a little interest, he will be keen to show you the pictures on his smart phone of all the foreign guests who have hitherto found their way into his shop. Their curries are worth checking out as they are served alongside some delicious, luscious paratha and a really tasty aromatic curd sambol.
Another highlight and certainly a must do on this little street section is the barbecue chicken sold from a little cart right off the skewer in front of Shahila Hotel & Bakery. For Rs. 300 you receive a reasonable portion of what is easily one of the tastiest grilled chicken pieces available for that price in this city. The spicy marinade covering the crispy skin is a revelation to the taste buds as the succulent meat almost melts on your tongue.
A lot of the shops are open 24 hours a day, but if you want to experience the full range of food of this culinary melting pot, it is most recommendable to go after sunset. It’s the perfect place to grab a late night snack, if you have spent the evening at a bar in the Fort and feel like experiencing a true taste of Sri Lanka.
2. CARRY your own Shopping Bag
Plastic Bags – they have become an integral part of the Sri Lankan shopping experience, especially in supermarkets. Usually when you’re at the checkout, an over-attentive employee is already stuffing your groceries in single-use plastic bags, before you even have the opportunity to open your wallet. And they are quite generous, too, opting to pack every type of item in a separate bag. What seems handy and practical for the bulk of shoppers is a real threat to the environment.
The production process of plastic is extremely unhygienic; the manufacture of every 5 plastic bags, the carbon dioxide emissions amount to about 1kg – and plastic bags are poorly degradable. It takes approximately 600 years for one bag to decompose. Inevitably, many plastic bags and other synthetic waste end up in the ocean where fish, turtles and sea mammals confuse the plastic with food, ingest them and as a result, suffer from internal injuries and poisoning. Over 100,000 turtles and marine animals die each year by mistaking a plastic bag for food. A study published in the Journal of Science in 2015 measuring the mismanagement of plastic waste calculated about 5 to 13 million tons of plastic entered the sea from coastal countries all over the world in 2010 alone. And this figure is set to increase by an estimated tenfold by 2025. Even worse, given the fact that Sri Lanka’s coastline is roughly 10 times smaller than that of China (the number one polluter of the seas), Sri Lanka still ranks 5th (!) among 192 coastal countries in the amount of plastic debris deposited into the ocean.
So what can we do to improve this situation? Few people know that the Sri Lankan government has passed a law to ban single-use plastic bags as early as in 2007, thus trying to endorse the use of thicker re-usable and recyclable bags. Although the law was reinforced in 2015, it has not been consistently enforced. The light and free of charge plastic bags given away at supermarkets as part of the service are just too convenient for the general public. Alongside a proper waste management and recycling system, people need to be educated about the effects that littering has on nature and the environment, on our wild and marine life – and ourselves. That is the first step.
Meanwhile each of us can set a good example. It starts with the little things we do in our everyday lives. The next time you go supermarket shopping, be smart, bring your own shopping bag. It might not be as convenient as leaving the house with just a purse in your pocket and you might have to pack the bag yourself at the checkout. But it makes a huge difference for the environment. Sri Lanka’s natural treasures, on land and sea, deserve to be protected. And we can contribute to their preservation with something as easy as ceasing to use plastic bags.
3. RIDE a Bodyboard
“Spongers” and “Cripples” are what they used to be called. What was once dismissed as a speed-reducing outgrowth in the discipline of surfing has become an increasingly popular and well-established form of water sport: Bodyboarding! Originally known as the “Boogie Board”, the first examples were drafted in 1971. Today, there are comparatively almost as many bodyboarders as there are surfers. Experienced bodyboard surfers can be found anywhere around the world, as long as there are big waves – which certainly applies to Sri Lanka’s beaches. Arugam Bay on the east coast is the Sri Lankan Mecca for surfers attracting thousands of enthusiastic water sport fans to its shores during season. And the season has just begun.
The big advantage with bodyboarding is that it is much easier to learn than riding a surfboard. Since you can ride it lying on your stomach, officially referred to as “prone” riding, it’s perfect for beginners. And for those who are a little scared of a rough sea, the good news is, you don’t need big waves to have great fun as you can ride the bodyboard even in shallower waters with small waves. A leash attached to your upper or forearm ensures that you don’t lose the board while you swim to the “line up” (the starting point of a ride where the wave breaks). Fins will help you to reach there faster and to accelerate to a proper speed while riding the wave.
Once you nail the basics and get a feel for the sport, the next challenge is to master the “drop knee”: one foot is placed on the front of the deck with the opposing knee on the bottom end of the board. Tricks like rotations, backflips and airs can be practised by the more ambitious surfers. If you have the chance to make it to the east coast this season, where the waves are just waiting to be conquered right now, don’t miss out on this exciting pastime!