29 November 2012

Sri Lanka Tour ~ Ella & Badulla

There's curry in them thar hills!

Moving through the hills by train is one of the best trips you can do in Sri Lanka. We decide to head straight to Ella from Kandy and avoid the more travelled stop at Nuwara Eliya. There's something in our little brains that decides quaint English style houses and tea shops isn't quite what we travelled here for. If there was more time we might have stopped near Hatton, oh well next time.

The hills are green and misty, flowing with small rivers and waterfalls. The train travels right through working plantations and you see workers going about picking the leaves.

Along the way we get snacks as the train moves through the countryside. It is essential to get a window seat so you can get the specials offered outside the train. Snacks through the window is kind of like a street food degustation, you never know what might be coming up at the next station.

On the way we ate sweet and juicy pineapple, slightly under ripe mango pieces, spicy fried rolls and dhal patties with coconut.  At Hatton train station we get three dhal discs with prawns embedded on top and some deep fried chillis. The chillis have a real flavour to them, more taste than heat.

You also need to stock up on sweet snacks like these sesame and sugar balls. Gobbled with glee.

The difference in weather was welcomed when we arrived. Although a little wet, there was still some warmth that didn't make this as cold as other hill areas we've travelled through like Sapa and Dalat in Vietnam  or Cameron Highlands in Malaysia.

We'd read our guesthouse makes a mean garlic curry, we arrive to see it under construction.

Sri Lankan milk bar.


Street dog barking at possibly an oncoming bus. They really didn't care about sitting in the middle of the road and forcing drivers to go around them.

Creamy and sweet curd and kittul treacle from the The Curd Shop on the main street of Ella. Shawn goes wild and orders his with fruit and cake, the cake ended up going to the street dogs who didn't mind it was stale.

The streetscape of Ella felt like a rewind to what other famous backpacker enclaves must have looked like years ago (think Chang Mai or Ubud). It's still full of western style places to eat but the area felt quite chilled out and calm.

We don't normally eat dinner at our guest house but this one had a reputation for a great vegetable spread which we had to try. Eight different vegetable curries: creamy garlic (the house speciality) , water spinach, mashed potato and spices, indian gooseberry, eggplant, tiny lotus root slices, dhal and cabbage. Sambals of chopped cucumber, coconut and deep fried crispy bitter melon (the only time we've ever really enjoyed bitter melon). Two serves of rice, one plain and one spiced, two chutneys and pappadums. About R500 each ($10 all up!) We ate every last morsel.

The next morning we try their Sri Lankan breakfast. Hoppers plain and with egg, string hoppers, thick damper like roti, dhal, chicken curry and coconut sambal, butter and jam, all washed down with a pot of fine tea. Again we scoffed the lot.

We get a bus to Badulla, just to have lunch and a look-see. It's a small, buzzy rural centre. It's barely off the beaten tourist track but we're the only foreign tourists in town. Folks are super friendly. We're well accustomed to have little kiddies wave us madly when overseas, but here even old folks pushing ninety years of age wave to us as we walk through town. Back home we're just white trash, here we're celebrities. It's pathetic but we love this kind of attention.

Badulla bus station.

Dowtown Badulla.

Snackage vendor.

Amalaki or Indian gooseberries for sale in the market place. Alison chomps into one thinking they were like sweet fruit but they were bitter and sour. We had these in curry and they were delicious when cooked but not raw. We actually had to spit them out.

The ice cream man plying his trade as we wander around the outskirts of town.

Purdy walkway. A few seconds after this Mr Shawn was stared down by a bunch of very tough, scary looking men. We're talking full-on "I want to beat the living poo out of you" death stares. One of them wore handcuffs, somebody was off to prison and didn't want their photo taken. Mr Shawn put his camera away before he was made to digest it.  Alison wondered why Mr Shawn was suddenly walking very fast.

We hit Ranjan Lanka Tasty Foods for lunch.

Inside it's cavernous and basic.

Yet another wonderful vegetable curry set. We tried soy meat for the first time here, chewy and dense little rings that held the flavour of the curry together and gave it some toothy bite. We started to get quite a craving for over cooked crunchy pappadums as well, they were fried and blistered to perfection.

Beautiful wooden crate of eggs delivered packed in straw.

Gorgeous boss lady.

Random street, Badulla.

Random restaurant, Badulla.

Tops old building, Badulla.

Sorry, Mr Shawn loves boring street photos. We're interested in documenting what a place is really like, rather than the romanticised images found in newspaper travel sections. We provide the Peterman reality tour.

He's quite obsessed with them.

The bus station at Badulla, plenty of snacking opportunities. The bus stations in Sri Lanka are quite well organised. Buses are numbered and run regular routes, they were easy to work out. Often we were offered help from friendly locals when we looked  a little lost, they put us on the right bus every time.

Devilled cashews, fried with fresh curry leaves and red onions. The ultimate beer snack. To totally blow our street food cred we also had vegetable pizzas at this joint but we won't show you that, we won't even admit that they were totally delicious.

Mornings in Ella started out clear and crisp but quickly descended into a mist. The view while we sipped our tea was green filled.

The happiest breakfast in the whole world!

Onwards to Tangalle. We love Sri Lanka.


  1. Amazing! And the street photos are not boring at all, I love seeing how it really is instead of an idealized version. Why oh why can't we get interesting train food here instead of the boring sandwiches?

  2. Brilliant posts on SL so far, I can't wait for all the other installments!

    I love the reality photos from you travels, feels like I was there with you guys.

    There are a TON of fried foods in SL, not sure if my arteries would have handled it all :)

    1. You're right, there is loads of fried food. But if you balance it out with loads of veggie curry'n'rice and get some fruit into you it can be a healthy holiday, we were feeling great.

  3. second last photo at ella looks totally amazing. WOAHH

    1. It is really beautiful looking up at the hills. I sense that view might be built over one day, there was a lot of development of new guest houses. Lets hope there are some controls so they don't destroy what makes it attractive in the first place (I'm looking at you, Ubud).

  4. Fantastic post, thanks! That curd and treacle looks incredible - never seen that but would love to try.

  5. Wow the guest house dinner looks amazing. Love all the street shots! So vibrant and atmospheric. Do locals eat the gooseberries as they are? They sound super sour!

    1. I did some research on them and they are often eaten for medicinal purposes. I didn't see anyone else eating them, but you never know what flavours are often considered nice to eat when you can't stand them, like sour crunchy guavas I've had with salt and chilli.

    2. They are locally called "Nelli". You must chew them a little bit to get the real taste which has a certain sweetness but it is really sour at first. There is a really nice juice that they make with it a lot of sugar is added for sure. The fruit is used in ayurvedic medicine and it is very good for you! if you can get through the initial extreme sourness.

    3. BTW interesting Blog you have seen everyday Sri Lanka!

  6. So i was wondering if you ended up losing any weight because of the lack of meat (and high veggie) diet? Or did the curries offset it all (unless there was not much cream/coconut) in it?

    1. We balanced out the healthy food with lots of beer and fried stuff, no weightloss but we felt quite good though.

  7. very interesting post,I feel like I am in Sri Lanka....
    oh I cant stop laughing after I read the caption about Sri Lankan street dogs,yes you are correct,they dont care about vehicles and brave enough to sit on the middle of the road.... :)

  8. OH MY WORD, eight different veggie curries ... absolutely DIVINE! Heading to Sri Lanka in two weeks time, the guesthouse you stayed at in Ella looks right up my alley ... please could I have the name??

    1. HI Debbie, it was the Rawana Holiday Resort. At the time I think it was in need of a little renovation so not knowing what your standards are (ours are kinda low!) I suggest you have a look at it before booking. You can book dinner there even if you aren't staying.


Thanks for your comment joy - please keep your musings happy - if you want to complain about a restaurant please do it on a restaurant review site (or your own blog) - we're all about celebrating cultural diversity and the great eats that come along with it :-)

Our ethics: We pay for all our own meals and travel (though sometimes Mum shouts us).