A day in Negombo was also a day of “shopping.” Well, I generally hate shopping, but there were three items which I wanted to purchase and bring back for myself and friends. One is the national drink (very delightful) called Arrack which is a distilled strong alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of coconut flowers. A properly distilled and aged Arrack could be as delicious as – say – old Single Malt Scotch. I purchased three bottles of top quality for a total of…6,000 rupees ($33):
The second item were various textiles. Sri Lanka is great place for finding nice 100% natural and very colorful cotton textiles of any kind. And so I got – as presents – several dresses, shawls, table clothes, etc. But the most “usual suspect” when people talk about shopping in Sri Lanka is, of course, tea – the tea of highest possible quality. Go inland, to cooler, lush, hill country of Sri Lanka and you will find abundance of tea plantations there. Here is a picture from my last year trip.
The best areas to visit tea plantations, to learn about variety of teas, and to sample all of them (pretty much like go wine tasting) are around towns of Kandy and Nuwara Eliya Both of them deserve trips on their own. Problem is that being in Negombo, far from these tea producing areas, your choices are much more limited and the price is higher for a lower quality tea. Besides, most teas sold here – quite naturally – are already commercially packed and you cannot check out their flavors and other qualities prior to purchase. Luckily, my local friend, knows a very unpretentious but amazing tea store run by two brothers. Here, in this store in Negombo, you will find highest quality various Pekoe teas sold from the huge cotton sacks by weight. For those who is interested in how Sri Lanka teas are classified by their various qualities, read here: https://www.ctmteagroup.com/portfolio-1-col.html
My personal favorite is BOP which stands for Broken Orange Pekoe
And so, in this amazing shop you can buy as much as you wish and brothers will vacuum pack all packages and put nice labels on each bag. I ended up buying about 3 kg / 6.5 pounds of various teas: hey, at the price of 2,500 rupees per kilo (about 6 dollars per pound) it is a steal!
Moving around in Negombo (or in any sizeable town in Sri Lanka) requires time: tuk-tuks (motor rikshas are cheap, but not fast). And so it was around 5 pm when the mission was accomplished and shopping done. Enough time left for an hour on the beach and then time for dinner. My personal favorite in Negombo is restaurant called La Dolce Vita run by an international couple: he is from Bergamo, Italy and she is local, from Negombo. Accordingly, in La Dolce Vita you cannot get wrong ordering either Italian or Sri Lanka dishes. I was craving a very simple Sri Lanka’s street food called Kottu Roti. The main ingredient is roti (flat bread) which is cut up into small bits. Apart from roti, other ingredients added are usually onions, leek, cabbage, eggs and sometimes chicken, mutton, beef, seafood and the more modern version, with cheese. When properly mixed together and with the right balance of flavors, Kotu Roti are incredibly tasty. And so was Kotu Roti from La Dolce Vita.
There is an interesting legend about how Kottu Roti came into existence. Once upon a time there was a roti seller on the east coast of Sri Lanka that was closing up his roti stand when a group of tourists arrived asking for some food. The roti seller only had scraps left over from the day, bits of cooked roti, some vegetables and leftover chicken curry. Instead of telling the tourists that he was all out of food, he made a mashup of the leftovers. Tourists loved it and raved about it in their travels. Thus, Kottu Roti was born. True or not, but I highly recommend this dish: either vegetarian version or with meat or seafood. It was a good day…