What is the difference between travelling to explore and travelling to "get away"?
At Kalukanda House we think these are two fundamentally differing activities. Travelling to explore is a life changing, expansive way of living and being part of a global community. Every step we take outside of our everyday life can stay with us forever and build layers of humanity that develop us, the people we meet and the next generations.
It is the difference between un-forgettable, emotional and exciting or tick-boxing and sterile. When staying with us, we encourage our guests to spend time exploring off grid with our guidance and un-surprisingly everybody who does so, wants to come back for more.
Torie True is a friend and food blogger who is a member of the Guild of Food Writers. She talks about why she turned her food and travel passion into a full time job and where the influence began; with parents who were looking to "hitch a ride" on any yacht travelling from Durban to the Far East.
"From an early age I was inspired to travel and see the world first-hand as my parents had done together in their early twenties.
They had lived in Africa for a while and then decided to travel overland through Africa, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, India and Nepal, which was pretty adventurous in the early 1970’s. The stories that they regaled hypnotised me to want to spread my wings and see more of the world and the people in it. Those they encountered were, on the whole, incredibly kind, hospitable people, although that is not to say they didn’t have a few close scrapes, in particular, people wanting to buy my long blond-haired mother, in exchange for some camels.
When they settled back in the UK and had me, my sister and brother, our childhood holidays were more of your typical bucket and spade British seaside dalliances, with the odd trip to Spain and France thrown in.
Before, during and after university I began to travel further afield, from exploring the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe and the Chimanimani mountain range to enjoying the sugar-coated beignets at Café Du Monde whilst listening to jazz in New Orleans. Travelling to me is not about parking yourself in a gated luxury resort for a week or two, it’s about discovering what lies beyond those gates – the people, culture and the beating heart of that country. A way to really do this is through food as it is a universal language, along with love, that we can all enjoy and appreciate.
After working in the City for 12 years, my focus changed course and I began writing a food blog a decade ago that initially charted my forays into cooking with herbs and spices. As time went by, I combined travel into the blog too – giving snap shots of where I travel and hopefully inspiring others. Since then I have written recipes, food stories and restaurant reviews for a range of online and print media, become a member of the Guild of Food Writers and setting up a business focusing on teaching Indian cuisine.
I am often asked the link between me and Indian food – in short, I blame my Indian husband, although to be honest I have always loved Indian food. We met over 20 years ago and my knowledge and love for the cuisine and country has grown with every passing year. I try and share my enthusiasm for Indian cooking through my classes and my social media channels.
I definitely fall into the camp of people who consider the cuisine of a country before opting to visit it. That’s not to say I wouldn’t visit a country because their food is not considered “tasty”, but if their cuisine appeals to me then I am more inclined to visit sooner rather later. Sri Lankan has always ticked many boxes for me and although I had visited India many times before, visiting family and exploring the country, I had never made the short hop across to Sri Lanka until a few years ago.
Before and during my travels I like to do some background reading about the country itself. One book that really stood out for me about Sri Lanka is John Gimlette’s “Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka” and I would urge anyone thinking of visiting the country to read it too. Before any trip though, I always pay a visit to Daunts book shop in Marylebone whose carefully curated travel section is second to none.
Sri Lanka and India are great places to really experience the local cuisine. Staying in a homestay can offer the traveller a wonderful first-hand experience of a local family and their cuisine. If that is not possible, going on a cooking course is always fun and informative, especially if there is a market visit thrown in.
Most hotels offer some form of cooking lesson, so I always investigate if this is something I can sign up for. My preference is always to stay in smaller boutique hotels – if they are family run even better, instead of larger more corporate ones.
I am also keen to always sample local food as opposed to eat Western food when I am there. My motto is to “eat what the locals eat and save your Western meals for when you go home”. When it comes to street-food or “short eats”, as it is known in Sri Lanka, I would always recommend watching the food being cooked. I find myself always making notes for recipes on my travels and if I particularly enjoy a dish, I always ask the chef how it is made exactly so that I can replicate similar delicacies back at home.
If there is any way to actually visit a kitchen, however basic, we go along and have a look. If nothing else, it shows you how little equipment you need to actually cook a real feast! Another tip is to always try and buy some of the local spices, masalas and tea/coffee which we do when we visit. That way when we return home we can practice some of the dishes we have learnt, or they are always thoughtful gifts to give to foodie friends and family.
Travelling around Sri Lanka is a well-trodden path and I sense there is a route that tourists follow. Personally, I love the hill stations, in Sri Lanka and India, where tea and spices are grown and the air is cool and refreshing. Many travellers head to Nuwara Eliya, often referred by the Sri Lankan tourist industry as ‘Little England’, a nod to the British summer time retreat in the 1800, but instead we opted to stay in a few valleys away, near to a small town called Hatton. There is a train station in Hatton, and next time I visit I will take the slow steam train from Kandy to Hatton to admire the scenery and avoid the hairpin bends, which make even the most hardened traveller feel car sick.
I love to seek out a stay in one of the old colonial “planters” cottages, owned by those who managed the tea estates. I loved our retreat at Mandira Dickoya, which having few bedrooms, meant there were only a couple of other guests. Meals are communal and there is no menu, they simply make delicious fresh, authentic, homely food that is seasonal. This won’t appeal to everyone, but for me and my family, it was perfect.
Setting off on foot to explore the local area, whilst we were there, we chanced upon a festival with crowds of people lining the street. Traffic was at a standstill and from afar we could see young men tied to large, long bamboo poles that were levered up into the air and then attached to small lorries. There was a lot of noise and colour and the whole spectacle looked surreal. It was my youngest daughter who noticed how the men were actually tied up – it’s funny how observant small children can be – the young men were tied up to the poles with small cleaver hooks going through the skin. Intrigued to find out more about this festival we returned to the planter’s cottage to look up details about the festival.
We discovered the Hindu ceremony coincides with the full moon around the 13-14th April and that Sri Lanka is not the only country where some practice this ceremony, it is also popular in parts of India and Indonesia too. The belief is that one’s devotion to the Hindu gods will free the body from pain incurred from the hooks. Being part of this festival, the young men fulfil their vows to Hindu gods. Beating of the drums continued throughout the night as the festival continued under the full moon. It is chance encounters such as these, that really brings a country alive and makes travel truly exciting and rewarding.
I am in the process of writing my first cookbook focusing on “Indian Home Cooking” and whilst focused mainly on India, it will include a few of my favourite Sri Lankan recipes, which are very similar to their South Indian counterparts.
One dish that I would enjoy daily, I was on holiday after all, was the local buffalo milk curd (mee-kiri) with sticky kithul pani, which is a local treacle native to Sri Lanka. It is without doubt the most-creamy delicious curd, that together with the sweet sticky treacle, is heavenly.
Kithul tapping is an ancient tradition where a sugary sap is extracted from the tall fishtail palm or jaggery palm. It’s impossible to recreate exactly back here in the UK, although you could replicate with a creamy Greek Yoghurt and jaggery syrup and some shaved fresh coconut, which would be a good alternative"
Food blog: www.chilliandmint.com
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Photo credits : Torie True