I stared down at the metal bowl portion of the pan, considering that such a large kitchen item was a rather ridiculous choice of a souvenir. Then I sat on the suitcase and cursed zippers till they did my bidding and choked into one another.
I don’t normally buy much when I travel. I prefer moments, photographs, conversations and calories as my take-away. I’m more apt to travel with emotional baggage rather than actual.
I couldn’t leave Sri Lanka without an Egg Hopper pan.
Egg Hoppers are the national breakfast of Sri Lanka – a crazy cross between a crepe made from slightly sweet coconut flour and a fried egg. It’s sprinkled with hot chilies and an onion sambal, if that’s how you roll (that’s definitely how I roll), and you carefully fold it like a burrito, biting through the chewy crust to release the delicious melt of runny egg yolk.
There’s a specific Egg Hopper pan used to make them. It’s a metal wok-shaped bowl, affixed to a wooden handle. Each pan comes with a lid and a metal spoon for whacking the side – a necessity to coax the Hopper onto the plate. On this trip, I ventured in a few kitchens to watch the process. Then I made a frantic dash into a grocery store on the way to the airport to grab the pre-mixed flour to carry home. The from-scratch flour apparently takes specialty yeast and 24 hours to make … and ain’t no one got time for that.
I arrived in America, unzipped and gazed down onto what looked like a giant bag of cocaine. How is it that TSA stops me frequently to inquire about the underwire in my bra, but my bag sails through inspection filled with a kilo of white powder with no label? You are a mystical mystery, TSA.
I haven’t made an Egg Hopper yet. I’m also woefully behind on this blog post. If you’re planning a trip, here are a few things I’d do a second time.
Book a Walking Tour in Colombo with Mark Forbes
Mark Forbes is a National Geographic photographer and a local who’s lived through the peaceful times as a child, then the war. He’s now heading up the city’s historic preservation. Through it all, he’s had a camera. He guides you down streets, showing you his images of tanks, bomb sites and grainy chaos trapped in black-and-white images that will physically hurt your heart. Then you gaze up to the brilliance of sunlight on a bright white building. Cornices and chandeliers. Crown molding and curving stairwells. Tiles extending down sidewalks up and up walls. The cheeky honk of a Tuk Tuk’s horn and the clang of vendors selling various fruits. Colombo is a postcard of another time, straddling what was and what’s to come.
At the end of the tour, Mark took us to the Post Office, which just reopened in the fall of 2016 after years of war. The workers ran out to meet us, excited to put stamps on postcards bearing Mark’s own images. I have to admit I cried a little. What a sweet way to end a day in Colombo.
To book with Mark, go here.
The Caves at Sunset in Dambulla
By the time we reached Dambulla (92 miles from Colombo but a staggering four hours in traffic), I was wrapped in a blanket of jet lag and sweltering temperatures that can make a person feel as though you’ve opted to wear a wool onesie in a nuclear reactor. Our trip had just started and I was weirdly a little over it. This is the travel most people don’t recount. I recount it because it matters. Travel is hot and sweaty, exhausting and filled with mosquitos sometimes. It’s okay to be honest about that.
I would go back to Dambulla because when I was hiking up past thousands (not an exaggeration) of monkeys, my shoulders were aching, my thighs were dripping sweat and I wanted to fall over and nap on the dirt.
At the top, the cooler temperatures and sky just sliding sideways into a blue-black sunset was enough to revive me slightly. I loved touring the caves with our guide and seeing the beautiful, glittering Buddhas that date to the 18th century, but I wish I’d had an hour, a blank journal and a moment alone for the sunset. If you go, carve that out for yourself. It’s unforgettable and soul affirming. Also, figure out what monkey repellant is and do not bring a banana.
Climbing Lion Rock in the Wet Season
Lion Rock is intense. It’s located in Sigiriya, and from what I saw, it’s the real reason you go to Sigiriya. There are also ancient ruins here too, but the main draw is this 1,200 stair climb up the mountain. The backstory of Lion Rock is that a king had two sons. One went crazy and killed his father. The other son fled to India, and the murderer built himself a palace on top of the rock. He carved a giant lion into the stone entryway. Today, you can still see the incredibly preserved claws that mark the start of your ascent.
That ascent is gut-wrenching in parts. The metal staircase was built in the 1930s and it juts out into empty air. At the top, you see his water garden remnants, with large carved sections for rectangular pools. I’d go back to see them filled in the wet season, when the affect is akin to the Bolivian Salt Flats. The reflections create a stunning, mirror effect of sky and ground together.
Our days in Sigiriya were spent at a relatively new hotel called The Water Garden. It was lovely and will only become more so as their landscaping grows up around the grounds, giving it a softer feel than it has now. The thatched-hut luxury suites offer personal pools and the staff makes a stellar Egg Hopper too.
Take a Surf Lesson in Tangalle
We spent a few days lounging in Tangalle at the gorgeous Amanwella hotel. It’s on a private stretch of untouched beach, where 70-foot palm trees bend down towards the water. A pack of friendly dogs bounce around you, and you’ll have nothing to do save shaking off the rest of the world in this hidden paradise. I’d go back and take a surf lesson.
The beach in October is a riotous affair of loud, slamming waves. It’s gorgeous to photograph and lovely to watch from a balcony, but if you head here in the autumn, you certainly aren’t swimming in it. The hotel offers surf lessons, though, at a beach just a few miles away.
Write (or just read) a Novel in Galle
Galle was founded in the 16th century, but what you see now is the influence of the Dutch, who arrived in the 1700s. It’s ramshackle resplendent. It has curving stone walls, churches, forts and ports.
You can shop for incredibly affordable gemstones in the hundreds of jewelry stores. In the afternoons, sip tea on weathered porches filled with rattan chairs and faded tile floors, or visit the open-air spice stalls, which sell tumeric and curry by the kilo. Galle has a Rudyard Kipling-type romance. It’s Joseph Conrad’s style of vacation destination. Sir Jonathan Swift would crack his knuckles here, pick up a pen and get to writing.
I wanted to write here, too. Specifically I wanted to move inside the lavish, old-world oasis of the Amangalla. This converted colonial home-turned-boutique-villa is going to set you back more than $1,000 per night.
Is any hotel worth that?
I can’t say. If any is, it’s this place … which feels like a daydream of some century you never lived in.
If you can’t afford it, go and have dinner there. Executive Chef Sumit Batra just moved from working at the Nomad in New York City. Sri Lankan food is about to have a global heyday, and this man will be at the forefront.
My other favorite spots in Galle were the Stick No Bills poster shop, where you can pick up a vintage recreation of a cool travel poster for only $20, and the incredible lunch at the Fort Printers hotel. You dine by a jade pool on a stone interior terrace. The building dates to the 18th century and formerly served as a Buddhist printing center.
Well, that’s all I have on Sri Lanka.
I’m off to Bangkok tonight. I still haven’t packed. And in a few hours, that’s going to pose a rather serious issue.
Goodbye for now, friends. And a very happy, early Thanksgiving!