Foreign Food in Sri Lanka and Me

8 March 2009
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Eating a local diet – that is, local vegetables and food products – is much cheaper than eating foreign (foreign, in this entry, meaning “not Sri Lankan”). Most foreign food items are imported, and that, naturally enough, raises the prices dramatically. It’s actually those high prices that have spurred me on to making my own mayonnaise, for example. And sadly, my mayonnaise is far far better than anything I’ve ever bought. But first, the back story…

Here, most things are not always carried in grocery stores. Stocks are available, unavailable, available, unavailable. You can’t predict in advance what the grocery stores will have. Things like milk, sugar, flour, rice, dals, and anything locally-produced is generally always available, but imported or foreign food items, no. Mayonnaise is one such example. Produce is also unpredictable, but more so in the sense of whether it will be fresh or old, withered, or rotten and applies to both local vegetables and imported alike.

For a long time there, the grocery store we shopped at had only Old Fashioned Mayonnaise (Kraft, I think). I tried it and hated it. Really really hated it. My favourite mayo is Hellmans or Best Foods mayo. Miracle Whip is sometimes available, but just too.. With a name like Miracle Whip, who can take it seriously? Plus it’s just too sweet with the wrong after-taste. I’ll use it in a pinch, but I ain’t loving it. Kraft Mayonnaise was definitely do-able. BUT it wasn’t always available, sometimes for months at a time. And then, with rising oil prices, the price of a jar of mayo skyrocketed, hitting around $8 for a 16 ounce/500 ml jar. Uh, yeah, I like mayo, but not that much. And that’s when I started making my own.

And really, that’s the trick to surviving in a country like this. Either you eat the local food, in which case you have no supply problems, or you eat foreign food and have to adapt. Adapting can mean buying your foreign food items through an embassy shop if you’re staff (which I am not, and therefore can’t), eating at upscale restaurants (this is a whole other topic), hiring a cook who can cook foreign food (they’re few and far between), get lots and lots of care packages from wherever home is, or, if you’re like me, you make everything from scratch. Like mayonnaise, French bread, alfredo sauce, paellas, frittatas, burritos, banana cake, and so on. And substitute and modify at will.

It helps that I can cook anyway. It helps that I’ve been cooking from scratch for my entire life. It hugely helps. I’ve already got teh skillz, ya know?

But I’m still dependent on what’s available. Foreign vegetables are limited and not always fresh (no romaine lettuce, for example). Foreign herbs and spices are difficult to come by, nearly always dried, and nearly always stale and old. Cheese is difficult to get, of limited varieties, and not always Halal, although “cheese” is readily available. Can’t get cornmeal here, although I’m thinking I could make my own from the ripe corn that’s sold here – an upcoming experiment. Can’t get anything like the prepared foods, mixes, canned items, boxes of this or that, and so on that y’all in the US and Canada are used to. Selection is extremely limited, and honestly, for the most part, what I make is better.

Which all translates into meaning that some things I’ll never be able to make (Caesar salad, for example, unless I get seeds and grow my own romaine) and other things I can make, but have to make many adaptations. I’m fine with modifying, experimenting, and adapting. That’s just a part of life, really. 🙂

And then there’s the topic of eating out, which will be a whole other post… 😀

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About LMAshton

Howdy and welcome to my site! I'm Laurie and I'll be your, er, hostess today. :)

I'm a Canadian expat currently living in Singapore. I'm married to a Sri Lankan and lived in Sri Lanka for nearly a decade. We also lived in New Zealand for half a year.

I cook Sri Lankan curries, sambols, and mallungs. I bake bread using wild yeast (sourdough that isn't sour). I bake on the stove. I experiment with Indian / Malaysian / Indonesian / Thai / whatever cuisines interest me. And I experiment wildly.

Life is an adventure. Join me! :)

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