When I was based in Sri Lanka, a country where they know how to work hard and drink harder, it was almost essential that alcohol was served with food. The Sinhalese actually use the word ‘bites’ to describe this. It was during my time in this fascinating, beautiful but complex country that the importance of serving tasty nibbles with your drink was strongly instilled in me. The only time I drank without food in the country was swigging from a shared bottle of arrack in the back of a jeep as we were driven home after a hard day’s work.
When in the Sri Lankan household, and I must describe this as patriarchal, the men would usually drink while the women would slave in the kitchen to make accompanying bites for the men to consume. These included very simple dishes such as sliced omelette, fried onions with pepper or even a ‘salad’ I once asked for which contained nothing more than sliced raw chillies. Combined with a good slug of arrack it certainly gave a heady kick.
More complex accompanying dishes tended to be more common at special occasions or more intimate gatherings. Sri Lanka’s famous devilled dishes (a very spicy but sweet recipe that you could apply to practically anything) were always a tasty treat, particularly prawns or wild boar, but squid, cuttle fish, quorn-type food and even road-kill were all served. I was always a fan of various kinds of rolls, such as mutton rolls, or other bites that fall under the Sri Lankan food category of ‘short eats’.
In general in Sri Lanka, it seemed that the stronger your drink, the spicier the accompanying bite should be. With a martini, the drink is more delicate on the palate, although it is certainly no less alcoholic. As such, I would recommend that the accompanying bites be less spicy. Perhaps you could save your spicy food cravings for the post-martini dinner.
I didn’t find many Sri Lankans who actually drank gin, but my impression was that it was the tonic water in a gin and tonic that many of them didn’t like. Some of them referred to it tasting like the anti-malarial medicine they had to take as a child. Alas when I lived in Sri Lanka I hadn’t been converted to the way of the martini, but when I go back I intend to convert my friends to my new martini lifestyle.
While once I drank gin tonics on a regular basis, I now regard them as somewhat or an occasional soft drink. Martinis are a stronger, but no less refreshing and indeed beautiful, intoxicating way to end a hot day. I think the Sri Lankans would like the punch that they pack.
So, if you would like to try out some Sri Lankan recipes at home, I can recommend the following links:
A Mutton roll recipe from Peter Kuruvita
A devilled cashew bites recipe from the BBC.
A straight-forward Devilled Chicken recipe (including with air fryer instructions) from Roshani Wickramasinghe.
And a simple, but authentic and powerful Devilled Prawn recipe (my favourite) from the Tooting mama!
Bear in mind that food that accompanies a martini should be something you can eat with one hand (while you hold your glass with the other). It should also be bite-sized and ideally not messy. Sometimes Sri Lankan food can be slightly messy (if you’re eating it properly) so to serve it as a martini accompaniment it might need a few alterations to make sure that it’s still simple enough to go with a martini without creating too much of a mess.
If you’re a fan of Sri Lankan arrack, you might also like my Arrack-based Sri Lankan martini recipe: the Serendipitini.
5 thoughts on “Sri Lankan bites”
True to the word friend; great observation. Pity that no one has written about the ‘drinking’ culture of Sri Lanka.