Sri Lanka South: Where To Eat Vegan, Chinese & More

Sandy beaches and coconut trees are a dime a dozen on Sri Lanka’s south coast. Many praise the ‘Wonder of Asia’ for its verdant jungles, luscious flora and elephantine fauna. Indeed, there is something to suit every person, every taste: romantic lagoon retreats for couples, backpackers’ hostels for the solo traveller, five star hotels for the affluent and honeymooners. However, the beaten path is well trodden. Kite surfers go to Kalpitiya, surfers to Weligama or Arugam Bay and history seekers flock to Anuradhapura and Sigiriya. For less than a day’s salary in some parts of the world, you can find yourself in the back of a jeep, inches from the lowly flapping ears of an Elephas maximus (Sri Lankan elephant). Such activities are well and good—they are well infrastructured and cater to the taste buds of tourists. However, for this very same reason, it can be difficult to find peace, and space, when partaking in them (and without spending lots of money on an expensive resort). Sometimes the best thing is to take a step back, and relax at the Japanese Peace Pagoda, Unawatuna. Watching the sun dip below the horizon while encased in its smooth white walls, a certain serenity descends. Or, if you want to keep moving, take a rucksack and go for a long walk around part (or all!) of the perimeter of Koggala Lake. While crocodiles were introduced to the lake some years ago, its size means you are unlikely to encounter any. Romping from shore to shore, you can let the quietude of Koggala wash over you. If you go at the right time, you may even see traditional stilt fishermen, alert upon their pedestals, eyes trained on the abyss beneath. Or, if you would rather spend some time near the sea, make a visit to Coco Beach, where you can snooze in a hammock big enough for three people, or soar on their giant rope swing out over the ocean. Be careful though, the sea can be a bit rough! But this isn’t really about hiking, hammocks or swings. It is about the most important thing in the world – food.

Eating local

Resorts and upscale hotels are typically western-owned. The tourism industry should benefit the entire population of a country, rather than feed back exclusively into itself. Where possible, buy food from places that are not only serviced, but operated and run, by Sri Lankans.

Jina’s Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurant, Unawatuna

Jina and his family make all their food from scratch, to order. For this reason, it takes a little longer (a sign outside the restaurant garden says explicitly that they ‘do not do fast food’). They serve local and international cuisine, including a variety of Indian and Mexican dishes. It is all vegetarian and it is all delicious. It is reasonably priced and the service is with a smile! They also serve the cheapest cocktails in Unawatuna, maybe even in Sri Lanka. I have not fact-checked this.

The ‘best woddy in Sri Lanka’

Woddy (actually spelled wade) may sound like a pet name for a woodpecker, or what Buzz Lightyear calls his friend after a few too many Passionfruit Sundowners at Jina’s Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurant, Unawatuna. It is actually a deep-fried, doughnut-shaped morsel of squeezy doughy fatjoy. It is available on many street corners and from roaming vendors – listen out for ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ or Beethoven’s ‘Für Elise’, you’ll know it when you hear it. For the best woddy in Sri Lanka, by popular (albeit local) vote, head to the northern outskirts of Galle. Opposite Galle International College there is a man who sells woddy. This woddy is genuinely reputed to be the best in all of Sri Lanka. Check it out.

Cooking lessons

If you want to learn to cook Sri Lankan food, I recommend taking a day course with Wasantha, in Unawatuna. She speaks English proficiently, instructs with sensitivity and experience, and runs a 5-6 hour course in a lovely setting. Someone will take you and the rest of the group (there were five in total when I did it) to the vegetable market in the centre of Galle and you will be allowed to pick a variety of vegetables between you. Each one will form the base of a curry. She will also teach you how to cook rice Sri Lankan style! And at the end you will enjoy the feast you have learned to make.

Eating non-local

If you’re desperate for some western (or eastern) food, I understand. It happens to the best of us. Hey, it happens to Sri Lankans too. Below are some of the best places on the Sri Lanka’s southern coast to get pizza, Chinese food and vegan platters you’ll want to write home about.

Surfing Wombats – Midigama

  If pizza is what you want, then pizza is what you shall have. Let them eat pizza. What goes around, comes a-pizza. Give pizza chance. It’s all swings and roundapizza. Leaning Tower of Pizza. Pizza. Not only does Surfing Wombats hostel in Midigama serve great pizza, it also serves fantastic calzone.  And they have vegan pizza on the menu (as in, you don't have to ask them to omit the cheese). And they run an open mic night (a new addition) and Game of Thrones screenings (with a deal on, you guessed it, pizza – this obviously runs only when Game of Thrones is on, so, alas, a week from now this will be yesterday’s news), among other great things. And they serve desserts, which come very highly recommended. AND it’s BYOB, so you can chill and drink beer without paying restaurant prices.

Ming Han Chinese Restaurant – Colombo

This may not qualify as South Coast, but it’s below the halfway line, so I’ll allow it. If you want to eat Chinese food like the Chinese eat Chinese food, then this is the place to eat Chinese food. Having lived in China myself, in Sichuan no less, capital of Chinese food within China (or so they say), I can vouch for the quality and authenticity of this Chinese food. The staff speak English and they generally have most of the things on the menu. It’s terrific. If you are a large enough group, you will be seated at a traditional Chinese (though apparently not traditional at all) round table with a Lazy Susan. This makes constructing your perfect minibowlful practical and fun!

The Kip (Mostly Vegan) – Ahangama

Hot damn, siesta. This ‘boho luxe hideaway’ is like Chatsworth Road (NE Ldn) in a Swedish fantasy, only warmer, because it’s in Sri Lanka, the place with the lowest gravitational pull in the world. Service with a smile, and charm. Delightfully presented and sumptuous vegan platters, arranged on wooden boards, with a radiant array of colours to choose from, all seated in a sun-dappled sanctum, grass and hammocks. It’s like taking breakfast in heaven, only rather than having god for company, you have the other people who know.

The Chickpea Sisters

No, I'm not talking about this Tooting-based weekly cooking group for migrant refugee women. Would that I were. Instead, I'm talking about two freelance chefs who go by the same name. This year, The Chickpea Sisters graced Sri Lanka’s South Coast market scene with a plethora of homemade vegan sweets and treats – chocolate and beetroot cake, passionfruit cheesecake, gingernut flapjacks, salted caramel almond brownies – as well as a most colourful smorgasbord of salads, home-baked breads, unique dips and gorgeous fritters and tartlets. However, with the decline in numbers of tourists, as the surfers head east to Arugam Bay, they seem to have gone into hibernation. Will they be back next year? We will have to wait and see!  

Bruno Cooke

Self-published novelist, Comparative Literature graduate, vegan chef, long distance cyclist, screenwriter, freelance educator and blogger/journalist. Can write knowledgeably about Food & Drink (vegan, vegetarian, international cuisine, restaurant reviews, cocktail bars), Travelling Living on a budget, Living in Asia (China, Sri Lanka, Philippines), Working while travelling as a digital nomad. In August I will move to the Philippines and be based there. I have previously lived in China, France and the UK, and travelled extensively in Europe and western Asia by bicycle. Skill-set includes proofreading, copy-editing, InDesign, formatting for stage- or screenplay, event organisation, team management, public speaking, working with children, working in education and writing quickly, academically and informatively, to a word count and on a deadline.