A highlight of Sri Lankan cuisine is the tiny food items known locally as “Short Eats,” or small snacks. These are savoury items such as buns, patties, pastries, vadai, fish cutlets, and more exotic snacks like stuffed, deep fried chillies. Short eats can be eaten at any time of day, when you’re feeling a little hungry and pop into a pastry shop for tea. They are also popular as a “bite” when drinking alcohol.
Fish cutlets are a popular short eat to nibble at parties. They are round in shape like a ball and consist of an inner mix, usually fish and potato or it can be a vegetarian mix with yam as the binder, covered in bread crumbs and deep fried.
A popular snack bought from street vendors, often found near liquor shops, are chick peas, called kadala. Chick peas are imported in dried form and need are soaked in water overnight to soften them before being boiled and then tossed in oil with coconut, mustard seeds and chilli. A paper cone of kadala bought from a street vendor is a cheap (Rs10) and tasty accompaniment to sharing a drink and good conversation with friends.
A similar quick treat goes by the local name of vadai, a cookie sized and shaped confection of deep fried lentil flour (parippu vadai). The famous prawn vadai, available from vendors on Galle Face Green in the evenings, and on long train journeys, has a prawn sticking out of it. The ulundu vadai is a spicy ring of fried soft dough of pulse flour that looks like a doughnut.
In the hill country, where the climate demands more robust “bites”, whole deep fried garlic bulbs, dusted with chilli powder, are popular. You squeeze out the flesh from each garlic bud and happily munch it. Obviously, it’s better if your companions are enjoying it too. Another short eat with attitude and taste is known as Malu Miris. This is capsicum (but often called chilli) sometimes stuffed with a mixture of Maldive fish, onion and chilli pepper; crumbed and deep fried.
More conventional snacks include patties (pastries stuffed with a leek and onion mix); the Sri Lankan version of the triangular snack known as samosa; and roti, parcels of meat, fish, egg or vegetable stuffing wrapped in thinly rolled and griddled pancake dough.
I feel hungry just thinking of them. You will too, when you sample Sri Lanka’s unique short eats, long on flavour and short on cost.
Royston Ellis (www.roystonellis.com) is a British author resident in Sri Lanka since 1980