There you all are again, good to see you. I hope you are all doing well and not too down-hearted at the thought of another one of my Sri Lanka 2014 trip posts which is going to be slightly unusual but, then again, aren’t all my posts?
If you have read my previous efforts you will know that I had arrived in Matara and was staying at the excellent Nawathana Hotel and if you haven’t read them I shall sneak in my usual piece of advice here and suggest that you may want to read the whole story from the beginning.
What is strange about this is not the fact that I slipped into a routine of doing absolutely nothing of note but the fact that it lasted so long. I promise I am not going to start about “BOGOF” deals and Fergy special offers as that would be flagellating a demised Equus caballus, go on, work that one out!
I do promise that we are rapidly approaching probably the biggest day of my whole trip so I shall whizz through this quickly as I like my series to be complete. Please read on.
30th and 31st January, 2014.
You would not believe that with my track record of waffling that I can cover two whole days in two images and a few short paragraphs but that is what will happen and I am not omitting anything ad I have a total of three images for these days, two of which were taken by the hotel cook, of whom more later, one of which was slightly out o focus!
These images are all to do with the lunch packet which I mentioned in the previous post. Remember that I had only checked in the evening before, Nihal the manager (pictured) was running a restaurant in the hotel and yet he was pressing me to share his afternoon meal. Yes, we had chatted a bit previously but we were not nearly as friendly as we were to become.
The tale of the shared lunch packet says much about the man, the hotel and the country as a whole and I think if pressed to just one anecdote about this entire three month trip then this might well be it.
1st February, 2014.
After two days of doing nothing but sitting round drinking beer, reading and catching up on my travel writing, which was woefully behind, I decided today that a bit of a walk along the beach would be the thing to do as the weather was given fair all day and the beach looked so pristine, not to mention deserted, that it seemed like a good idea. I had woken unusually early so it was not yet too hot which was a bonus.
With a towel, bottle of water and my flip-flops (thongs) duly stowed in my daysac I started walking but I didn’t get too far, only a few hundred yards. The reason for this is that the Fort area is built on a spit of land along the Nilwala Ganga which presumably made it more defensible from land attack. Because of the geography I would have had to make a long detour to get on the beach on the other side or swim the river which was never going to happen.
All this did not matter a jot as I just found a spot, laid out the towel and spent a pleasant morning reading and watching the sea. I did not see another soul the whole time I was there. I didn’t venture into the water as I am not overly fond of sea swimming and there was a perfectly good pool at my hotel but if you wish to do so I feel I should offer the following advice, again written and the time and updated at the end.
Looks lovely but be careful.
The beaches at Matara are undoubtedly beautiful and on a hot day it may seem like a good idea to just dive into the surf of the Laccadive Sea but beware as it is not as benign as it appears and there have been a number of drownings in this area.
The most recent figures I can find, which are admittedly a little old, are that no less than 24 people lost their lives to drowning in Matara in 2012 which is a fairly horrendous figure. I did not see any of the beach patrolled by lifeguards nor did I see any warning flags anywhere here and the advice is to always ask local advice before venturing into the water. Anybody in the hotels or restaurants will be able to assist.
I really don’t want to spoil anyone’s trip but it just is not worth the risk of unresearched swimming given the dangers involved.
The latest online piece I can find, dated 15/01/2021, is available here.
The afternoon was spent in much similar style only with the location transferred to the hotel where at least I had a very good wi-fi connection, beer and a bed for my afternoon dozette where I wasn’t going to run the risk of burning under an overhead sun. As I have told you before, I am not much of a “beach bunny”.
That evening I decided I would take a wander into town in search of something to eat so instead of my usual two standard practices of either following my nose or seeking local advice I resorted to my guide book. Here is what happened.
Great food, slightly odd place.
I had read about the Samanmal restaurant in my guidebook and decided to visit it fairly soon after my arrival in Matara. The guidebook had mentioned that it was more a “drinking den” than a restaurant per se and that it was extremely gloomy which is correct to an extent.
Samanmal extends over three floors with the ground floor being a snack takeaway as the neon sign in the image suggests. Walking up to the first floor you pass the takeaway bakery with an excellent selection of the delectable cakes and pastries that seem to form such a part of Sri Lankan cuisine.
Walk up another floor and you come to the bar / restaurant on the top floor which is what this tip concerns itself with. Regrettably, all these stairs render the place unsuitable for the mobility impaired traveller as there is no lift, at least none that I could see.
On the top floor there are two distinct areas. The front part benefits from natural light during daylight hours and the rear portion has no windows, precious little lighting and is, as suggested, gloomy. ((That is why I have included the image which I normally would have discarded as rubbish)). This, however, is the area you need to go to if, like me, you are a smoker as it is banned in the front restaurant. In a country where smoking seems fairly ubiquitous, this may be of interest to the non-smoker.
Although the usual Sri Lankan suspects are on offer on the menu, Samanmal specialises in Chinese food which seems to be very popular in the country. I should say that it is not apparently done for the benefit of travellers as I didn’t see one in the place on my several visits, it just seems to be genuinely
popular amongst the locals.
I like Sri Lankan devilled dishes and you can see the devilled prawns pictured here but for me the only difference between a devilled dish and a Chinese sweet and sour dish is merely a touch more chilli. There really does seem to be a lot of crossover, most of it extremely tasty.
Service is pretty prompt in a country where it can be sketchy, to say the least. I was there when the Arise Asia cricket cup was on TV and most of the customers were glued to the small TV. Any sort of small-talk / mime on that subject with the waiters will earn you a friend for life!
I did notice a lunchtime rice and curry buffet advertised @ 295 rupees (about £1:50 or $2US) although I was never there during lunch service so I cannot comment on it.
I would recommend the Chinese soups which are well done, I tried a couple of variants of it.
Samanmal is a decent option, about average price, and I would definitely recommend it”.
There was no shortage of beer and I have mentioned the cricket which meant there appeared to be no pressing need to move, so I didn’t. A short stroll through a totally deserted Fort brought me to my lovely canopied bed once again.
I had initially fallen in love with Matara within about five minutes of stepping off the bus on my first day trip and I was seeing to reason to revise that opinion.
2nd February, 2014.
You will probably not be surprised to know this was another uneventful and relaxing day and I did not even go out until after dark, in search of food once again although I did get a little bonus on the way in the form of some lovely old vehicles having some sort of concourse.
I really have no idea why I am so reticent to use flash as these images are the best of a very bad bunch but I just get embarrassed using it for some reason, it seems as if I am intruding somehow. I know the owners had obviously spent a lot of time and money preparing their beauties and would undoubtedyl have been flattered at someone taking images but that is just me.
Leaving the fine automotive exmples behind I continued my search for sustenance and, after my guidebook pick of the previous evenng, resorted to following my nose which brought me to…………
Another fine restaurant.
“I had been in Matara for a couple of days and , as is my wont, was trying to sample as many of the eating options as I could.
Strolling along the seafront that evening, I chanced upon the Mayura Beach Resort which looked clean and pleasant enough so I thought I would give it a try.
Although the fairly extensive menu did not seem overpriced to me by local standards, the restaurant was fairly empty. I was there at about 2030 hours and I have found that Sri Lankans like to eat quite early so that may explain it.
The restaurant is fairly simply furnished but that seems to be the norm here except in the most expensive resorts.
As I say, the menu was very comprehensive covering all the usual options, Sri Lankan and Chinese which seems so popular in Sri Lanka. Noodles, fried rice of various types, omelettes, sweet and sour, fish dishes etc. all made an appearance and there were no less than five potato options offered.
The one thing that is not on offer is beef and so I am guessing that this is a Hindu run establishment but that wasn’t a problem for me as I find beef in Sri Lanka generally is not the greatest.
I was “trapped in the indecision of another fine menu” as my mate Fish once wrote in an excellent song lyric but finally decided on the sweet and sour prawn with pineapple at 650 rupees (£3:25, maybe $4:50US) and plain rice as a main. To start I had the prawn cocktail, which was pure Seventies UK cuisine only so much tastier, as delicious as it was retro. Hey, I like to revisit my youth now and again!
The main arrived and was beautifully executed, the batter light and not at all greasy, the prawns succulent and so sweet, which is hardly surprising as I can almost guarantee they were bought fresh from the nearby market that morning. You are literally thirty yards from the sea here and there is not much in the way of frozen food in this country I am glad to say.
Similarly, the fresh diced pineapple in the well-balanced sauce was beautifully sweet and the rice light and fluffy, served with a fried egg as seems to be common here. I am not normally one for eating desserts but I did have an ice-cream to finish and the whole meal was thoroughly delicious.
One small thing I have noticed whilst re-visiting my images, where I seem to find so many things I previusly missed. If you look closely at the window in the interior shot of the restaurant you’ll see I was still being wished a happy Christmas and New Year 2014. It was February!
As you can also see, the beef chiller was well stocked so again no need to move until it was time for my post-prandial stroll home, for I was by now beginning to consider the Nawathana as yet another home from home on this journey.
3rd February, 2014.
Normal service was resumed on this day as I appear to not to have left the hotel again but there was a little bonus. I had been getting pretty friendly with the the chef who you can see here and who was still hiding a bit of a secret from me which I shall tell you later (it is not really a secret).
I had been chatting to him about cooking and he obviously sussed that I had an interest and invited me into the kitchen although I could see into it easily from my usual table in the shade by the electrical socket to allow easy internet use.
The kitchen looks a bit basic and the table looks fairly beaten up which it is as it seems to double as chopping board, but the place was spotless. I marvelled at how he could knock up the quality of food he did with such limited resources. There was not a sous vide nor vacuum machine in the place and an induction hob would probably not be countenanced but I was very flattered to be allowed in the “inner sanctum” and shown round.
I even got to help prepping once or twice which was great fun. Add to the list of great attributes concerning the Nawathana Hotel free cooking classes if you get to know the chef!
I shall give you the full story of the food here before I leave Matara but after so many days in one post I shall break here. The next post, or more probably two, deals with one of the biggest days of my three months in the country and is certainly the biggest day in the Sri Lankan calendar. If you want to know all about it then stay tuned and spread the word.