Family Wedding in Galle, Sri Lanka

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this entry.

I thought I had an elaborate year of getting married in 2015, what with our wedding banquet in China, the actual wedding ceremony and a reception. Then my cousin comes along with a registry ceremony, a later ceremony, a reception, and then a full wedding banquet in Galle, Sri Lanka, where his wife is from. Check and mate! 

The wedding banquet is why we went to Sri Lanka in the first place. Myself, K, my father, my brother, two sets of aunts and uncles, my cousin and his wife, another cousin and her boyfriend, an older cousin and his wife, an aunt-in-law, another family friend…I think I’m losing track of everyone! Suffice it to say that we were a large group of Chinese people in Sri Lanka. Ten years ago that would have been a strange sight, but as more and more Chinese tour groups visit Sri Lanka, we were just one of many such groups.

More about the actual Sri Lanka tour in the next blog entry!

We started our stay in Sri Lanka in Galle with a free morning and afternoon to explore Galle Fort – photos of which you can see below. Galle is an absolutely stunning old town and you can see both the Portuguese and Dutch influences in the main buildings of the fort. My cousin’s wife’s surname holds these same Portuguese influences, deriving from the Portuguese surname Alves, or river bed. The history of Galle Fort is etched on every stone and it’s been surprisingly well-preserved – no doubt thanks to the conservation efforts that began not long after the 2004 tsunami which devastated the area.

Outside of the fort, the town is both frenetic and relaxed at the same time – frenetic in the rush of activity around central areas like the bus station where people tried to convince me to step onto buses going to faraway destinations I had no intention of visiting, and relaxed in more residential areas where you can look out of the window and see an overgrown jungle and monkeys in the trees. It’s a strange dichotomy, and one that makes Galle such an interesting place to visit.

The wedding reception was held at the Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel, one of the most luxurious hotels in Galle with a fantastic view of ocean from the bar and restaurant. The hotel was designed by the legendary Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa and the eye-catching winding staircase sculpture depicts an epic battle between the Portuguese and the Sinhalese. Architecturally, the hotel is a stunner – I just wish we’d had the foresight to book a room at the hotel as it would have been a fantastic place to stay.

The reception wasn’t what I had stereotypically imagined – it certainly wasn’t the three-day long celebrations of colour, music, and dancing that I had expected. There wasn’t a Poruva ceremony as per a traditional Sinhalese wedding, and I was told this was because my cousin and his wife had been officially married in Australia and so they wouldn’t (or couldn’t) perform the ceremony in Galle. What they did do instead was the Homecoming ceremony, with candle-lighting, cake-cutting, Sinhalese folk dancers and musicians and most importantly – food. Lots and lots of food!

We had a great time meeting our new extended family who we can now bewilderingly introduce to people as ‘my cousin’s wife’s cousin’s sister-in-law’s brother”, taking lots of photos, eating lots of food, and then tearing it up on the dance floor. I’m only disappointed that we didn’t get a chance to experience the full Sri Lankan wedding ceremonies and festivities…anyone Sinhalese planning on getting married soon and want to send me an invitation?

Review: Elita Restaurant, Galle, Sri Lanka

On the very first full day of our time in Sri Lanka, it became clear that the humidity was going to be the downfall for many of the members in our family party. While K, my brother, my father and I were able to persevere in the humidity, thanks in large part to our initial stay in Singapore, many of my aunts and uncles wilted in the humidity.

After just an hour of exploring Galle Fort’s walls and the town, many of my aunts and uncles decided to head into the air-conditioned comfort of a restaurant for lunch before heading back to the hotel. My group of four people persevered for a few more hours walking along the fort walls before heading into Elita Restaurant for an early lunch.  

While it’s still located within the fort, Elita is slightly off the beaten track and isn’t on one of the main streets with the other restaurants and cafes. Instead, it’s located in a more residential area. As I mentioned, we were early for lunch, and were in fact the first group to arrive in the restaurant – clearly, midday is too early for lunch in Sri Lanka!

This did mean that we got good service though, as the waiter was able to concentrate on the needs of our table. In ordering freshly-caught fish off the hand-written whiteboard menu, I wasn’t able to decide what type of fish we wanted. Naturally, the waiter brought out both fish – snapper and garupa – out to the table for us to inspect and choose from!

Fresh Steamed Full Fish (Garupa) in Curry Sauce with Garlic Butter Rice, Market Rates (about 1300 LKR)

We ended up choosing the garupa, Fresh Steamed Full Fish in Curry Sauce for the ridiculously low price of about $11 AUD. With those prices, why not eat fresh fish every day?! This curry sauce was quite light and aromatic, which complemented the delicious garupa. The fresh chopped chillies, herbs and spring onion really finished off the fish perfectly. 

Fresh Octopus Salad with Mango Dressing Salad, 2250 LKR

We ordered a Fresh Octopus Salad with Mango Dressing – deliciously marinated octopus served with freshly diced tomato and Spanish onion which gave it that extra lift. The sweet and fruity mango dressing was a winner as well. Is this dish for everyone? No – not everyone is a fan of the texture of octopus. But even my brother who is quite a picky eater was very happy to eat this dish, so I think that says something about how tender the octopus was, and how well the dressing went with it!

Fresh Tuna Steak with Lime Cream Sauce, Fries and Salad, 1750 LKR

The last main we ordered was the Fresh Tuna Steak with Lime Cream Sauce, fries and salad on the side. This wasn’t anything special – not when compared to the garupa. In fact, the tuna was actually a little bit dry, so the lime cream sauce was much needed to make it a bit more palatable. This is definitely not a winning dish, and we would have done better to order another garupa cooked in another sauce. Lesson learned – freshly caught local fish is a better choice!

The steamed fish (first dish) came with Garlic Butter Rice, and they put some Stir-fried Kangkong on top for us as well. The rich buttery rice helped to fill the corners of our stomachs and I was able to kid myself into thinking that it was vaguely healthy because of the greens on top…wishful thinking!

Elita Restaurant was a great find in the seaside town of Galle in Sri Lanka. It’s just far enough from the touristy centre that only those truly dedicated to great food will make the effort to find it, but close enough that it’s not a hassle to get there.

The food is cooked well and while definitely Sri Lankan in nature, has a slight East Asian or European touch which may come from the years spent training in Europe by the head chef. A great place to visit for those who find street food challenging, but don’t want to eat at tourist traps either. Fresh seafood at a reasonable price (just skip the tuna) – you can’t beat it.

Elita Restaurant is located at 34 Middle Street in Galle, Sri Lanka.

Travel Tales: Singapore, December 2016

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this entry.

When we made the decision to go to Sri Lanka for my cousin’s wedding, it was pretty much a no-brainer that we would stopover in other destinations (Singapore and Malaysia) on the way there and back. Breaking up a long flight with two shorter flights makes sense right? 

Well it did. And then it didn’t. The afternoon before we were due to fly out, Jetstar cancelled our flight to Singapore and calling their customer service centre for a replacement flight gave us two options:

  1. A direct flight to Singapore three days after we were supposed to arrive, at which point we would have to leave for Sri Lanka almost immediately and not have time to enjoy Singapore at all
  2. Flights to Singapore on the day that we were supposed to leave….via a layover in Hong Kong. We essentially doubled back to Singapore after flying to Hong Kong, adding around eight hours to the overall journey.

Jetstar are known as Shitstar for a reason.

A crappy start to the holiday was thankfully improved with each day we spent in Singapore. While we all suffered in the humidity (my family are not summer people), it was good that we were able to start acclimatising to the humidity of South-East Asia in the relative comfort of Singapore and its air-conditioned malls – we certainly wouldn’t be able to retreat to air-conditioned comfort quite as easily during our stay in Sri Lanka! 

That’s not to say that we didn’t venture out of the malls of Orchard Road, because we certainly did. We spent one day in the Gardens by the Bay, the futuristic vast nature park that they’ve somehow managed to squeeze into densely-populated Singapore. We went on the Singapore Flyer which I’d never been on before, and managed to time our visit so that we had an entire pod to ourselves, sandwiching in nicely between two overcrowded pods full of Chinese tour groups.

The highlights though, were when we just spent time wandering around different parts of Singapore, sampling local fare at different markets. Having only visited Orchard Road, Chinatown, Little India and Tiong Bahru, I feel as though we’ve only scratched the surface of what those Singaporean districts can offer us…let alone, what the rest of Singapore has to offer! What about areas like Kampong Glam, Katong, Geylang…and I’ve never even been to Sentosa Island!

I guess we’re lucky that Singapore is so (comparatively) close to Australia, and that it would make for a great stopover to wherever we may chose to go on our next trip. Over the course of a couple of years worth of two or three day stays in Singapore, we may finally get to see, and eat, more around the country. Singapore…I’ll always be back.