Every village in Sri Lanka has its market day and for visitors who can tear themselves away from the beach or cultural sites, the village market is a fascinating place to visit. There are daily markets in permanent buildings in different parts of Colombo and in important towns like Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Jaffna.
More interesting are the once-a-week village markets where people sell vegetables and herbs grown in their own gardens, and traders offer produce at lower prices than in the shops. Part of the enjoyment of a village market for visitors is trying to identify the various green leaves, tubers and odd-shaped fruit on sale.
There’s a small market at Gonagalapura where tourists are rare and the vendors, crouched on the ground by their wares, are happy to chat. It is about 2 kms inland from the Kaikawala Road junction between the 67 & 68 kms marker on the Galle Road. It’s held every Tuesday morning. Another one is at Maha Induruwa on Saturday mornings and there is a more formal one at Alutgama on Mondays.
I go to the Gonagalapura Market to look for fresh tomatoes, which seem to have more flavour than those found in supermarkets. There is a display of a variety of vegetables, fruit, fresh and dried fish, but no meat or dairy products. Instead there are sacks of spices, bags of dried chillies, and takeaway snacks like fried cassava chips and slabs of jaggery (a fudge made from the sap of the kithul palm tree). And plenty of colourful photo opportunities.
Internet Tea Café
When a gentleman everyone knows as Loga returned to Haputale after several years working in the Middle East as a salesman, he wondered what business to set up so he could contribute something to his home town – as well as earn his livelihood. He rented a small shop from the Urban Council and opened it as an Internet Café.
Given its perfect location on the road leading from the Haputale railway station, every visitor to Haputale was soon aware of Loga’s café. Being a hospitable chap he always offered his customers a cup of tea from nearby plantations. When tourists said they wanted to buy some of the tea to take home, Loga saw a sales opportunity. Now he regularly buys various grades of tea from local factories, packs it in silver foil bags and sells it in small quantities at wholesale prices.
Curiously, although Sri Lanka is the home of Pure Ceylon Tea, tea is only sold in specialist shops that stock their own brand, or in supermarkets where choice is limited. Loga’s Website Link Café is one of the few places in Sri Lanka where you can buy factory fresh tea from surrounding tea estates, as well as other labels, such as Masala tea (with pieces of ginger and spices) and fancy packs. If you’re not sure which tea to buy, Loga will happily make a cup for you to try.
Loga stocks all grades and is delighted to explain the difference in OP (good for a refined cup of tea without milk or sugar) and BOPF (small grade leaf yielding a very strong cuppa better drunk with milk and sugar). He even had FBOPF when I visited last week; that’s Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings which has a hint of flavour as well as strength.
At 1,429m above sea level, Haputale is in the middle of the tea country where Thomas Lipton found the source of his famous Lipton’s Tea. Loga often acts as a guide for visitors to Lipton’s Seat, where Sir Thomas sat and gazed at his tea growing on hills as far as the eye could see. Haputale is a small town, with a gothic church at its highest point, several cheap hostelries and hardware shops, and is easily reached by train from Colombo via Kandy & Nanu Oya on the way to Ella and Badulla, the terminus.
While many travellers often pass through Haputale, few stop; perhaps because they don’t know that staying there is much cheaper than in Ella or Bandarawela, and the town, being devoted to tea, is peaceful, the people hospitable and the views, where the main road seems to float off into space, breathtaking.
Loga’s Website Link Internet Café is at 3 Station Road, Haputale tel: 057 2268612; email email@example.com.
At long last, the west coast area around Bentota, where I live, seems to be livening up and adding a few bars and restaurants to lure package tourists away from their buffets. There is already a modern, industrial-style beer bar (lots of unpainted cement and steel girders) called Machang in the west coast town of Alutgama. It’s one of the Machang chain of pubs also at Ambalangoda, Dambulla, Diyawanna, Ekala, Homagama, Kandana, Kandy, Koswatta, Kurunegala, Minuwangoda, Nawala, Negombo, Panadura and Ratnapura,
Recently Machang has spawned a branch between the 64 & 65 km markers on the Galle Road, south of Alutgama and Bentota, on the way to Induruwa, squeezed on a narrow plot of land with the main road on one side and the rail track on the other. It even has a beach view. Machang is actually a term of affection in Sinhala for a male friend or colleague, although it really means ‘brother-in-law.’ The sign is in Sinhala but the menus are in English.
The Bentota Machang is an enjoyable cross between a pub (it has draft beer, a pool table, chunky wooden benches & tables and smoking is allowed) and a cocktail bar. A 300ml mug of draft Lion Lager (brewed in Sri Lanka) costs Rs90 [45p]; a super Margarita only Rs400 [£ 2] (perhaps the cheapest in Sri Lanka), Long Island Iced Tea (which I am not brave enough to try) is also listed at Rs400.
Equally remarkable is that the food, cooked in woks behind the counter, is jolly good, and cheap. A portion of Black Pepper Pork & ‘Mangyokka’ (manioc) costs Rs350 [£ 1.75]; hot battered mushrooms, Rs260 [£ 1.30]; kankung tossed with garlic & chillies Rs150 [75p].
Kankun incidentally is a Sri Lankan leafy vegetable (Ipomoea aquatica) sometimes known as water spinach. It’s a rich source of vitamins, particularly A, B and C, iron, protein, calcium, amino acids and anti-oxidants.
Machang, Bentota/Induruwa, keeps pub hours: 11.00-14.00; 17.00-23.00 although it remains open for meals between 14.00 & 17.00. It’s become my “local” and I pop in there most Saturdays for lunch – quite like being back in England. Cheers!