Coeliac travel: Sri Lanka


travelling sri lanka as a coeliac

Before we departed for our [uhmazing] honeymoon, I scoured the internet for advice about travelling around as a coeliac. Most of it seemed a bit panicked: “no-one knows what the word wheat is! It could be everywhere! I stuck to plain rice and chicken!”

As a consequence, I went out with a toiletries bag that was probably 60% pepto bismol and immodium tablets…but thankfully came back with (nearly) all of it. Oh, and the food is hella tasty. Here’s a few things I found on the trip:

  • Rice and curry is everywhere – if you can stomach (tasty, delicious) curry every day for dinner, and probably fried rice for lunch, then you’ll be totally fine. You probably won’t even want much lunch, given how hot it is. The rice and curry is usually a giant portion of rice and then several small bowls of curried foods – green beans, meat, pineapple, dahl, pol sambol etc etc. It’s amazing, and every place makes theirs a little different, which gives you a good excuse to eat it everywhere.
  • If you stray off the rice and curry path (but don’t, because it’s delicious), your biggest risk is western food, which some places are really quite proud to sell. Breadcrumbs or batter might not be mentioned in the menu – my one bad night came from trying to de-breadcrumb a chicken breast and eat it anyway, and we all know how that goes.
  • String hoppers are basically rice noodles – I had a couple bites of my husband’s string hopper biryani from a roadside caf and nothing terrible happened. In fact I looked at it covetously while I ate (another) plate of fried rice. It was good rice though…
  • Short eats are a mixed bag – they smell amazing (especially the illicit-looking ones that come by on the train for 30p a bag) but you’re risking a lot to try them, because you’re not likely to be able to have the conversation about wheat flour with the person selling them. Through a total lack of any other options I one day had to risk what looked like dhal falafel. It was tasty and totally fine, but I popped a couple of pepto bismol tablets as a precaution anyway.
  • Breakfast is usually (depending on your home stay/hotel) a mix of fruit and eggs with beans/bacon plus juice/tea or coffee. For the none-unlucky of us, there’s usually toast and sausages going too. I think I stared those bread baskets out, hoping they would miraculously become gluten free if I thought about it hard enough, but no luck. One of the bigger hotels we stayed at had a large buffet with lots of potatoes etc, which always goes down well with me for breakfast (Carbs! All the carbs!). One home stay we stayed at in Kandy offered a type of traditional pancake with fillings, but very kindly made me some rice when I explained I couldn’t eat them. That place is the truly lovely Sujatha’s Homestay by the way, and I recommend everyone has a night there, because Sujatha and Roney are the nicest people ever.
  • Hoppers (a kind of pancake for your egg) are traditionally made with rice flour, but wheat flour is becoming pretty prevalent, so I gave these a miss…also sorry, but roti and kottu roti are also off your Sri Lanka menuz, as awesome as kottu roti sounds when it’s being made.
  • In more touristy areas (for us Ella and Mirissa), you’ll have no problem finding salads, fries, stuff like that, if you need a rice and curry break, and by the beach there’s plenty of grilled seafood to get stuck into.
  • Snacks are all in your favour: spicy roasted nuts and chickpeas are everywhere, along with roadside bags of fresh pineapple, jackfruit and red bananas/bananas (for about 10p a bag, and all insanely tasty). That and a big bottle of water will get you through when a meal isn’t forthcoming, and they’re available at pretty much every small shop hut every few metres along the road.

All in all, I thankfully barely had any problems (except perhaps lack of variety?), though I was occasionally glad for the few granola bars and couple bags of pretzels I’d brought with me, not to mention the precautionary pepto bismol/Imodium. In the places that I did enquire about wheat flour, (i.e. when I hoped a hopper/roti might be rice flour but wasn’t) the question was always understood, and helpfully answered. I would suggest to always ask about your chicken if you have it (excepting curry – it was never breaded or battered in the curries). Also shoutout to Qatar airways who are literally the only airline I’ve flown with since having this stupid restriction who have actually brought me the requested GF meal, no fuss or anything. They seriously put experiences I’ve had with American & BA to shame. 1000% would go back, and eat alllll the rice and curry…

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