In 2011, we took a weekend trip to Sri Lanka (so hilariously awesome to me that I can say that about our life back in Kuala Lumpur). My cousin had visited Sri Lanka several times and spoke rapturously of the swaths of tea plantations and the slow pace at which the country moved. We could hardly resist. Even though Ge Ge was just five months old then, the slog of parenthood hadn’t yet gotten the better of us, so within a few weeks we found ourselves, baby in tow, heading in a rickety van up to Ashburnham Estate for a brief respite from Kuala Lumpur.
There are two things that still haunt me from our that trip: the unbelievable tea and this mysteriously simple Sri Lankan coconut carrot salad that kept turning up at almost every meal.
The tea — oh, the tea. The tea leaves are tiny yet they produce the most fragrant tea I’ve ever had. We brought back as much as we could stuff into our little rolling suitcases without looking like nefarious smugglers. And that Sri Lankan coconut carrot salad — well, every time it showed up I begged someone to tell me what was in it. The answer, as I’ve found frustratingly common in foreign countries, was: a little of this, a little of that.
But that was back then. We had one kid. We took a great trip with him. And here we are, three years later, and I still have an unhealthy obsession with that tea and that salad. We’re still holding on to our last little cluster of tea leaves from Sri Lanka. Every time I think of pulling out that tea I stop myself, wondering if the occasion and our company merit the last glorious pot. The Queen of England has not yet stopped by. Maybe then I’ll feel like the situation deserves it. Maybe.
As for the coconut carrot salad, Ge Ge likes to talk a big game all the time about being “from Malaysia.” I don’t know if babies have long-term memories. I’m pretty sure they don’t. Nevertheless, maybe pieces of our experiences as babies get rooted into our subconscious, because Ge Ge, as I’ve mentioned many times, is an unconventional kid eater. While his sister calls naan “pizza” and lives for mac & cheese, Ge Ge craves curry and tofu on the regular. The other day he asked me to make him something that he liked “back in Malaysia.” I immediately thought of this salad, which I brought home from Sri Lanka in my tastebuds and have made variations of ever since. It’s a great starter dish and helps curb our craving for Asian salads (although now that we’re in the DC ‘burbs, there’s always this place).
- 2 Indian or Persian cucumbers, small diced
- 2 carrots, peeled and grated
- ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut (I used dried, but fresh is best if you can get it)
- 1 lime, juiced
- ¼ cup cilantro, minced
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce (Vietnamese preferred)
- ½ teaspoon sugar (optional, to taste)
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Combine lime juice, fish sauce and sugar and set aside.
- In a large bowl, toss together cucumbers, carrots and coconut.
- Add lime mixture and toss well.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.
PS – Relatedly, our trip to Sri Lanka produced one of my favorite travel memories with the hubby of all time. By the time we’d made it to Sri Lanka, we’d already taken Ge Ge to several countries, and the hubby always managed diaper duty on those trips. Sometimes, he’d come back from diaper changes in less-than-ideal public places drenched in sweat, and Ge Ge would be less a piece of clothing. I’d ask the hubby if everything was okay.
“Fine, fine. I mean, you probably don’t want to see where I changed him, but you know, he’s fine. We’re fine,” he’d insist.
Fast forward to our departure from Sri Lanka. At the Colombo airport on our way out, we were surprised and delighted to find signs leading to a family changing room, a real rarity in Asia. Considering the provincial feel of Colombo, to have something so accommodating, so progressive! Plus, we’d already spent several dusty hours on the road to Colombo, so the family area was an especially welcome sight. Until we threw open the door and walked in, that is.
A dirty mattress in a crib with cracked slats sat in the corner of a dingy room. There were, both horrifyingly and thankfully, no sheets on the mattress. A wash basin that can only be described as “war torn” hung sadly in the corner. A single, flickering bulb illuminated a folding table, which had been set up for what I could only assume was diaper changing. Or baby interrogations. Either way, I gasped.
“Oh, my god,” I shrieked at the same time as hubby.
“I know,” he said, his eyes wide as saucers. “This is SO NICE.”
I spun back towards him, aghast. Of course, this then begged my next question to hubby — where had he been changing our son, if this could be considered a nice place in our travels with baby?
I still shudder at the thought.