Sri Lankan Simmer: 12-Cent Train Food


Me: The 10:40 train to Hapatule, please.

Ticket Agent: The 10:40 train is cancelled, sir. 11:50 train is also cancelled. 1:00 train is cancelled. 3:30 train is cancelled. 4:00 train coming at 5:00 maybe 6:00.

Me: UGH. How come?

Ticket Agent: **Looks at me as if this is the most bizarre question he has ever been asked.**

Sorry for the uninspired headline, but I’ve left Indian and am currently traveling by train through the heartland of Sri Lanka, which is, um, a bit adventurous — in both good ways and bad.

The bad part is that the concept of a train schedule is, shall we say, overlooked. Mocked might be a more appropriate word, actually. The good part is that the countryside views are breathtaking, and the great news is that train food here makes Amtrak’s barely edible $12 sandwiches look like, well, barely edible $12 sandwiches.

At each major stop, a few food salesman join the train car, walking through offering everything from roasted peanuts (spicy) to crunchy, falafel-like balls of fried chickpeas and vegetables (spicy) and super-greasy samosas filled with hard-boiled egg (very, very spicy).

If you’re willing to overlook the absence of any semblance of a health code, it’s an exceedingly tasty way to spend a few lunches, especially because each of these options costs about oh, 12 cents or so.  Take that, Amtrak.

Oh, and adding even more charm/horror, depending on your viewpoint, the snacks are served in makeshift paper bags crafted from discarded looseleaf, often covered in somebody’s geometry homework. Amazing.

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