Lankan envoy in Washington woos top US journalists

Monday, 21 February 2011 00:26 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Washington Examiner invited to explore Sri Lanka via cuisine and culture

A group of prestigious travel and food writers gathered at the Sri Lankan residence in Washington D.C., on Thursday (17) to sample hoppers and curry and to learn more about travel to Sri Lanka.

Hosted by Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya, the group watched an informative video, “Sri Lanka – The Wonder of Asia,” produced by the embassy and then enjoyed a Sri Lankan dinner, complete with string and egg hoppers made at table side, yellow and chicken curry and spicy pol sambal.

The dinner was held to boost travel to Sri Lanka from the United States. While several of the dinner guests have been to Sri Lanka recently, others said afterwards that they were anxious to make a visit.

Guests included journalists who write travel and food stories for The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Washington Examiner, and National Geographic Traveler, Outside, Washington Diplomat and Washington Life magazines.

S.H. Fernando, a Baltimore, Maryland journalist who has written a cookbook about Sri Lankan cuisine, narrated as the ambassador’s chef prepared hoppers, describing the origins of the various dishes the embassy had prepared for its American guests. Fernando once accompanied Anthony Bordain, the host of the food show, “No Reservations” on a food safari through Sri Lanka.

“We feel it is our duty to prepare this food the right way for you,” Fernando said.

“And it is our duty to consume it,” replied one of the guests.

After dinner, Washington Life Senior Editor Kevin Chaffee described for the guests his December visit to Sri Lanka, including time spent on the beach, at the Galle Fortress, at other world heritage sites and at a tea plantation. He displayed wood carvings, tea and other mementos that he brought back from Sri Lanka.

“I only wish that I had spent more time on the beach,” Chaffee said. “The heritage sites and ancient ruins were truly exceptional. The hotels were all five star.”

Ambassador Wickramasuriya encouraged dinner guests to visit Sri Lanka soon.

“I urge you to learn about Sri Lanka, and to write about the place and the people,” the ambassador said. “Now is the time to go. Some people here say that Sri Lanka is too far to go. But people in the U.S. travel to India and Asia all the time. I invite you visit Sri Lanka to see all of the wonderful things it has to offer our visitors.”

In particular, the ambassador noted that tourism in Sri Lanka has recovered quickly after the conflict against terrorism was concluded in May 2009.

“Our tourism is up 48 percent in 2010, and in reality probably more,” the ambassador said. “Our hotels are adding rooms because we expect even more visitors – over 600,000 people last year, and 2.5 million by 2016. So now is the time to go and see Sri Lanka.”

In 2010 the embassy sponsored an “Ambassadors Signature Tour” for about 25 Washington, D.C.-area  professionals who spent 10 days exploring Sri Lanka’s beaches, tea country and heritage sites.

A second ambassador’s tour is scheduled for 2011, and the embassy is launching a “Global Youth Ambassador’s Programme" for students between 16 and 22 years of age. The programme will feature a July trip to Sri Lanka for about 30 young people – many of them of Sri Lankan descent. They will visit heritage sites, beaches, Parliament and other government institutions. For many it will be their first visit to Sri Lanka.

In addition, the embassy is currently working with several universities, including Yale University and Johns Hopkins University, on student academic trips to Sri Lanka this spring.