Sri Lankans Drink Like Fish

I have managed to culminate a solid collection of post-drinking rituals - each specific to the hometown that I’m from, and each as reliable as the one before.

In Melbourne, I tend to make a wobbly beeline towards China Bar. I cannot say for sure what is authentically Chinese about it, but it’s open late, the hot steaming food is churned out quickly and the staff are always pleasant and non-judgemental about the state you arrive in. I usually order my “roast pork and roast duck” dish, greasy to the core and packed with way too much jasmine rice. I’ll grab a Gatorade or two from a 7-Eleven on the way back to my apartment, and after I unwrap my prize, I’ll douse the dish with dried chilli flakes before I tuck in and then flop into bed. 

The morning after is strictly grease and refined-sugar free. I’ll have veggies in my fridge from Victoria Market, or I’ll order salads if I’m meeting my friends, and make sure I top up on fruits too. My pride at avoiding a dirty hangover breakfast usually satisfactorily overlays the guilt of that large, plastic takeaway meal from a few hours before.

In Tokyo the 7-Elevens sell rust-coloured bottles of “ukon no chikara” - a turmeric root based beverage which claims to be a hangover cure if you drink it before you start your big night (it stimulates gastric juice production in the liver which in turn breaks down alcohol, apparently). I would gulp down two (they were in gorgeous, metallic bottles the size of your closed palm) and then one at the end of the night for good measure. If I was heading back home with my housemates, we would stop for tsukemen at a local shop by the station - delicious yellow noodles dipped into a thick, hot broth that was ordered from a little ticket machine at the front of the store. If my companions didn’t feel like a big feed, we would pop into a konbini, I would grab two triangular onigiri’s (the tuna mayo filling was my favourite) and a big bottle of Pocari Sweat (a hydrating sports drink with a misleading name) before we called it a night.

In Sri Lanka, I am usually shuttled about with my cousins who are far too supportive about the fact that I have no idea how to direct a driver back to where I’m staying with my terrible Sinhala and non-existent street geography. After the dancing and drinking part of the evening (or early morning) is over I will usually holler ‘Pilawoos!’ and find that our crew often generously accommodates my request. In the heart of the city, it is a small hole-in-the-wall with peeling paint and buzzing mosquitos. The first time we ever went there, we parked along the pavement and ate our food while we leaned against the silver corolla, as ‘no one actually eats inside Pilawoos, Ava, that’s crazy!’ Plastic forks sink into gooey cheesy chicken kothu with savoury gravy and your pick of extra toppings while insects buzz enviously by your ears as you pack in your fill.

My most recent visit was after a successful trishaw race where we somehow survived flying over potholes and dodging confused stray street dogs. We call that evening 'brown bear' night because a stuffed toy key-ring teddy was mercilessly ricochetting off our driver's rear view mirror perch as we tore through the nighttime roadways. 

Where did this great awareness of ‘good drinking’ begin? I’ll put it down to genetics - Sri Lankans drink like fish.  

*Konbini: convenience store


This article was first published 19 December 2016