Falling for Rotis but Having my Heart Broken by Beaches in Mirissa

It was a typical morning in Sri Lanka. And what a typical morning involves is being woken up at ridiculous-o’clock by some kind of racket on the street. This time it sounded like the neighbours were starting up a house-party at what I can only assume was 6am as the sunlight was only just starting to stream into our room through the cracks around the wooden door.

I love Sri Lanka but the nightly disturbances aren’t something I will miss once I am home.

We tried to sleep through the racket as a decent night’s sleep was something we desperately needed. Travel really does take it out of you and today we would be moving on from Hiriketiya to our next location: a beach town called Mirissa.

I had heard lots of wonderful things about Mirissa. From the photographs I swooned at online to the numerous blog posts I soaked up, Mirissa seemed like the perfect beach destination, framed by lush palm trees and specked with tasty beach bars. Could it really be as nice as Hiriketiya beach? I couldn’t wait to compare the two! I knew it was going to be a lot larger in size and probably have a couple more people on but I expected it to still be relatively quiet. That’s what I’d read, anyway.

We managed to get some interrupted kip after the house-party next door began and woke up prepared to buy some breakfast from the little store right across from the house.

We had briefly stopped off at the store the day before, on our way back form the beach. We fancied a snack to keep us going for the evening so bought some water and some ‘Hawaiian Cookies’. These cookies are advertised everywhere in Sri Lanka so we were really keen to give them a go and they did not disappoint! Not too sweet and with a hint of coconut, they were good cookies indeed.

I quickly got dressed and threw on my flip-flops. My stomach was growling impatiently. But as I flung open the front door, I gasped in horror. The store was closed.

The boarded-up shop opposite our villa
Me looking very hungry and unimpressed

It was a tragic sight. Our only saving-grace was the fact that we’d purchased the Hawaiian Cookies the day before. I guess they would have to do as our breakfast. Hawaiian Cookies and ginger-infused tea (which was super spicy!) was not exactly the breakfast I had in mind but I couldn’t complain.

Now we just needed to wait for our taxi to arrive which we had ordered the night before. We waited. And waited.

We had expected that the taxi may get slightly lost as we had got hopelessly lost arriving yesterday. However, we were standing outside our villa, waiting with our luggage and didn’t see him pass. We knew what vehicle he was arriving in so would have noticed his passing.

The minutes rolled on. We were in touch with the taxi company via Whatsapp, trying to keep in constant communication but they too seemed confused about the taxi driver’s whereabouts.

After no less than an hour of waiting, we received news that the taxi driver had somehow ended up at the beach and began to navigate him to our location.

There he was! We were delighted as the minibus taxi appeared from the track down to the beach. He was apologetic to say the least but we didn’t mind. We were just glad he was here now and we could commence our journey to Mirissa.

The drive to Mirissa from Hiriketiya took roughly an hour. Our AirBnB in Mirissa was only a 5 minute walk from the beach, making it an ideal location. Of course, after arriving, the only thing on my mind was food so we dropped off our bags in our room before heading out for some lunch.

Our AirBnB host was very helpful, recommending a restaurant called the No1 Roti Shop. He showed us some directions on his map and advised us it was only a short 10 minute walk from our accommodation. So off we went!

I don’t know how the walk was supposed to take 10 minutes. Maybe I’m just a slow walker? Maybe I took a wrong turn? We were wandering around streets lined with houses for what felt like forever. My feet were squelching in my mud-filled flip-flops and our legs were splattered with dirt that was kicked up by passing tuk-tuks. The humid air threatened to steal the breath out of my lungs and my hair was poofing up, trebling in size. Even the cows wondering around the houses stopped to stare at my giant, frizzy hairdo.

Lewis and I both exchanged exhausted glances, the kind of glances that whisper defeat.

“Tuk-tuk?” I suggested.

He nodded.

As soon as we reached a main road, we hailed a tuk-tuk and using the tonnes of advice I had encountered online, I haggled profusely, not even knowing exactly what prices they were offering.

This was actually the first time we were taking a tuk-tuk, after already being in Sri Lanka a week. That’s quite shameful but kinda shows how fast we were travelling around. This was the first short journey we were taking. Other than when we walked, we had been travelling for several hours at a time and although possible in a tuk-tuk, it would have taken a long while and not been the smoothest of rides, I’m sure.

I excitedly clambered into the vibrant blue tuk-tuk, unable to wipe the beaming smile off my face. We were finally in a tuk-tuk! I felt like one of my life-long dreams was being achieved.

I felt rather lazy when I first hailed the tuk-tuk. We’d already been waking for a while so surely the restaurant had to be close by? Honestly, I was so relieved we decided to hitch a ride as I would not have been able to find the restaurant. The tuk-tuk was weaving down lots of narrow back-alleys, splashing through deep puddles and pot-holes in the sand-coated tracks.

Finally we made it. We were down a tiny alley somewhere at the back of town. Amongst residential houses was a little restaurant. The No1 Roti. But as Lewis and I walked inside the hidden oasis, we had no idea what delights lay ahead of us on the menu.

No.1 Dewmimi Roti Shop is a family-run restaurant in Mirissa. Reviews allover the internet sing its praises and its even made a feature in the Lonley planet guide to Sri Lanka.

I was excited to try the food but I didn’t expect to fall in love with it as much as I did. I’ll touch more on my experience with it later. First, let’s talk a bit about the cuisine.

A ‘roti’ is a flatbread native to Indian subcontinent. It is made from stoneground wholemeal flower and water, mixed together to form a dough.

As expected, there were several rotis on the menu.

However, my attention was drawn to a dish known as the ‘Kottu’. A Kottu is a special dish made with godamba roti (a Sri Lankan roti) that is native to Sri Lanka. The name literally translates to ‘chopped bread’. As you can probably guess, in this dish the rotti is chopped, along with other ingredients such as vegetables, chicken, egg and cheese.

The dish is prepared on a heated iron sheet and is chopped and mixed using blunt metal blades. The blades beat rhythmically, making an iconic sound.

I could barely contain my excitement as I heart the kottu being prepared. The clashing of blades echoed around the restaurant. I had ordered the chicken, vegetable, cheese and egg kottu. Lewis and I would be sharing it.

Remember, I’d only eaten Hawaiian Cookies and some spicy ginger tea all day, so when the kottu arrived, I felt like Christmas had come early.

I am no vegetable lover. In fact, I don’t like them at all. But when the kottu arrived, speckled with vegetables, I couldn’t stop myself from salivating. The smell was so inciting.

We drizzled sauce over our meal before we finally dug in. It tasted like heaven. Honestly. I had never tasted anything so good. Well, it was probably the optimum level. Vegetables had never tasted so good. The whole dish was exquisite. I would even go as far as to rank it in my top 5 dishes of all time and man am I once tough cookie to please!

If you’re not tempted to try the kottu now, I have to ask, what is wrong with you?!

After polishing off the heavenly kottu, we ordered a chocolate-filled roti for dessert. That too was something beautiful. I can see why the No.1 Roti has such glowing reviews. It really does live up to its name.

Bellies comfortably full, it was time for us to grab a tuk-tuk and return to our AirBnB for some down time.

It wasn’t long before we went on a second outing, this time to the beach. We were determined to walk this time and certain that we had in fact taken a wrong turn on our last excursion.

Indeed, it took a fraction of the time to reach the main road where we had previously hailed a tuk-tuk.

I was surprised at how difficult it was to actually locate Mirissa beach. I knew it was meant to be on our right. Google maps was making that clear. However shops and restaurants lined the side of the road, obscuring any views of the beach there may be. Most of the buildings were practically strapped together, meaning there were few alleyways leading down in the direction of the beach.

Eventually I spied a dark corridor, narrowly opening in between two large buildings. Could that be an opening to the beach? It certainly didn’t look inviting. It looked exactly like the spot your parents told you never to travel down. A damp sand track obscured by shadows and dotted with litter and other debris.

I felt on edge and part of me was telling me to avoid. However, curiosity always seems to get the better of me and as soon as we were greeted with a gap in the stream of busy traffic, we made our way across the road to the alleyway.

I cautiously skirted muddy puddles, conscious of the fact that I was only in flimsy footwear. I allowed the darkness to engulf me as I stepped deeper into the alley, Lewis at my side.

The track veered to the left, still enclosed by looming concrete walls, paint flaking her and there. However, up ahead the light was brighter and I noticed a lonely palm swaying beside a yellow wall.

As we stepped into the light, I nearly gasped at what I saw.

Picture by Priyan de Silva, Daily News Sri Lanka

We emerged onto the the sands of Mirissa beach beside the morbid remains of what was once the Paragon Beach Resort. Rubble was strewn across the beach, some trailing into the ocean.

We were weavings between glass, shards of metal and broken slabs of concrete. It was a far cry from what I had been expecting to find in Mirissa.

The promise of golden sands in a peaceful paradise was nothing more than a dream. I was walking through carnage, standing in the wake of what was a giant bulldozing session.

As we stepped into the main beach, I looked at the beachfront in dismay. All along the arc of Mirissa beach was yet more destruction. Mounds of rubble were everywhere. It was like we were standing in hell.

I was too horrified to actually take any photos. The scene was actually rather saddening to take in so I didn’t have the energy to document it through my lens. I took the odd photo of what seemed like a ‘pretty’ view but honestly, the beach didn’t feel pretty.

The intact end of Mirissa
Image of demolition by The Morning, Sri Lanka

So what exactly was going on? Well, many restaurants and bars had been erected along the beachfront illegally (without the proper permissions to set up) by ‘beach boys’. Not only were the buildings not authorised by the government but these so-called ‘beach boys’ had been causing trouble in Mirissa. They had been apparently harassing tourists and acting in an aggressive way.

The final straw for the illegal bars of Mirissa was an attack which occurred in April, a month before our arrival in the island. Dutch tourists were brutally attacked in a case said to be sexually motivated. The sexual harassment was carried out by staff at the restaurant the were visiting and it escalated to the point where two tourist was horrifically beaten.

The government had had enough at this point and ordered the demolition of all illegal bars and restaurants in Mirissa. Over 100 police officers and armed soldiers stormed Mirissa and took action. In total, 21 buildings were demolished, leaving the waste I was witnessing today.

Although I could understand the government’s decision to act, I couldn’t help but think of the sea-life that was forced to suffer as a result of the bulldozing. It made me so mad that no one had bothered to clean up this mess and it had been left to sit and rot for weeks. Now it was little more than fish food and more tangles of wires for sea turtles to get caught up in.

It would have been far better for the government to have organised a big clean-up operation instead of just causing havoc. But I was visiting in off-season when they don’t expect tourists to visit so as long as the mess is cleared before the season starts again, why should they care?

Another reason why I am suspicious of the motives behind the demolition is due to the fact that many large resorts had been keen to take up position along the Mirissa beach front. Could money have therefore been the key reason for this destruction? That makes sense. Removing the illegal bars will help prevent a negative experience for tourists and also allow room for big-boy hotels to move in and bring more tourism into the area.

But what do the locals think of all this? The general consensus is not happy.

There were reports of demolition beginning with people still in the buildings. There was little concern for their wellbeing during the ordeal.

Lewis and I decided to grab some dinner at one of the few remaining restaurants called ‘Salt’. It was a quiet dinner as we were both very much in shock and rather exhausted from our walk.

After having such an incredible lunch at the No.1 Roti, dinner seemed rather mediocre but it was still okay. Most items on the menu were westernised. We ordered curry and rice but it didn’t have the same authentic taste as that of the No.1 Roti or the home cooking we had been enjoying. I suppose I can only conclude that Mirissa is more of a touristy area and therefore less authentic.

Our entertainment for the evening was a litter of energetic puppies, playfully tumbling over in the sand. It was adorable to sit and watch them!

It had been a day of conflicting emotions which left us both pretty warn-out. Plus, we really are not walkers! Our ‘short’ walk to and from the beach left us practically passed-out and we practically face-planted our bed when we arrived back at our AirBnB. Thank goodness we had air-conditioning that night! It was our first experience with air-con for the whole Sri Lanka trip so far. As well as keeping us cool, it would do a wonderful job of drowning out the noises of the night!