TacoCat Colombo


Are you a taco or burrito lover? If yes, then you need to head over to TacoCat!  

TacoCat is a pop up space operating out of Black Cat Colombo, for those who have ben wondering as to where they operate. They serve Mexican food, the basics really – tacos, burritos and nude bowls. If you think you love the food served at fast food joints like Taco Bell or Let’s Taco, you’ll need to revise your Mexican food palette as TacoCat is as authentic as it gets in Colombo.  Stepping inside, your eyes would gravitate towards the colourful pink walls. It’s got a quirky vibe to it and comes across as a more funked up space than a chilled out café or diner. Priced at Rs. 999 for three tacos, or one burrito or a nudie bowl, I think they’ve hit the nail right on the head. And oh, if you happen to go by on Taco Tuesdays, you’ll get each item for just Rs. 299! Having decided to go there on an impulse, my friend and I realized it was unfortunately a Wednesday, ha!

As said, the menu is pretty basic but who wants a complicated menu any way? Customers can pick between three fillings for each items; beed, chicken or beans. My friend opted to have the three tacos with three different fillings and I opted for the burrito.


Each taco got filled with purple slaw, tomato salsa, coriander, cheese and pineapple. The beef taco got the garlic aioli sauce, the chicken taco got the snake chili sauce and the beef taco got the tomato salsa sauce. My burrito was filled with lettuce, purple slaw, tomato salsa, coriander, cheese, red rice, and topped with tomato salsa sauce.

Now, if you’re going to pin point a couple of authenticity details let me be frank with you and inform you that the tortillas are not made of corn but of wheat. Still, I’d say it’s a pretty decent alternative. The tacos nor the burrito were heated prior to serving but this isn’t something that bothers me. I do realize however that some customers might want it that way though.


They do serve up vegan and vegetarian alternatives to the meaty tacos and burritos but unfortunately there isn’t something for seafood lovers. Perhaps it could be something to add to the menu later on.  

There are a couple of picnic benches under lofty summer umbrellas so we both decided to enjoy our lunch over there. The bean filled tacos wasn’t exactly something I’d prefer but I did like the garlic aioli sauce which added a nice flavour to it. The beef and chicken tacos however were super delicious. A change of sauces added a good punch to each bite. My burrito on the other hand was another hit and I greedily munched into it in a matter of minutes. Can’t really explain how good it tasted so I’d just recommend you go try it out yourself.

There aren’t any beverages or desserts on the menu but Black Cat is literally a door away so no qualms there to be honest.

TacoCat is located at No. 11 Wijerama Road and closed on Mondays.

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Communal Dining 


Ever heard of communal dining? As a fairly novel concept in Sri Lanka, communal dining involves a public or private establishment that encourages the concept of sharing a table with unknown faces and people.  

One might wonder why or how a concept like this would and could be encouraged. It’s simple really; a communal table proves not only to be an economical bonus solution to a dining space, but is also a way of encouraging conversations with people you’ve never met before, while enjoying a meal.  

Café Kumbuk down Horton Place was one of the first spaces to have a communal dining table. Their reasons also being utilizing the centre space is a more economical manner, and also a way of connecting people unknown to one another. Whilst some might not love or appreciate the idea, it has proven to be a successful and a fun way of striking up a conversation with a stranger.  


Overseas, the concept has proven to also pave the way and create a trendy platform for chefs to curate unique menus for particular dining events in public and private establishments. Some dining spaces have taken it a step further and have specific themes on certain days of the week, which encourage chefs to showcase their creativity and skills.

The same ideology is catching up however in some parts of Sri Lanka as well. Ceylon Sliders in Weligama hosts monthly yoga mornings and in turn the entire yoga participants sit down to a hearty breakfast at their restaurant, with all their dining tables lined up together, to create one large communal space, where conversation and food are shared.  

Communal dining is not for those who dislike sitting next to someone unknown. It is certainly not for those who are looking for some quiet or intimate dining time. Communal dining is for those who have a deeper appreciation for a meal and do not mind an unknown face next to one another, and who loves to strike up random conversations (even if its not about food!). Families stepping out for a dining experience together would also find this to be an ideal and likable setting.  

Black Cat Colombo is home to a repurposed door that now serves as a communal dining table, at the centre of their homey interior. Sustainable pieces as such as conversation starters which could also lead to new friendships and opportunities. It’s easy to criticize something that is unknown and unusual, but if you take the time to actually invest and be a part of it, you’d learn to appreciate the benefits of it.  

 

Jungle Shakti 


If you’re a yoga enthusiast and also a vegan, love to stroll on Instagram, you’d have definitely come across Nancy Chalmers aka Jungle Shakti. Her feed is not just colourful, but her posts are meaningful and generates a lot of positivity. Although her day job is as a graphic designer for Acalia Digital (she does branding, photography, and social media content creation) her “passion” is, of course, the healing arts – yoga, plant-based cuisine and transformational health retreats.  

After over a decade working in a 9-5 office job in the Melbourne city, Nancy spent some time at a Raw Vegan Healing Retreat in Bali which completely transformed her health and inspired her to study Holistic Nutrition. She then became a health coach, and a vegan, and published a series of cookbooks and launched her personal blog under the name Jungle Shakti. 

When she met her husband, a photographer and hospitality consultant from Kandy – Nancy admits she knew it was time to move to paradise. “As soon as we arrived in Sri Lanka, I knew I was ‘home, – and it has been magical and serendipitous ever since! I studied my 200 hr yoga teacher training and now run retreats at Rukgala, nestled in the hillside near Victoria Lake”. 

In conversation: 

Why Jungle Shakti? 

Shakti is the primordial cosmic energy that flows through the entire universe – sometimes referred to as ‘The Great Divine Mother’. I feel that it is present in the plant foods and medicines that we eat, in sunlight, in the fresh clean air, in waterfalls, in butterflies dancing past, in the light of the full moon – all around us! And we can tap into this energy whenever we connect with mother nature. My goal is to help people connect with this energy, transform their lives and their health.  
What made you decide to become a yoga instructor and also a vegan? 

Yoga and meditation really helps me tap into this ‘Shakti’ magic I mentioned above. For me, it is a form of daily devotion to the ‘source’. A way of thanking it for another precious day on the planet, in this miracle, in this physical form. It is incredibly powerful for transforming body, mind and spirit and – keeping you youthful and full of energy and creativity! It’s a way of creating and attracting deep magic into your life – not just touching your toes.  

My reasons for becoming a vegan are so many, but first of all it was for my health. Meat has been classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a stage 1 carcinogen; the same category as cigarettes. For many years I was unexplainably ill – I had the worst immune system, I couldn’t control my weight or my moods. Plants are medicine. As soon as I turned vegan I noticed major improvements, my skin was glowing, my eyes were bright, I never got sick anymore and I had an abundance of energy. Every year, it keeps getting better. I’m about to turn 37 and I have never felt better!  

Also, I am vegan for the animals and for the planet. As a Bhakti Yogi, I follow ‘Ahimsa’ which means, “do no harm”. Meat and dairy are extremely cruel industries that I cannot support with a clear conscience. I feel it is out of respect to Shakti, our mother earth, to protect these innocent animals.


What are the challenges you’ve experienced as an instructor? 

No real challenges actually – I have had an amazing time teaching so far and every class is different… perhaps only the challenge of taking it slow on my own body and not expecting progress too quickly or pushing myself beyond my limits. Need to remember I am 37 and not attempt handstands without warming up properly, for example! It is in my nature to fly and jump and be free, so I just need to learn to slow it down sometimes and stay grounded and patient. 
How do you build relationships with students? 

Each student is unique and has their own set of needs – I guess I have a nurturing/loving nature and I just want to see my students smiling blissfully during and after class. My favourite part is seeing the “A-Ha” moment and knowing I have played a small part in changing their lives! In the Bhakti tradition, yoga is a way of connecting to the divine and “feeling the love”. It is a very nurturing, accepting form of yoga and sees us all as brothers and sisters – one big family. So I guess I build a relationship with my students by making them feel like family! 
What is your greatest weakness and what are you doing to improve it? 

Ahh… As a business-woman too, I need to balance my time on social media and marketing with taking time out to connect with myself. It’s hard to find a balance between the real world and the virtual one in this day and age. In the morning, instead of reaching for my phone to check emails and messages, I need to meditate and sit quietly with the sunrise – that doesn’t happen enough! I am trying to set aside time for these daily rituals wherever possible – must practice what I preach! 
What made you decide to come to Sri Lanka? 

I grew up in a tropical part of Australia – far north Queensland. The climate and plants and animals and way of life is very similar to Sri Lanka. I moved to the big, cold city for university and to start my career but left a piece of my heart in the tropics. I had dreamed of island life for many years but had never managed to leave the city… and then I met my husband, what luck that he was Sri Lankan! Haha! A few months later we moved and have never looked back. Although, I do miss Australia and my family! 


You host retreats; what is a retreat all about and why do you do it? 

Retreats are really the best way to create lasting transformation and begin an energy shift that can carry with you back to your every day life. It’s great to get students away from their day-to-day experience to meet other like-minded spirits and really immerse themselves in the experience. On retreats we learn so much “off the mat” – meditation, beauty rituals, connecting with nature, creative visualisation, healthy cooking classes and have time to relax in the pool and get to know each other. Also, blissful sleep without thinking about work for a few days is so important! 
How important is meditation in yoga? 

Yoga IS meditation! Moving your body and focusing the ‘monkey mind’ is a form of meditation in itself. No matter how you access it, or how little you practice – even just a short guided meditation or those 10 minutes in Savasana at the end of practice – if you can just practice calming the mind once a day, you will see big changes in your world and in your body. 
You also create vegan dishes. How did you get into this and why?

As I mentioned above, it all started at the raw vegan healing retreat in Bali where I learned about this incredible way of cooking. So nutritious and full of enzymes and hydration to keep you youthful and radiant. Veganism really is the fountain of youth! I learnt to make ‘compassionate cuisine’ through several workshops in Bali and my holistic nutrition training. 
Whats your favourite dish to make? 

Raw vegan cakes! Vegan cheese! Smoothie bowls! Zoodles! Guacamole and anything with Mexican flavours! Oh, and nowadays… super hot Sri Lankan curries with gotu kola mallum! 
What is the most positive result of being a vegan? 

I am so much happier. Plants have a profound effect on your brain chemicals and prevents depression and anxiety. And I hardly ever get sick! Oh, and knowing that I am not contributing to the harm of sweet, innocent baby animals like chicks, lambs and calves means I can sleep peacefully at night with a clear conscience! 

Traveling on a budget in Sri Lanka


We’ve all been there, we’ve dreamed of picture perfect vacations around the hotspots of the island and being able to experience the beauty of Sri Lanka like a visitor. And then the dream ends as you look at your bank balance and realize, some holidays just aren’t worth it. Hold on! It doesn’t have to be that way. If you can travel on a budget overseas, you can definitely travel on a budget in your own country too. Travelers coming in from other parts of the world do it, and so can you. Here’s how: 

The budget – start with the nitty gritty details of planning a vacation. How much money are you willing to spend and how many days are you planning on traveling? Budgets can vary depending on each individual and unless you’re doing a solo trip, you’re going to have to discuss the ins and outs of budgeting with the friends or family that’s tagging along with you. Not everyone’s budgets or preferences will tally, but everyone will have to compromise somewhere. If you’re really struggling, be firm in your set budget and plan around it.Picking accommodation – one of the first and most important rules of budget traveling is that you need to be flexible and less fussy. It’s going to be a bumpy ride and you know it so have an open mind and be willing to rough it out if you have to. Remember, this isn’t about getting the perfect Instagram worthy photograph or staying at the most luxurious holiday home. Budget traveling is about making memories and having experiences without breaking the bank. So, when it comes to picking out your one or many accommodation stops, be opened minded. Pick out a hostel if you must because it costs a fraction of what you could be paying for a single room at a hotel. You’re set with the basic amenities and most often, also a community kitchen, dining are and if you’re lucky, an outdoor pool. Check out Airbnb for some great places that could work for you.

Mode of transportation – if you don’t have a car, take a look at public modes of transportation. Bus or train are both great ways of having a somewhat different experience altogether and depending on where you’re heading, the scenic view can be quite rewarding too. Take the train ride to Ella for example or even the bus ride to Weligama. Both completely different zones but provide breathtaking views of our beautiful island home. Be mindful of using Tuks in certain areas however and also at times, you might not find any at all. Avoid having to bargain rates as most out of town don’t have meters on them and use the bus to get around, or simply walk if it’s safe to do so.

Packing your essentials – if you’re in a backpacking kind of vacation, be mindful of what you need and what you end up packing. Fancy clothing and gadgets can take a hike. Pack only your essentials and a few extra items of clothing. Remember, you’re traveling on a budget. You may even have to do a bit of walking, so everything you pack should fit into a backpack if that’s what you’re using. Do not go overboard on what you end up taking. If you’re carrying cash on you, have it in a zip case around your waist. Have as much loose change which will come in handy.

Things to do – work around your budget even with some one, or splurge on the excursions if you want to. Some excursions and experiences could come at no cost, like taking a dip in a river or the ocean. Before heading on your vacation, make a list of what do to in the specific area and the cost. If you’re willing to splurge on water kayaking or a hot air balloon ride, go for it!

Where to eat – this could go two ways; if you’re staying at a hostel, you could buy your own groceries and prepare your own meals in the community kitchen. Or you could be the typical local and try out local food joints, or splurge on food during your vacation.
Budget accommodation around the island

Colombo – Bunkyard Hostels

Down south – Lime & Co Midigama, Hangover Hostels (Mirissa), Beetroot Hostels (Weligama)

On the east coast – Arugam Bay Beach Cabanas, Wild Panthera (Yala)

In the highlands – Ella Eco Lodge, Ella Green Cottages, Kandy Cabana, Polwaththa Eco Lodge (Digana)

On the west – Sri Lanka Kite (Kalpitiya), Sanctuary Cove Guesthouse (Batticaloa)

In the dry zone – The Green Village (Dambulla), Kutumbaya Resort (Anuradhapura)

In the north – The Thinnai, Allen’s Guesthouse