I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For… Bread?
Sweltering in humid temperatures that often top 30 degrees, visiting Sri Lanka is a sweaty affair. So, it is to the delight of most travellers when they hear the high-pitched, metallic jingling in the distance for the first time!
As they rifle through their pockets, looking for spare rupees and dreaming of cold, creamy relief, the musical machine rounds the corner and their faces move through states of excitement and confusion.
In most countries, the strains of music you hear wafting through the streets mean ice cream is approaching. In Sri Lanka, however, the drifting tunes of Beethoven’s Für Elise signify the coming of one thing: the choon paan man.
Translated literally as “tune bread,” they operate in much the same way as our ice cream trucks.
Both children and adults run to the streets to hail down the choon paan man. But instead of having freezers full of frozen treats, these specifically outfitted tuk-tuks hold glass displays of freshly baked goods.
From sleepy villages to the bustling streets of Colombo, you can find Sri Lanka’s bread tuk-tuks everywhere.
Just stop and listen.
In the morning, choon paan drivers will begin blaring their melodies over the megaphone as early as 5:30 am. Their variety of freshly roasted pastries has become an everyday wake-up routine for Sri Lanka’s workforce.
Lining up and wiping sleep out of their eyes, people order their breakfasts and lunch. Fish curry buns, spicy sambol buns, savory vadai donuts and godamba roti are in hot demand for a long day’s work.
For a country where bread is present in almost every meal, a mobile bakery which boasts every kind of doughy treat is a widespread convenience!
Yet many grumble about the incessant and unnecessary noise. Braying animals, honking horns and the clamour of everyday life can be cut through by the repetitive, triumphant, and some say obnoxious fanfare of the bread man.
Early in the evening, he makes his final round to the restaurants, delivering all the unsold, stale bread. This gets cut up, fried and used in Sri Lanka’s beloved national dish, kothu roti. One bite of well-prepared kothu and you’ll be praising the cacophony rather than cursing.
Although the mobile, amplified melodies of Für Elise might confuse foreign tourists, locals and long-term travellers know better. Morning, afternoon and evening, the streets of Sri Lanka are ruled by the humble—and noisey—journey of the choon paan man.