Colours of My Sri Lankan Food


Getting ready to have breakfast in the garden couple of days ago, I was stuck by the colours of my tray.  The ripe papaya, on a favourite stoneware plate picked up many moons ago in a sale in UK, the classic Sansoni linen — Wow! So out came the camera  propelled by one side of my brain while the other joined my tummy and the papaya and was calling out  like Alice in Wonderland’s food “Eat me, eat me!”

Breakfast of ripe papaya on Barbra Sansoni linen. Photo Chulie de Silva

Breakfast of ripe papaya on Barbra Sansoni linen. Photo Chulie de Silva

For years before I cooked, I thought of the colours, the blending of flavours, seeing in my minds eye how the food would look on the table or on a plate. However, I hadn’t really focused on keeping a visual record although there are thousands of scribbled recipes and even more recipe cuttings and recipe books.  Usually, by the time the food is cooked am so hungry so its easy to say, Oh! I’ll photograph next time. But from now I’ll photograph to remember these everyday colour spreads.They also have another phrase for these things we do now call “productive ageing:-)” But that’s another story.

Chicken rice is a Malaysian specialty and is not Sri Lankan but since I prepared it today and it is a “Made in Sri Lanka” dish, I’ve included it here. The secret they say in making it is never letting the water come to boil, so the Chicken stays plump and juicy. The red chillie ginger sauce, the cucumbers doused in soya sauce, and the side dish of soup are musts. Although the original chicken rice recipe calls for cooking the rice in chicken fat, now I opt for plain rice. It is still yummy. The pair of laughing Buddha’s  as well as the old lace table cloth were collected when I used to forage in the Chinese shops in Kualu Lumpur after dropping the sons to school.

Chicken rice lunch today with cucumber, ginger & Chillie sauce on my favourite Pierre Carding design plates. Photo Chulie de Silva.

Chicken rice lunch today with cucumber, ginger & Chillie sauce on my favourite Pierre Carding design plates. Photo Chulie de Silva.

For a Southern born Sri Lankan the aroma of a freshly cooked fish curry is unforgettable. The fish then was bought straight from the sail driven catamarans as they landed on the beach at Hikkaduwa. Best cooked in a clay earthen chatti/pot it is/was a perennial favourite. You  not only ate it with rice but with all the other Sri Lankan favourites like Milk rice, stringhoppers, pittu and hoppers. This curry for me is best with red country rice, and the potato curry in coconut milk  balances the hot chillie gravy. The odd one here is the stir fried Kankun. The latter is again a modified Malaysian recipe, where I use Maldive fish pounded with garlic and red chillies in place of the sambal blachan. Tumeric is used extensively in Sri Lankan cookery, like in the potato curry and its beneficial health properties are well known in Lanka as well as in the whole of South Asia. I read recently read a western article waxing lyrically about tumeric and advising readers to sprinkle it on everything — even boiled eggs. Sri Lanka also has many varieties of bananas — yellow, red, green, and they come in all sizes. These again are my favourites. The table cloth is a Sri Lankan handloom one which was a gift from my sister good three decades ago!

Sri Lankan home cooked lunch of red country rice, potato curry with coconut milk, stir fried Kankun with chillie & garlic & seer fish red curry. Puwalu/Kolikottu banana for desert

Sri Lankan home cooked lunch of red country rice, potato curry with coconut milk, stir fried Kankun with chillie & garlic & seer fish red curry. Puwalu/Kolikottu banana for desert. Photo Chulie de Silva.

The last photo was my lunch while on a field trip to Vavuniya. We had stopped at a wayside cafe for lunch, where we could select dishes from their cooked food stall. The food was served on a lotus leaf, the plate was  a woven reed basket. About to dig into my food I was again taken back by the colours of the plate of food — so out came the camera, much to the amusement of my working colleagues.

Clockwise from bottom Lentils curry, aubergines pickle, pappdams, stirfried potatao with chillies called devilled potatoes or "ala theldala" and green beans with hot spicy prawns on a bed of red rice. Photo Chulie de Silva.

Clockwise from bottom Lentils curry, aubergines pickle, pappdams, stirfried potatao with chillies called devilled potatoes or “ala theldala” and green beans with hot spicy prawns in the centre on a bed of red rice. Photo Chulie de Silva.

With the Sinhala and Tamil new year around the corner, traditional sweetmeats will be out in fore soon. The timing of the  New Year coincides with the new year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. The festival has close semblance to the  Thai New year, Bengali New Year, and Oriya New Year festival in India.

Will write more on the new year here but for now see: Kavum Cookie Monsters and all good things at Avurudhu; From a Bangla Shuvo Noboborsho to a Sinhala Shuba Navavarsha

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