Speciality chefs P.L. Mithrananda and Niranjan Priyadarshana talk about the intricacies of Sri Lankan cuisine

Despite the many similarities with South Indian food and multi-cultural influences, Sri Lankan cuisine is on an island of its own, say speciality chefs P.L. Mithrananda and Niranjan Priyadarshana of Taj Samudra, Colombo, who are in the city as ambassadors of their native cuisine.

Take, for instance, rice hoppers, what we in Kerala call appam, and what they, in Sinhala language, call appa. The Sri Lankan appa (which, incidentally, also comes plain or with an egg in the centre) is much more firm and crisp and almost never flops even after it has been resting for a while. Strange, especially considering the vessels used for cooking and the ingredients are the same… “That’s because, in every way, how we make the dish is different,” says Mithrananda, in halting English liberally laced with Tamil.

“Instead of pouring the batter into the middle of the pan and then twirling it around till it comes to the sides as you guys do over here, we pour the batter onto one side of the appa thachchi (pan) and twirl it from there. Also, instead of curries, we often eat appas with pol sambol, a dry and coarse coconut garnish,” adds the chef, as the duo sit down with MetroPlus to talk about their native cuisine.

Mithrananda and Niranjan are dishing out their speciality dishes at Vivanta By Taj, Vazhuthacaud, for its Sri Lankan food fete. The fete concludes on October 27.

Mithrananda, we learn, has been a chef for over 28 years now, and inherited the art of cooking from his mother, Senpnona. He’s been popularising Sri Lankan cuisine in various cities in India and has even taken it to the world famous Shangri-la hotel in Beijing. Niranjan, meanwhile, has been a chef for over 10 years now and specialises in oriental and continental food, apart from Sri Lankan cuisine. He trained under chef Mithrananda.

“There is also the kothu, which is quite similar in taste to the local kothu porotta. Instead of dicing porotta and then mixing with all the other diced ingredients, our kothu is actually a stack of tin pancakes, diced into a noodle like consistency,” says Mithrananda. Adds Niranjan: “Because we are an island nation, we love our seafood. Then come red meats – beef and lamb. There are not too many takers for chicken. There’s nothing mild about Sri Lankan food. But it’s not only about the heat, it’s about the right balance of spices.”

In that sense they say that Sri Lankan cuisine is more akin to an oriental cuisine than the South Indian one. “Perhaps it’s because we use ingredients such as creamy mustard. Sri Lankan cuisine is really very individualistic a cuisine, though over the centuries we’ve had many influences in our cuisine such as Indian, British, Portuguese, Indonesian...,” says Mrithrananda. He is referring to typical dishes such as pani pol pancake inspired by the British colonialists, Khalu Dhodol and Bibenca of Portuguese origin, Wattalappam, which is crème caramel that has jaggery as the sweetening agent, and so on, all of which the Sri Lankans have made their own.

The duo can’t stop gushing about India cuisine too. “Biriyani, kadai vegetables, channa masala, tandoori chicken, nan, chicken butter masala…” North Indian dishes…? “Well, these are some of the dishes that are very popular in Sri Lanka. We’re learning about Kerala cuisine now,” they say.

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