Food

A taste of Sri Lanka

Island flavours: Duminda Abeysiriwardena Photo : Thulasi Kakkat   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

I say puttu, Duminda Abeysiriwardena says pittu. I say appam he says appa. I persist with idiappam and he says idiappa. This is the Sri Lankan chef and me exchanging notes on the similarities between Malayali cuisine and the food in his country. Duminda is in town for a Sri Lankan food festival hosted by Le Meridien.

For someone who ‘stumbled’ on to cooking, Duminda is besotted by food especially the traditional foods of his country. It is the kind of cuisine that he is promoting in India. Vishakhapatanam, Goa, Mumbai and now Kochi, his last stop, before he heads back home to Galle.

On his first trip to Kochi, he hopes to tickle the city’s palate with Sri Lankan flavours. There is an easy familiarity about food from the island – the many ways coconut is used, many eats made of rice flour, red rice, chilli, cardamom and spices the way we use it and even jaggery in sweets…the list can go on.

“It is easy to work here. All I need I can find here, easily,” as strong, faintly familiar but foreign smells of roasting and/or fried spices and foods waft by at the restaurant, Latest Recipe. He has just finished filming a cookery show for a television channel. He claims to insist on Malayali support staff in the kitchens he worked in while in India, “because they understand what I want.”

Duminda runs his own company, hosts TV shows, travels extensively to propagate Sri Lanka’s ethnic foods across the world and is a restaurateur. Claypot in his hometown serves Indian food (mostly North Indian) but he now wants to focus more on Andhra and Malayali cuisine. “It is virgin territory. Our style is light, which people like. North Indian food is very heavy unlike ours.”

The pronoun used for emphasis, underlines the similarities. He attributes that to the cultural influences from India.

“Foods found in along the south Indian coast, from Andhra to Kerala and Goa, are similar to Sri Lankan food – 75 per cent; the rest has a strong Dutch and Portuguese influence.” There is an abundance of seafood in the cuisine in the island country. The recipes that he has brought with him are traditional Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim recipes.

He opposes ‘market-oriented’ cooking and is a votary of the traditional or ‘real cuisine’, as he prefers to call it – food and of how it is prepared. In order to stick to tradition, Duminda says, he researches on food and finds out more about it. “The West is taking all that is good about our way of life and has made it theirs. Look at a grain like ragi which we, Asian cultures, have always known about and now forgotten. What have we done with thousands of years-old tradition?”

Fast food, genetically modified food, monosodium glutamate…he rejects and advocates a return to roots. As a chef he takes his job seriously, he says. A healthy culture of food, according to him, can only start with the person preparing it.


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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 2:42:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Food/a-taste-of-sri-lanka/article6442239.ece

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