Culinary Ceylon offers a unique experience that explores the roots of Sri Lanka through delicious cuisine. Rather than neglecting the impact of foreign influences that have made an impact on Sri Lankan dishes, Culinary Ceylon has sought to embrace the diversity that has been brought to our plates.
To begin the experience, you must first find themselves strolling on a narrow road, twirling around in search of a well-concealed building. Then comes the routined confusion and panic, swiftly followed by a dubious thought that questions the functionality of Google Maps. Meanwhile, a helpful employee in a nearby building, who has become all too familiar with the scenario, taps on the glass and gestures across the road. Now, here’s where you would take a slightly disgruntled pause and wonder if this man can truly read your mind.
A small black board with writing in white chalk is bound to catch your eye. A long curious gaze would finally recall a forgotten detail that was comprised in the address of Culinary Ceylon. The sudden realization heaves a breath of relief as your steps trudge on to the small front of a make-believe kiosk that’s so deviously named “Petti Kade”.
The amused staff offers you a welcome greeting through the traditional ”Ayubowan”; which is later revealed to translate as “Bless you with a long life”. Once within the destination, the small front expands into a spacious area furnished with numerous seats, tables and cutlery. From the various decors to the admirable service and impeccable dishes, Culinary Ceylon weaves a beautiful story that conveys the twists and turns of the proud history of Ceylon.
Soon after Glen, the curator, offers his pleasantries, towels dipped in cinnamon infused warm water would be distributed to cleanse your hands of any lingering bacteria. With the fresh scent of cinnamon on your fingertips and a sip of the mouth-watering tamarind cocktail, your journey begins.
“Crab rasam” initiates the 7 course meal with a bang to your taste buds. The spiced rasam tops shreds of crab that eagerly cower beneath the liquid to be devoured last. Now you would think that this rasam, like any other, would be spicy. That’s where you’re wrong. It is extremely spicy. And here’s why. The rasam had been swirled in lots of pepper and this is intended to add depth to the flavour of the following dishes by elevating the sensitivity of your taste buds. Pretty genius, right?
Next up - “Isso wade, hot buttered cuttlefish, ulundu wade and cold-grilled sweet potato topped with eggplant salad”. Isso wade is a must-have food item that’s offered by a string of local street vendors at the Galle Face beach. And to pair with it, sweet potato that Sri Lankans are known to absolutely love and Ulundu wade, a delicacy that nocturnally appears on every street corner, especially on Friday nights. Finally, strips of hot butter cuttlefish, Sri Lanka’s most popular bar food, wraps up this course.
“Black pork curry stuffed pol roti with lunu miris and seeni sambol” then greets your elated senses. The concept behind pol roti derives from when bread was first introduced to Ceylon soon after the invasion of Portugese. Initially, deceived by the charred and hard nature of bread, Ceylon’s residents had claimed the Portugese half mad for delightfully ingesting stone. Oh, how far we have come since.
“Chicken Lamprais” is a common dish that serves as a meal in the current day and age. It was, in fact, introduced to Ceylon by the Dutch and believe it or not, was intended to be consumed in an entirely different manner. Baked and served in a promising banana leaf, lamprais comprises of small components that when mashed together, forms a divine combination. And that my friends, is the understatement of the century.
“String hopper kottu with roasted chicken wings and chilli parotta with tangy tamarind sauce” has a more unexpected origin. The story goes that once upon a time, a shop found their sales dropping unexpectedly. Whilst gazing at the stacks of parotta on the stove and the dishes brimming with curry and veggies, the chef had a brilliant idea. Why not make a concoction? And thus, kottu was born. String hopper kottu, similarly, comprises of steamed threaded-dough chopped up with various spices and herbs to deliver a most tasteful dish. That, fellas, is innovation at it’s finest.
As for the roasted chicken, it won’t be shocking to find fried chicken instead, as is the expected result of ordering at a local saiver shop,
“Crispy thosai with tomato chutney and coriander chutney” emphasises the influence of Indian culture and lifestyle on local cuisine. It’s simple, delicious and you get second servings!
“Helapa and buffalo curd with treacle” is paired with the most fascinating story of a Sri Lankan favorite - “Andare”. The story goes that long, long ago, when the king had held a massive feast that all were thrilled to indulge in. Having reached the desserts, Andare found himself too stuffed to enjoy anything any further. Once the king had requested Andare to try the halepa, Andare adamantly refused. However, later on, having set his eyes on buffalo curd for a first time, Andare’s curiosity led him to serve himself a minimal amount - only to finish a whole pot!
The king watched Andare in confusion and finally questioned his ability to eat an entire pot of curd despite his previous claims. To which Andare retorts, “When the curd enters my belly, the rest make space”. Of course, the king ridiculed Andare’s wit in disbelief. So, Andare demonstrated. Having requested a maximum amount of people to fit into a room, Andare asked that the king enter. As the loyal subjects parted in fear of touching the king, Andare, the trickster, turned to the king with a wide smile and a convenient similarity to back up his claim.
Quite charming how a story can illuminate a simple dessert.
Finally, to wrap up this most enlightening and simultaneously, stuffy experience, ginger tea with jaggery is served. And to enjoy your euphoric sips? Expect the unexpected, because our curator Glen turns out to be the most magnificent singer! An ordeal of utter bliss as your ears gently hum to the sound of “Surangani” being sung in both sinhala and tamil.
Conclusion - if with amazing food comes the most intriguing lessons of history plus a bonus song, put a ring on it. Well, in this case, experience the best 2 hours of your life and depart with an overly satisfied appetite.