As one of our closest neighbours, it’s a quick get away that offers lots of everything – the green hills, the deep forests, the blue seas, the golden beaches, and the ancient culture and arts. Of course, being an island, it is virtually like a very large sea-food basket, a fact that works very well with me!
But there’s no getting away from the strange fact that every Sri Lanka holiday plan I have made has gotten postponed or dropped! I have had to make do with stories of charming heritage hotels cut out of sheer rock faces, pristine beaches of Bentota lying invitingly, brilliant green hills of Kandy with a profusion of flora and fauna… Every time, each of these stories has been accompanied by a precious little gift from the Emerald Island – a beautiful, Porcelain Elephant, which secretly stores fragrant tea leaves in its belly, a vibrantly coloured Batik silk scarf that adds a touch of panache to most outfits, a hand-painted wooden mask of Garuda that adorns my ‘Wall of Masks’, an intricately carved ivory letter-opener, or a packet of really large and intensely aromatic Cinnamon sticks!
But last weekend I got up, close and personal to this destination that has so far eluded me and did the next best thing to actually visiting it – I made myself at home at the Sri Lanka Food Festival that is currently on at Frangipani at Trident Oberoi. And not just that, I met up with one of the most renowned culinary figures of the world, the legendary Dr. Publis De Silva, who has spent more than half a century preserving, perfecting and promoting authentic Sri Lankan food and bringing it to the world.
Chef Publis’ gentle manner and twinkling eyes are a direct contrast to the complex flavours, contrasting textures and fiery fares that he cooks up as part of his feast. From the surprising flavours of the simple Cabbage Mellum to the rich and spicy Fish Baduma, the startling presentation of the Egg Appa to the gamey aromas of the Beef Meatball Curry, every dish smacked of a country that loves its homegrown spices like Coriander, Cumin, Turmeric, Cinnamon, Cloves and Caradamom, its omnipresent Coconut palms and its bountiful sea with its banquet of fresh seafood.
But this was much more than just a food showcase…
A smattering of instructions on the messiest way to eat an Egg Appam… a dash of trivia on the various traditional and colonial influences that Sri Lankan cuisine embodies… and a sprinkling of fun facts like the making of the largest milk-rice in the world, spearheaded by Chef publis… Sous Chef Vibhushan, Dilshan Kudahetty from Sri Lankan Airways, Deputy Consul General Senarath Dissanayake plied us with foodie tidbits like this and the evening was already on a high, even before the first delicious Arrack-Whiskey Cocktail hit our table!
Having tasted 22 dishes, including soups, starters, salads, curries, breads and desserts, this is undoubtedly the closest that I have come to Sri Lanka. Now all that’s left is to learn how to drape a Saree in the traditional Sri Lankan way – quite a daunting task, as Madam Consul General, Upekkha Samaratunga, tells me! And the next is of course to actually visit the country and to finally complete the kaleidoscopic picture I have in my mind with my own experiences and adventures!
Soon, Sri lanka, very soon 🙂