Similar to the rest of the world, the holidays appeared out of nowhere. Last year we spent Christmas in New Zealand in the park picnic style and this year we ate with hands with a Christian Sri Lankan family.
Benji our CS host’s family was great, unique and all so different, four older siblings, papa and amme. Amme, the mother was the ruler of them all, a strict mother who instructed us a specific way to eat with our hands. She cooked the best foods we have tried yet, banana flower curry, dal, fried eggplant salad with chilies, coconut sambol, coconut rice cake, hoppers, and different curries, plus all other goodies.
They live near Kandy, up in the hills with a nice view of the surrounding greens. They grow all their veggies and fruits around the house, two huge coconut trees, limes, lemons, chilies, curry leaves, ginger, bananas, papaya and all other unknown things that add to the Sri Lankan flavor. All veggies are organic from the garden and prepared the traditional way. Coconut sambol gets it’s coconut flakes made home from a special “manual coconut drill” then minced on the outside rock with chilies and lime.
Coconut sambol is not a coconut sambol if it’s not spicy; it goes perfect with hoppers for breakfast. Hoppers, bowl shape pancake skillfully fried using coconut oil over high flame usually served with egg or banana. There are also string hoppers that are popular among locals, similar to hoppers they use rice flour but are steamed into strings. String hoppers go perfect as curry dips. Rice is Sri Lankan’s staple cuisine; it is served in multiple ways– plain, spiced, in meat juice, with curd (buffalo-milk yogurt) or tamarind, or with milk. Rice flour often forms basis for hoppers and dosas – the paper think pancake that are often served stuffed with spiced vegetables. Fish & Seafood is big; in many places is cheaper then chicken. After the 2004 tsunami many people naturally stayed away from seafood but it’s gaining its popularity back. Excellent fish and prawns are widely spread and in many costal towns it’s easy to find crab and lobster. Sri Lankan cuisine is one of our favorites. It’s rank in the top best cuisines from our world travels; it’s up with Mexican, Argentinean, Chinese, and Thai. Sad to say but it beat Indian style cooking is healthier and lighter.
— We came to the right place for Christmas— we both agreed. On Christmas Eve amme used our manpower and put us to work. We first pitted then sliced 1kg of dates for date cakes. We sliced precisely eggplant for eggplant salad, we smashed garlic and ginger on a piece of rock out side, and Iza mashed 10 potatoes with a broken fork. We were moving in and out of the kitchen, it felt like back home before Christmas, the smell of coconut filled the house, sweet date cake baking, the fire outside was simmering fish curry in a clay pot and the music was turned on. Amme was very careful to use all the ingredients economically, there were no leftovers nothing went into trash. Iza and I had to hide to lick the bowl from date cake’s batter. I got amme’s attention and Iza licked the spoon and vs. we worked as a team. Her eyes recorded each action and we tried our best to do things her way. There is defiantly a special way to cut the onion, and she sure showed us how. We are pros now!
Sharing is caring, and they did just that. We cooked enough food for the entire neighborhood. Chicken curry, beef curry, rice, eggplant, dal, Sri Lankan cutlets and other things were shared with the neighbors and after we sat at the table and started to eat with our hands. Spoons were only there for serving; Sri Lankans say that it’s only by eating with fingers that you can fully enjoy the texture of food. First you smell, touch and then taste. Once everybody was served then we used our right hand’s fingers to gradually separate rice and a bit of curries to make a small bite at a time. It was nothing like a traditional Polish table, this year we ate curry, rice and more curry. The food was great, it tasted so good it was impossible not to go for second dips and third dips and some even had more dips, I though I was going to pop but I kept eating. I guess we all have the same problem around the holidays, over stuffing and stretching the belly. Date cake was a hit; I should probably mention this now, Iza and I, LOVE LOVE dates, and we go crazy when we see them. We can easily eat 1 Kg of dates in one bite. Test us!
With full bellies we sat around a small table with all of Benji’s cousins and other couchsurfers had few drinks to add to the belly stretching process. Drinking like in Poland, but in Sri Lanka we drank rum instead of vodka. One thing was missing from that nigh to add to the full on Christmas Sri Lankan style was the Toddy.
Yes, yes we were there, but in Sri Lanka there is a drink slightly different then the Hot Toddy. It’s made from the sap of palm tree; it has bitter (or sharp) taste a bit like cider. There are three types of toddy; toddy made from coconut palms, toddy from kitul palms and toddy from palmyras. Toddy dens are on village outskirts, where men can drink without disturbing others. Fermented and refined toddy becomes arrack. It’s produced in a variety of qualities – some are real firewater. Perhaps, good thing we missed the toddy that night as the next day we barely made it to church.
At 9:00 am we hopped into a tuk-tuk and went to pray, the mass was held in three languages, Tamil, Sinhalese and English. I have no idea what the priest was saying; we were still sleeping with eyes opened. Most important at the end of the mass we felt blessed.