Coming from the golden beaches of Sri Lanka, chef Indika Deneththi talks about the robust flavours and aromas of the food served in this island nation.
Sri Lanka is known as the Teardrop of India or the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, but a more accurate description of the island nation would perhaps be the ‘Island of Rice and Curry’.Taking the culinary route to getting to know a country always makes the journey interesting. We caught up with chef Indika Deneththi from Marriott Bay Resort and Spa, who is currently in Pune to curate the Sri Lankan Food Festival at J W Marriott, to know more about the island country’s food and culture.
“Ruled by different countries, Sri Lankan cuisine has diverse influences. So the food can be as spicy as Thai cuisine or as mild as Mediterranean fare. But what is constant in our cuisine is the liberal use of coconut, seafood and an arsenal of spices because of which Sri Lankan cooking delivers incredible dishes,” says Deneththi.
Seafood plays an important role in the cuisine. Fish Ambul Thiyal, which is a sour fish curry, is one of the popular varieties of the many different fish curries available. “The fish is cooked in a blend of spices like black pepper, turmeric, garlic, curry leaves, cinnamon and goraka (a fruit which gives a sour flavour to a dish),” he says.
What is a cuisine without street food? Sri Lankan cuisine has a gem when it comes to street food in the form of Kottu. Kottu is the equivalent of India’s Vada Pav or everybody’s go-to fast food. Made with a type of roti, which is fried and cut into small pieces, it is mixed with spices and cooked to perfection.
Talking about the variety of curries, Deneththi says that there are many variations of the same dish depending on the region and taste preferences. While whole spices like fennel seeds, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon are used extensively in the northern part of Sri Lanka, the southern part prefers spices like chili powder, curry powder and turmeric. “Coconut finds its way in almost every dish in Sri Lanka,” says Deneththi adding that coconut milk contributes to the rich base of the curries. But a string that holds the entire nation together is rice and Sri Lanka has a variety of rice.
Another popular dish is the Hoppers. “Hoppers is the Sri Lankan version of the world famous pancakes,” says the chef adding that the batter is made from a slightly fermented concoction of rice flour, coconut milk and a hint of sugar or jaggery. “The batter is fried in a small wok which is then swirled around to even it out,” he explains adding that Hoppers can be sweet or savoury.
The best way to enjoy Hoppers is to have it with a nice spicy, coarse chutney called the Lunu Miris. “The punch of the flavours definitely adds to the humble Hoppers,” says Deneththi.
Apart from the protein that Sri Lankans get from consuming chicken and seafood, they also get a kick of other vitamins and minerals from their green vegetable dishes. “The vegetable that is readily available in every household is Gotu Kola Sambal which is a medicinal herb good for the brain, blood, eyes and hair,” says the chef. Gotu Kola is more commonly know as Brahmi in the Indian sub-continent. In Sri Lanka, it is combined with fresh grated coconut and chili which is seasoned with a dressing of salt, pepper and lemon juice, and is typically served with curry and rice.
Besides all the curries and rice, the country also has its signature desserts, owing to the Dutch and Portuguese influences, along with the Brits and Malays. “Watallapan is one of the loved desserts,” says Deneththi. The Watallapan is similar to a flan, but is made from coconut and coconut palm jaggery.
The chef shares some signature recipes with us:
Rice flour... 1 kg
Coconut milk... 100 ml
Coconut water as required
Salt.. .10 gm
Sugar. ..20 gm
Baking soda. ..5 gm
In a bowl, properly mix the rice flour and coconut water to form a dough and leave it overnight.
Next day, add the coconut milk, salt, sugar, water and baking soda to the dough and leave it to rest for an hour.
Heat the pan over medium heat and grease it properly with some oil.
Add a ladle full of batter in the pan and immediately tilt the pan and move it in a circular motion so that the batter covers the sides and the base of the pan. A thin, lacy layer should stick to the side with a thicker layer in the centre.
Crack an egg directly over the centre of the Hopper and add the seasonings.
Cover the pan with a lid and let the Hopper cook.
Serve hot with Lunu Miris or Coconut Sambal.
Chilli flakes... 2 tbsp
Lemon juice... 1 tbsp
Green chillies.. .2
Salt. ..5 gm
Add chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, chilli flakes, green chillies, lemon juice and salt. Grind until mixed well.
Check and adjust the seasoning.
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The Sri Lankan Food Festival is being held at Spice Kitchen, J W Marriott Pune, Senapati Bapat Road, till March 26, 7.30 pm onwards