A delectable journey through pickles, hoppers and much more



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The Sri Lankan Food Festival which came alive last week at the Viharamahadevi Park among tantalizing aromas, urged the food lover to revisit our authentic cuisine both appetizing and healthy.


 


by Randima Attygalle


 


Aththamma’s Gym! It sounds riotous alright but come to think of the idea in an era where ‘gym-going’ transcends all ages, it is not so out of place either. Yet aththamma’s gym which was installed at the Viharamahadevi Park last Saturday did not claim any dumbbells, tread mill or any other equipment least associated with a gym. Instead it was bedecked with a miris gala, kulla, wangediya, kurakkan gala and many more signature items of a traditional Lankan kitchen. Whoever that redefined the wattle-made heart of the Lankan home as a ‘gym’ deserves applause. If anyone calls the interpretation ‘creative’ it’s an understatement. To visualize aththamma immersed in a ‘work out’ integrated into her daily cooking chores, no doubt calls for rich imagination!


 


Promoting organic food


Setting the underlining tone to the Sri Lankan Food Festival which unfolded last Friday (at the Viharamahadevi Park) initiated by the National Food Promotion Board of the Ministry of Agriculture, Aththamma’s gym set up at the entry point to the food carnival beckoned visitors to revisit the rich culinary legacy of ours, spiced up by distinct regional flavours coupled with flairs only aththammas could boast of.


The three-day food festival was trialed parallel to the Govi Sathiya (Week of Farmers) with the objective of promoting organic healthy food and beverages authentic to the island, some sampled by most city dwellers for the first time. "The festival is represented by Agricultural Divisions of all provinces and we hope to develop this into an annual effort with more participation at regional level. The whole idea of a food festival of this nature is to popularize age-old recipes which are healthy and also free of fertilizer and other harmful flavours," said an officer from the National Food Promotion Board.


 


Mouth-watering delicacies


An air of festivity replete with pungent aromas of traditional spices and a concoction of mouth-watering delicacies enticed the food lovers to sample some and pack more to take home. Traditional music complemented the mood fuelled by kurakkan kenda, biling beduma, polos achcharu and pol roti. For Nilmini Thoradeniya and her family from Rajagiriya, the festival was a one-of-a-kind experience, enabling to sample food confined to a festival times or time consuming to prepare. "Kids just love peni walalu," said smiling Nilmini who was cradling her younger child on her arm. She applauded the organizers for brining such an experience close to city folk, especially children to appreciate authentic Lankan food.


At a time when diseases triggered by fertilizers are rampant, efforts of this nature urges consumers to opt for organic food which was not the exception like today but the norm for our forefathers. The rice stalls representing areas such as Kantale, known for a bountiful of paddy harvest, were sought-after by many visitors. Organic rice varieties such as suwandel and pachchaperumal cultivated by Civil Defence Forces were reasonably priced and made available in easy-to-carry handy packing.


 


Cultural diversity


Rizwan Abdeen from Wellawatta was in a delicious delirium I could say, feasting on hoppers and polos beduma dished out by the ladies representing the Southern Province Department of Agriculture. "This is simply divine," he said smiling in between bites, adding that the polos beduma was a first timer for him. He had also purchased several varieties of chutneys, pickles and packets of organic rice. The food festival was also frequented by foreigners, with a considerable number of Chinese and Singaporeans who seemed to find helapa and aasmi an alluring experience.


The food festival spoke of more than food. It was also a motif of cultural diversity attracting visitors from all ethnic groups. The cuisines made even richer by ethnic diversity of the island seemed to tantalize all palates alike. Southern recipes juxtaposed with those of the North, Sabaragamuwa and the Central provinces offering delicacies second to none, make a true son or daughter of the soil pride in this little banqueting island.


Several expert cooks representing the provincial agricultural arms asserted that regional food outlets run by Agricultural Department are popular among many health-conscious consumers. "Very often we cannot meet the demand for kola kenda and other grain-based food," said one officer from Batticaloa. Several commercial organic food manufacturers also had their stalls attracting visitors to an assortment of pickles, chutneys, jams and fruit juice.


 


A delectable haven


Hoppers with polos beduma with a cup of steaming kurakkan kenda was the staple of the Southern Province food stall while the bilin beduma and gaslabu beduma of the Eastern Province could not afford to meet the demand of the visitors. Sabaragamuwa Province stole the show with thekola (tea leaves) beduma which no palate could resist. Marrying the two provinces, I sampled the hopper with the theokala beduma which transported me to a delectable haven.


By the time an experimental food lover reaches the very last food stall, he/she is light headed with the delightful aromas and a brew of fine aftertastes lingering of a banquet. The stroll back to aththamma’s gym would have certainly made any of us feel poor for grabbing a pizza or a burger on the way home when we could proudly claim a culinary legacy second to none in the world…..


 


(Pix by Krishan Kariyawasam)


 


 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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