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Isso Vade : The spicy snack that unities Sri Lanka



As the train pulled into Peradeniya Junction station in central Sri Lanka, the man sitting opposite me leapt out of his seat and leaned out of the window, placing his thumb and forefinger in his mouth and whistling loudly. A vade seller soon appeared outside, removed a basket from the top of his head and handed it to the passenger. The man quickly pulled out a fragrant fritter along with a small bag of fiery sambol, leaving money behind, and then passed the basket to other hungry passengers, who did the same before returning the basket back to the seller through the window.

As the train chugged away, everyone settled back in to their seats and contentedly crunched on what I’d later learn were isso vade: lentil patties topped with fresh prawns and deep-fried to create one of the most delicious street foods you could ever find on an island.

Isso (prawn) vade (pattie) are beloved throughout Sri Lanka, and their popularity can perhaps be attributed to their deeply familiar and simple ingredients: lentils and prawns, along with onions and curry leaves. Topped with a spicy sambol – made of chopped onions, tomatoes, green chillies and lime juice – plus chilli sauce for extra punch, each fritter has the perfect balance of crispy texture, zesty aroma and spicy flavour. And at Rs 50 to 70 each, they are an inexpensive, tasty treat for the masses.

The most famous isso vade are sold from carts along Galle Face, a seafront promenade in Colombo. Each evening, when the gentle breeze, which has travelled for miles over the Indian Ocean, finally encounters land and cools the city, thousands gather here to spend time with family and friends. They walk up and down the promenade, sizing up each isso vade seller to decide which one has the best offering – usually the one with the largest crowd.

Rashintha Rodrigo, co-owner of UK’s Sri Lankan street food restaurant chain The Coconut Tree, reminisces about eating isso vade on Galle Face. “I’d go to the kite festivals on Galle Face with friends, and we always ate isso vade together. No matter how much you ate them, they never lost their novelty. I think that’s because no one makes isso vade at home. They are in every sense, a street food; you only buy them outside.”

Although isso vade is now sold at every beach, seafront, train station or public space where people might gather, the much-loved street food has humble beginnings that tell a larger story about Sri Lanka’s history and culinary culture.

According to Chef Publis Silva of Mount Lavinia Hotel, lentil vade (sans prawns) were introduced to Sri Lanka from southern India. This, he says, likely happened during the time Sri Lanka was under British rule, between 1796 and 1948, and South Indian labourers were brought over to work on tea plantations. These workers settled in the mountainous Central Highlands and established small settlements that would later be identified as the Hill Country Tamil community.

Sri Lankan food blogger Anoma Wijetunga agrees. Vade, she explained, is traditionally made of ground masoor dal (red lentils), which doesn’t grow in Sri Lanka but in India; therefore, this is a food which most certainly crossed the ocean to arrive in Sri Lanka.

“Workers who arrived from South India only ever used dal when making vade,” Wijetunga said. “They never use prawns. And that is how this community still makes them. As for how they spread to the rest of the island, I think it might have been when the men folk began selling them on the trains. Of course, that too is something that came over from India and still happens there to this day.”

Jesmin Arumugam, who grew up in the Hill Country and is central team manager at The Tea Leaf Trust, an educational organisation for young people in Sri Lankan tea estates, remembers her mother making vade at home during every Hindu festival over the years. “The times that she made isso vade, we’d always eat it with a green chilli chutney and a cup of very sweet milk tea,” she reminisced fondly.

According to Silva, however, what makes isso vade unique to Sri Lanka is the addition of green chillies and curry leaves (karapincha) into the ground lentil mix. Although karapincha grows in India, Sri Lankan cookery incorporates the leaves into almost every savoury dish, creating a distinctive, zesty aroma. The addition of freshwater prawns to the vade also made sense. Although they are less common than sea water prawns, they are thicker and withstand deep frying much better. A prawn topping also made the vade more visually appealing than a plain lentil patty. The use of chillies, said Silva, is mostly for colour.

“Sri Lankans have always adapted every foreign food that was ever introduced to the island. We like to stamp our own identity on them,” he said. “And we are a nation that eats with our hands, so the gritty texture of isso vade [from the lentils] is very pleasing to Sri Lankans. We also have a culture of sitting outside for early evening chats with friends and neighbours, and vade gave us something to chew on as we did so.”

However, Sri Lanka is in the midst of an economic crisis. With food prices soaring and sellers unable to pass on the costs to customers who will not pay more than a few rupees for street food, many isso vade sellers have seen their profits decrease. While most will turn to alternative means of income, some vow to remain.

Mani, a vade seller on Galle Face, has watched the transformation of Colombo from small city to restless capital from behind his street food cart since 1965. “I was just 13 years old when I started making isso vade at home and selling them to support my family. Now, once expenses are considered, we make only a small profit each month. But I would never consider another trade because if I’m not on Galle Face, my customers will not eat anywhere else. This is something to be proud of,” he told me.

I myself have beloved memories of biting through the crispy exterior, the soft, gritty centre tasting of well-seasoned lentils with the delectable flavour of chopped onions, curry leaves and savoury prawns fried in their shells. It’s incredible to think that vade, in its original form, crossed an ocean with an immigrant community to arrive on this tiny island far from home. No one could have known that this spicy snack would go on to unite Sri Lankans across ethnicities, religion and class as they sit with friends to watch the sun go down.

If this tasty snack can’t survive the enomic crisis, it is not merely a street food and livelihoods that are threatened, but two centuries of history will be lost alongside it.


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Breaking barriers and shaping successes



With women entrepreneurs-a delegation to Turkiye

Inspirational stories of Shirley Jayawardana

By Zanita Careem

Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world, a statement made by Hilary Clinton that packs quite a punch. It’s obvious that women face many challenges when it comes to establishing them or growing their own business. Shirley Jayawardana has broken the glass ceiling like many others and established herself as a successful business woman.

A die-hard entrepreneur at heart, shirley helps people define what true entrepreneurship is and what it takes to be a leader, and helps people to dispel the myth of business.Shirley Jayawardana is the first women President of Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industries, Sri Lanka which is the Apex body of the chamber movement in Sri Lanka established in 1973. ( 2020/2022.)

Also presently the chairperson of Ceylon Chamber of women entrepreneurs, she is also a long-standing and well-known member in chamber activities. She is the immediate past president of Central Province Women’s Chamber of Small Industry and Commerce and also has served as senior VP of Central province Chamber of Commerce and Industry for several years.

She is wellknown in the SAARC region serving as Vice president (VP) of South Asia women’s development forum (Sri Lanka chapter) in Nepal and Executive committee member of SAARC chamber of Commerce and Industry in Pakistan. She has also been appointed as the Vice Chairman at Sri Lanka chapter of SAARC Council of Women Entrepreneurs ( SCWEC) affiliated to SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Pakistan.

She started her career as a business woman by establishing Media Vision (Pvt) Ltd that was published Kandy Today she functions as chairperson of Wisewell Lanka private Ltd – global trading companies based in USA .

An active social worker, she has many accolades and awards to her credit. The list is too long to mention.

She is the recipient of international award “Professional Women top 50 Global award” and “Priyadarshini Lifetime achievement award”. Also,she has many outstanding achievement awards from Lion’s district 306C1

She has widely travelled and has addressed many international business forums on behalf of FCCISL .and other portfolios, She is also a member of the Institute of Management of Great Britain.

Q Tell us about your background, lifestyle and family life?

A I was a miss Cabraal, eldest in the family of six children. My late father Cyril Cabraal was an Agricultural Instructor.

I studied at the Matara Convent, and did drama, acting and singing in school.I married Dr. Ananda Jayawardana at the age of 24 and a mother and a housewife for twenty four (24) years. My husband Dr. Ananda Jayawardana was a retired Executive Director of Link Natural Products and Ceylon Tobacco Company. I have three grown up children

Q How would you define true entrepreneurship?

A First,to do the stuff I want to do but you have to deliver value and do it constantly and secondly you should have clarity of thought . A true entrepreneur can explain what they do in any language that the stakeholder needs to understand it. Always one should have clarity and purpose.

Q What motivated you to take up entrepreneurship?

A I never thought I will become a business woman. In school, I had multi-faceted talent, everyone thought I might take up acting or singing but my parents were opposed to this move. I started working after 25 years of marriage, when my husband joined the Lion’s Club of Senkadagala Kandy, At the Lion’ Club I gave wholehearted support to my husband, by taking up many responsibilities and challenging projects, which helped me to built up my confidence to give up my role as a simple housewife. I started

“Kandy Newspaper” and took up the post of the Managing director/and Managing editor, this was stepping stone for her career and turned her into an entrepreneur. I was joined by late Lion Professor Samarasinghe who volunteered to be the Chief Editor. .

What are problems faced by women entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka?

A Bureaucracy in Sri Lanka is a major obstacle for entrepreneurs to move forward. But if you have courage and determinatio,then nothing can stop you from becoming successful. There were other factors too, like country’s financial constraints, lack of modern technology, labour issues were some of the major impediments. I needed people with high enthusiasm and innovation. Sometimes at the initial stage people are not aware of the intricacies of business and attribution rate remains high.

Luncheon meeting with US envoy

Q Women’s entrepreneurship contributes to economic growth and social empowerment. How does the Chamber support and promote women entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka?

A Ceylon Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs, work as a service provider for all women entrepreneurs. CCWE is always willin to help to initiate projects in different provinces, through regional chambers, who are members. Lobbying with the Government and other institutions to strengthen the regional women’s Chambers and build up the capacity of women entrepreneurs are some of my goals.

We create new projects and businesses to promote Sri Lankan products abroad, one such project is in Turkiye Already the Honorary Consul in Istanbul is helping Sri Lanka to promote Sri Lankan products in Turkiye. All arrangements are made to help local women, in Turkye to open a special branch to sell thier products.

Q Going back to your early life experiences, what factors influenced your decision to be a female entrepreneur?

A The desire I had within me is to be a woman of substance. The support I received from my family, specially my eldest son, who helped me to set up an international trading company Wisewel Lanka (Pvt) Ltd., and as the Chairperson of the company, I had the opportunity to spread my business tentacles far and wide.The support I received from the family was a great encouragement to move forward in my business ventures later on in my career. Building an agile team was the biggest and the best strategy which helped me to be successful.

Q What drives/ motivates you? What is your opinion?

A Success for me is to enjoy every moment of life and look forward to a new tomorrow. I love to take up challenges. any leadership role will have as it needs you to be always inspiring and motivating,Taking responsibility of the “Kandy News” newspaper was a huge challenge. Being the first woman president of FCCISI was aso a benchmark for my career

Q Your achievements and accolades?

A To be a women, from the status of a house wife, to go beyond breaking the glass ceiling was a major achievement . I was the first women president of FCCISL, founder MD/Editor of the first regional newspaper for Sri Lanka, president of central province Women’s Chamber, senior member for several years in the Central province main chamber, chairpersons of Wisewel Lanka private limited, an international trading company, Vice President for Sri Lanka South Asia Women’s Development forum, Executive member of SAARC chambers, Vice President of SAARC women entrepreneur council, Member of the international visitor program organized by the US Embassy and many others.

As the first woman President of Lion’s Club Senkadagala in year 2009

Q How proud are you with your achievements?

A I am very proud by the fact that I can influence and support other entrepreneurs who needs support and encouragement. Women -owned business are increasing in the economies of all countries. Sri Lanka is no exception, they too have emerged into successful business ventures and sending out messages that cannot be dismissed . However I try to empower more women entrepreneurs to empower them by providing financial and other support by providing the challenges they face. These are my proud moments.

Q The Ceylon Chamber of women entrepreneurs and their goals?

A Ceylon Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs is a national level women’s chamber with members representing different provinces. There are also individual business women and professionals to whom we give new membership

This was concept created by me and Ayanthi Gurusinghe, founder director of Cord 360 e-commerce platform. My main goal is to promote women entrepreneurs for cross boarder trading and support regional women’s chambers to build their leadership capacity.

Q Any support from the government to support women entrepreneurs?

A Yes, we do get much support from government to develop women entrepreneurs. Product technology, financial support, skill development, creating a better bureaucratic environment for women to start thier own business and increase thier participation. I also like to attribute my success to my husband and family who have been a great pillar of strength

Q Your other interests and passion

A My goal has always to help women and give them all the support and encouragement. I am passionate about supporting fellow women to pursue thier dream of entrepreneurship.Any women entrepreneurs who needs my support can contact me on or

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Life style

Thambili : the king of all coconuts



By Zinara Rathnayake

“Those who know, know,” Sudath Fernando tells me, cutting a tender, young thambili at his makeshift kiosk on Galle Road in Colombo. Sudath has been selling thambili – often called ‘king coconuts’ in English – in Colombo since 1991. Some customers come to him as soon as he starts his business at six in the morning. “For them, it’s medicine. They have it daily before their morning tea,” he says.

Sudath is one of the many thambili vendors lining the streets of Colombo who pile up orange-coloured coconuts by the crowded highways and privy alleys. Food often represents one’s class and race in Sri Lanka. Long basmati rice, more expensive than other rice varieties, is cooked in wealthy households. My Sinhalese parents prepare abundant dishes of dry fish and my partner’s Tamil family roll out atta (wholemeal wheat flour) dough into chapatis for dinner. But thambili is neutral. It knows no class, race or religion. As the temperatures have risen in recent years, thambili vendors have sprouted up on the island streets. They often go unappreciated by the locals, but they are the true lifeline of the public on hot Sri Lankan afternoons.

Sri Lankan cuisine is dominated by the coconut. We cook chicken into a fiery red curry using coconut oil. We use coconut milk in the hopper batter, their fluffy meaty centres tapering off into a lacy crisp. We make sambal with scraped coconut and add grated coconut to our mallung, a uniquely Sri Lankan green leafy salad stir-fried in a dry skillet. Some Sri Lankans like to keep their sliced bitter gourd in coconut water until the bitterness dissipates, and in the morning we eat diya bath (leftover rice soaked overnight in water) with kiri hodi, a saute of onions and spices simmered in coconut milk; a hearty breakfast of humble rice meeting rich, creamy kiri hodi sprinkled with salt and lime juice.

But, nothing quite comes close to the joy of sipping a thambili. Slurp it once and you would know; it is truly the king of all coconuts. There were days I begged my mother for thambili. I followed my mother from room to room, and into the garden when she raked fallen leaves.

“Amma, when can I have thambili?”

Every week in the searing hot months, my mother would call the coconut plucker in our village. Bare-chested, his sarong folded into half above his knees, this forty-something man climbed the thambili tree in our garden. He plucked a few nuts which would last the whole week.

To me they were happiness encased in a giant nut. When prepared correctly they could quench thirsts that dried up my scaly lips? my mother would scrape the meat from inside the thambili and mix it with the rich coconut water, adding a tablespoonful of sugar before I gulped it down in the humid afternoons at home.

Coconut trees dot the landscape in Sri Lanka; swaying palms equally fringe the rugged coastline and silvery-silky beaches. But not all of them, or even most of them, are thambili. Thambili directly translates to orange (an apt name due to their bright orange husks, which mark them out as a native Sri Lankan variation from regular green coconuts) and they thrive within the stretching coconut triangle between the capital city, Colombo, and the towns of Kurunegala and Chilaw.

I spent my early childhood years in my mother’s village in Kurunegala falling within this luscious coconut triangle. When I was eight, we relocated to my father’s village near Kandy. Within the first month, my father had planted five coconut trees in our 15-perch garden ? two of them were king coconuts. On blazing hot afternoons, my father, using a blade tied to a long bamboo stick, would pluck thambili for me. It’s this fresh thambili water that puts an end to my afternoon sourpuss. On a steamy, tropical afternoon, there is nothing like thambili water to refresh and rejuvenate, even compared to regular coconut water. It is this quality that makes them the king of all coconuts.

King coconuts take anywhere between 8-14 months to fully mature. “Tender nuts are full of water,” Sudath tells me, noting that these small, tender coconuts have a lighter orange shade. When they grow older and larger in size, they acquire a darker shade of orange. “Older coconuts sell fast because of their sheer size and the attractive colour,” Sudath says, “But it’s the young, small ones that have more water. They are healthier,” he chuckles.

The local palate prefers everything sweet. It is another reason many customers pick large coconuts, as their water contains a distinctive saccharine taste. Oftentimes, Sudath advises his customers to choose a tender coconut. But they seldom listen to him. Sudath’s coconut business is the only income for his family. Dreading customer disapproval and losing his income, he sticks to piles of matured thambili and stocks only a few tender nuts for the connoisseurs, those who, in his words, ‘know’.

Our love for thambili stems from living every day in the year-long tropical climate. While I love walking, it is often a challenge in Sri Lanka. Walking merely a mile in Colombo is exerting. Sweat drips down your forehead after five minutes in the harsh sun. Your cotton shirt is soaked in sweat as if you accidentally passed by a quick rain shower. When we exert and sweat, we lose electrolytes, minerals such as potassium, sodium and magnesium, resulting in fatigue and dehydration. Thambili is packed with these electrolytes: it is nature’s Lucozade. So when we see piles of golden orange lining the pavements from a distance, we know that it is not just another coconut: in Sri Lanka, thambili is happiness.

Thambili is also more than a simple thirst-quencher; it has both culinary and wellness uses. Diwani Welitharage is a pharmacist by profession and explains to me how thambili water helps digestion and metabolism. “Drinking thambili water on an empty stomach early in the morning boosts your energy,” she tells me over the phone. Thambili is not only rich in vitamins but has been credited with everything from anti-aging properties to treating urinary tract infections in Ayurvedic medicine. “Some people drink it with sandalwood powder to help nourish their skin,” Diwani explains.

In her spare time, Diwani loves to study traditional Sri Lankan cuisine and experiments with thambili water, often combining it with lime, rambutan and chia seeds, or cooking baby jackfruit and marshy herbs directly in the water, the acidity softening the starch. But “for health benefits,” Diwani says, “just drink it as it is.”

Given its myriad properties, it’s no surprise that there is now a lot of money to be made from thambili. Thambili water is now packaged and exported globally; famous exporters like Eliya, based in New York, supply it across the globe to the Fairmont chain’s hotels in Dubai and Taj group hotels in New York, promising a taste of “the paradise island” for $60 for a 12-pack. This humble coconut now features in cocktails and trendy drinks in bars, high-end hotels and chic cafés in both Sri Lanka and abroad. A luxe beach resort in Sri Lanka once welcomed me with a chilled thambili mixed with Sri Lankan arrack (a local alcohol made from the fermented sap of coconut flowers) and lime juice. In the scorching heat, I couldn’t have asked for a better welcome drink.

Apinash Sivagumaaran, CEO at the popular Isso restaurants in Colombo and the Maldives, tells me that thambili is a popular item on their drink menus. Apinash and his team studied the market and customer preferences before they opened their first restaurant in 2017. He wanted to incorporate bits and pieces of Sri Lankan coconut culture at Isso in a more luxurious way. Instead of extracting the water into a glass, the giant nut comes to your table, refrigerated and chilled, in homage to the surrounding crowded streets hemmed in with piles of thambili. “It is much more personal,” Apinash says.

None of this, however, really captures the experience of buying thambili from a roadside vendor. A quick thambili stopover on the streets in Sri Lanka often turns into friendly banter with fellow customers and vendors. I fear the water dripping down my clothes, so I would use a straw to sip my thambili. But others, like my father, would keep his mouth pressed to the nut, and gulp it down without a straw. It’s a skill to master.

When Sri Lanka went on a strict, police-managed curfew to control the spread of COVID-19, roadside thambili vendors like Sudath belong to the country’s ‘informal sector’, which contributes to about 40% of the nation’s GDP, took a heavy blow. During the pandemic, thambili sellers, street food vendors and porters have been the worst hit among all of us. People like Sudath, who stand long hours in the sun to quench our thirst, are also the least supported by the government or the authorities.

Sudath tells me that the initial days in the lockdown were very hard. He tried his best to obtain a permit. After a couple of weeks, having contacted a police officer he knew, his permit arrived. He hired a truck, wore a mask and went door to door selling thambili. Business was slow. “I was scared too. I am 50 now and I was scared of bringing the virus home,” he tells me. “But without the business, my family would go hungry.” BBC

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Life style

Muslim Ladies College Sports Meet



Nasriya Munas, Principal of Muslim Ladies, Vice Principal and management team

The Interhouse Sports Meet of Muslim Ladies College took place recently at St. Peter’s College Sports Complex.The studens of the school from grade one to senior secondary level, participated in a wide gamut of sporting events.

The principal of the school said “The annual sports meet aims to encourage teamwork so that students will abide be by discipline in life but more importantly helps students to boost their team spirit.

This year’s event held special significance as it featured a groundbreaking addition: the first-ever karate display in the history of Muslim Ladies College. The participation of 58 students who actively learn Karate at the school highlighted among its students.

A major highlight of the day was the captivating drill display, which left a lasting impression

on the audience, particularly the chief guest. The display was met with such appreciation that it was performed twice upon the audience’s request. chief guest to express his delight at witnessing such grand event.

The grandeur of the occasion was marked by the final parade, led by Games CaptainAmirah Milhar, alongside Assistant Gaines Captains Maryam Zulfikar and Salma Inthikab.

This parade not only carried forward the prestigious trail smartness of the Muslim Ladies College girls.

The Inter House Sports Meet not only showcased the athletic talents of the students but also provided a platform for camaraderie and sportsmanship. It will surely be remembered as a remarkable and successful event in the college’s history.

The final parade led by Amirah Mihlar

Parade led by Amirah Mihlar

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