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Memories of a schoolgirl in Ceylon, 1960

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125th year celebrations of SACRED HEART CONVENT, Galle (1896 – 2020)

by Savitri de Alwis

(Vice Captain, Queen’s Own, 1970)

The echo of frenzied cheering ebbing and flowing like a wave from the open pavilion of the Galle esplanade fill my ears as if it were only yesterday. I can hear Rev. Sister Rosina, Mistress of Queens Own House. spurring me on fitfully on the loudspeaker in the open event cycle race. My spindly legs pedal furiously, perfectly navigate the tracks and breeze through the touch line to victory on an old rackety Men’s Raleigh bicycle, borrowed on the spot for the race from the school watcher! As I cross the winning line I look back at my competitors, way behind me like specks on the track doing a balancing act with their bikes! Indeed, not many girls cycled then nearly 50 years ago, with the exception of tomboys and the posh girls from Colombo who were sent to our boarding school for strict discipline under firm but kind Irish and Belgian nuns.

Yet oddly we were in awe of these posh girls from Colombo with their ‘mod’ hairstyles, a far cry from our tightly plaited hair doused in coconut oil! But moreover they spoke the Queen’s English like they owned it. This was 1970 and the unforgettable events of a sports meet indelibly etched in my memory as a school girl at Sacred Heart Convent in Galle, a leading private girls’ day/boarding school. Established in 1896, by the Sisters of Charity in Belgium, it was for the education of young girls in Galle. The school is entering its 125th anniversary this year, a great milestone in its unbroken record of unblemished service and duty for charity (love). My three sisters, my little brother at nursery and I were privileged to walk through the hallowed hallways of Sacred Heart Convent from its nursery and on to secondary school half a century ago.

The decade beginning 1960 was thrifty era in Ceylon yet carefree and laid back. It was the decade of Beatles, Elvis, flower power and bell bottoms! We were school girls embracing an unhurried lifestyle, footloose and fancy free. Our precious parents paid for our education with their hard-earned money. At the helm of the school as Principal was the much adored and celebrated Rev. Sister Adrian, a bespectacled young Irish nun with rimmed glasses which framed her porcelain countenance. Always immaculately dressed in a crisp white habit, with an angelic face, she was soft spoken but firm and her presence ubiquitous! The sprawling magnificent Victorian buildings of the school which spread extensively, exuded charm and grandeur. Their impressive long and open corridors decorated with imposing Roman arches harmoniously arranged around a quadrangle is where we hung out and had our daily ‘fix’. Yes, a daily fix of ‘achcharu’ bought for five cents from Mura-aiya’s kade below the staff room.

The solid stone wall chapel with ornate stained glass windows on the premises was an integral part of the school and the Catholic girls looked ever so sanctimonious therein with their dainty little face veils, twirling their Rosary beads. We wished we could be like them! The ‘Parlour’ adjacent the Chapel where the nuns took refuge was also sacrosanct with strictly no entry except during music exams when Trinity College Music Examiners arrived from England on a BOAC jet. I recall as a 10-year old, with much trepidation and awe, entering the sanctuary of the Parlour for the very first time ever for my music exam. The dark brown floors were pristine and shining; I could almost eat off the floor I thought! The slender white Ionic Roman columns decorated the verandah around an open courtyard with its brilliant flowers interspersed with clipped shrubbery were stunning. It was surreal and I, for a fleeting moment, felt like Alice in Wonderland falling through a rabbit-hole!

English drama and poetry were fundamental to our education. We loved the annual English Day celebrations enjoying Shakespeare drama, poetry, oratory etc. under the keen eye of Miss Orlene de Silva a doyen of English teaching. It was the skillful Senior School production of Robert Browning’s mythical Pied Piper of Hamlin that clinched us the first prize in the Galle District Inter School English Day celebrations in 1969. A bevy of charming teens narrated the poem animatedly as the mystical Pied Piper, the writer, stormed the stage for her pound of flesh; a thousand guilders! And as we played out the story with aplomb our parents watched us with pride at the Galle Town Hall. There were other triumphant productions we took on in our stride – Oliver Twist, Twelth Night and Pride and Predjudice. To to this day the thought of Ranmalie de Zilva’s perfect fit as a proper little Mrs. Bennet on and off stage evoke fond memories.

Western music and singing were also high on the school’s agenda. The very first school percussion band was formed very modestly by our gracious Miss Malini Senanayake around 1969 with half a dozen melodicas and two accordions. One accordion was played by the musically gifted Priyadarshani Keerthisinghe and the other, attempting to emulate her wizardry sheepishly, was the writer. Helene Dias Abeysinghe had the shoulders to carry the huge bass drum and keep the beat stylishly like her effortless Shot Putt throws she did with a twirl! The excitement and novelty of being in the school band made us unconsciously audacious. loving to parade in our tartan skirts and berets and march the length and breadth of the Galle esplanade blowing our horns!

It was Miss Malini who trained and entered us to compete in the All Island Schools’ Singing Competition at Royal College, Colombo having won the first place in Galle Inter Schools’ Singing competition. The choir classic ‘Happy Wanderer’ in four part harmony was sung exquisitely by the school choir. Sports too were an integral part of the curriculum. We were gluttonous for a 20 cents Aleric’s Popsicle that the tuck shop sold, and Nandanie Rajapakse, my beloved Games Captain, smothered us with Aleric’s’ ice cream when we played like Trojans and brought the netball trophies home. It was fascinating too, to watch our fine athletes. Consy Rodrigo, Beatrice Bandara and Deidre Senanayake were like flying machines dominating the track and field events near the grotto of Jesus, Mary and Sacred Heart at the rear of the school.

The boarders had a habit of climbing the grotto to a vantage point to peek at the road beyond Kandewatte canal to check if the boys from our brother school. St. Aloysius College, were hovering around like helicopters. But the nuns were too sharp for their little theatrics! Life was uncomplicated. There were no mobile phones, social media or TV, period! We played outdoors avidly and immersed ourselves in hand me down books. It was ‘Robin Blue’ that made our uniforms dazzling white and a heavy charcoal fired smoothening iron pressed our uniforms. These were turned out at home on a hand sewing machine and oh so frugally using the material bought after queuing at the Co-op due to rationing. There were no fancy trainers then, only canvas shoes cleaned with pipeclay dripping like fresh cream! We learned to be creative and innovative and if a shoe gave way with the endless walking, jumping and running, we’d pretend to have an injury on that foot, slapping a plaster on it and slip on a flip flop as we walked to school unabashedly with one shoe and a flip flop. A bandage was sometimes used for effect! We almost always got away with it, dodging the hawk eyed Miss Padmini de Silva.

School days were happy and hauntingly memorable as are our beloved teachers who made all the difference. This is dedicated to them and to all my schoolmates scattered throughout the globe, remembering the good times we shared in the spirit of unity in that once in a lifetime incredible journey with, as our motto reminds us, ‘Cor Unum, Anima Una’ – One heart, One soul. May it be always so!



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‘Manamala Hendewa’ at Nelum Pokuna today

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The Nelum Pokuna Performing Arts Theatre will once again play host to the solo music concert titled “Manamala Hendewa” by the popular vocalist and musician Keerthi Pasquel on occasion of his birthday today.

The concert titled “මනමාල හැන්දෑව” will likely be Keerthi’s most successful performance to date. The show’s music will be provided by a seasoned band led by Nalaka Saji Jayasinghe, with guest appearances from artists like Chandralekha Perera, Nirosha Virajini, Samitha Mudunkotuwa, and Dammika Bandara for duets. Each member of the audience should leave with a lasting impression of the performance.

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A fish that sparked a national obsession

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Bacalhau (salt cod) is a deep part of Portugal’s culinary identity. But the fish is found far from the country’s shores, so how did this love affair come to be and continue today?

On a cold winter’s evening in Portugal, it might come to your table com natas – fresh from the oven and bubbling in cream – layered between fried potato and sliced onion and spiced with nutmeg. Weaving through Lisbon’s steep and cobbled streets, it wouldn’t take long before you found someone serving it as a light and crispy fritter, dusted with a little coarse salt and dished up with a pot of pungent aioli. You could buy it shaped as mouth-sized fried potato dumplings pastéis style, flavoured with parsley and garlic, for a walk along the banks of Porto’s Douro River. You might even come across it as part of a hearty southern bread soup, topped with coriander and a poached egg.

That’s because bacalhau – or salt cod – which sits at the heart of all these dishes, runs deep through Portugal’s culinary identity, with the country consuming 20% of the world’s supply. In fact, so central to Portuguese hearts (and stomachs) is this ingredient, that the saying goes “there are 365 ways to prepare salted cod, one for each day of the year”.

But for a fish that is found only in the icy depths of the North Atlantic Ocean – far from Portugal’s shores – the country’s love affair with salt cod is a puzzling one. How exactly did it end up on Portuguese plates? The answer is wrapped up in more than 500 years of intriguing history.

Take a trip today to most restaurants, markets and cafés across the country and you’ll find salt cod in one form or another. It even plays a starring role at hip Lisbon restaurant Alma, which earned its first Michelin star within nine months of opening and added a second star soon after.

“It’s funny, sometimes Michelin star chefs or high-end cuisine chefs don’t value salted cod because they don’t see it [fitting] within this type of gastronomy,” said Alma executive chef and owner Henrique Sá Pessoa, of the typically humble comfort food. “But I always have and always will have cod on my menus.”

He assures visitors that a salt cod creation will also feature on the menu of his new restaurant, JOIA, which will open in London later this year. But though bacalhau is a traditional and well-explored ingredient for many natives across the country, Pessoa is still finding ways to push Portugal’s love for it into new territory.

Case in point: his “most Instagrammable” creation, Cobblestreet Cod, named for its likeness to the centuries-old streets outside Alma’s front door in the historical Chiado district. It’s a modern twist on an old peasant dish and one of the country’s most beloved salt cod recipes – bacalhau à bras – where typically shredded salt cod, fried matchstick potatoes and onions are all bound together with scrambled egg and garnished with black olives.

“I knew I couldn’t call it bacalhau à bras because the Portuguese are quite traditional, and people sometimes get offended when you play around with classics,” he explained. “I wanted to get inspired by this dish but elevate it presentation-wise, texture-wise and detail-wise into something more delicate and elaborate.”

The outcome is far removed from the version you’d find on family dinner tables. A creamy mixture of salt cod, fried potato, egg and onion arrives at the table hidden under a veil of wafer-thin slices of cod that have been coated in a black olive tapenade to create a cobbled visual. A final surprise comes when you break into the cobbled dome and spilt a confit egg yolk that has been resting in the middle of the salted cod mixture.

“I wanted to dislocate all these elements of the dish and try and make it as perfect as possible. When we launched it in the restaurant, it was an instant success. It was especially popular on social media because visually it is quite striking,” said Pessoa.

He assures visitors that a salt cod creation will also feature on the menu of his new restaurant, JOIA, which will open in London later this year. But though bacalhau is a traditional and well-explored ingredient for many natives across the country, Pessoa is still finding ways to push Portugal’s love for it into new territory.

Case in point: his “most Instagrammable” creation, Cobblestreet Cod, named for its likeness to the centuries-old streets outside Alma’s front door in the historical Chiado district. It’s a modern twist on an old peasant dish and one of the country’s most beloved salt cod recipes – bacalhau à bras – where typically shredded salt cod, fried matchstick potatoes and onions are all bound together with scrambled egg and garnished with black olives.

“I knew I couldn’t call it bacalhau à bras because the Portuguese are quite traditional, and people sometimes get offended when you play around with classics,” he explained. “I wanted to get inspired by this dish but elevate it presentation-wise, texture-wise and detail-wise into something more delicate and elaborate.”

The outcome is far removed from the version you’d find on family dinner tables. A creamy mixture of salt cod, fried potato, egg and onion arrives at the table hidden under a veil of wafer-thin slices of cod that have been coated in a black olive tapenade to create a cobbled visual. A final surprise comes when you break into the cobbled dome and spilt a confit egg yolk that has been resting in the middle of the salted cod mixture.

“I wanted to dislocate all these elements of the dish and try and make it as perfect as possible. When we launched it in the restaurant, it was an instant success. It was especially popular on social media because visually it is quite striking,” said Pessoa.

Pessoa’s bacalhau

dish is just one of the latest evolutions of a long culinary legacy, one that’s wrapped up in centuries of history little-known to those outside the country. It started towards the end of the 14th Century, when the Portuguese navy found that the dried and salted fish could be stored for years in holds, making it the perfect food for long ocean voyages.

In the mid-1500s, during Portugal’s maritime explorations and hunt to find the coast of India, they stumbled across waters rich with cod around Canada and Greenland; a major discovery that kickstarted Portuguese cod fishing. But by the 16th Century, Portuguese fishermen were pushed out by the French and English.

In the centuries that followed, Portugal became heavily dependent on England as the main exporter of cod, and by the 1800s, the ingredient was something enjoyed only by the aristocracy. However, cod’s popularity expanded in the 20th Century during the reign of Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar, who wanted to bring it back home. His “cod campaign”, launched in 1934, looked to reignite Portugal’s fishing (and drying) industry and instate cod as a national symbol. Thousands of Portuguese fishermen were sent to Canada and Greenland to fish for cod, with some bringing back up to 900 tonnes per boat.

But this was long, gruelling and often dangerous work, and many men never made it back home to their families. It continued even during World War Two when one Portuguese lugger – the Maria da Glória – was bombed as it headed towards the fishing banks on the west coast of Greenland, killing 36 people on board. These conditions still plague the industry today, with global fatality rates thought to top 24,000 a year, according to the Seafarers Rights International.

It’s this complex history that makes Portugal’s love for cod so deep-rooted, and it’s why Portuguese food expert and chef Leandro Carreira dedicated more than 50 recipes to the product in his new book Portugal, The Cookbook. In total, it features more than 550 traditional recipes from across the country, including a raw salt cod salad, which mixes bacalhau together with barbecued red bell peppers, onions, garlic and parsley.

“If I didn’t include [salt cod], I would have been in a lot of trouble,” said Carreira. “Cod has become so embedded in our culture over the centuries, since the trade of salt began so it was so hard to choose which recipes would feature in the book.”

That love of salt cod still rings true today. “I know people who have eaten cod for more than 30 years every day,” Carreira said. “My grandmother used to eat the same cod dish – cod with boiled potatoes, raw onion, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and parsley – every single day for lunch. Even I, and everyone I know, had cod at least twice a week.

“Cod is an incredibly flexible product. You can grill it, steam it, bake it, deep fry, you can make a cake with it, have it raw after soaking it in water. So, if you combine this with its affordability and its accessibility, you can see why [it’s popular].”

You can grill it, steam it, bake it, deep fry, you can make a cake with it, have it raw after soaking it in water.

Portugal today imports around 70% of its cod from Norway; the Norwegian Seafood Council describes Portugal as “by far the biggest market for Norwegian cod”. They add that out of the 100,000 tonnes Norway exports annually to Portugal, 95% is salted.

In Norway’s remote and icy fishing island of Røst, they even have a name reserved for the heaviest of cod catches: “Portuguese cod,” said Pessoa, who, as a former ambassador for the Norwegian Seafood Council, visited the island several times. “They know Portugal will pay the best price for that cod.”

This is echoed by Rita Karlsen, chief executive of Norway’s Brødrene Karlsen, which has been exporting salted and dried cod to Portugal since the company’s beginning in 1932. “Portugal is very important [to Norwegian cod exporters]; it’s the most important country that we sell to,” she said. “We couldn’t have survived without Portugal.”

This influence has spread far and wide to countries like Brazil, which imported 8.6 tonnes of salt cod during the Easter period alone in 2019, or Angola, which imported 308 tonnes of salt cod from Norway in 2012, according to the Interpretative Center of the History of Cod, Lisbon’s museum dedicated to the fish. In Italy, they even hold a salt cod festival, Festa del Bacala, every year near Venice, and in the Tuscan region they favour classics such as baccalà alla livornese, which marries salt cod with a rich, garlicky tomato sauce.

For other chefs in Portugal, salt cod bridges the past and present. Like Marlene Vieira, MasterChef Portugal judge, head chef of two Lisbon restaurants and the only female face within the chef’s wing of Lisbon’s Time Out Market, where her salt cod pataniscas (fritters) have won her accolades.

She explained how the fritter recipe was passed down from her grandmother, who came from a poor background. This meant she typically used the cheaper tail cuts of the fish in the batter, which had less moisture and resulted in a crispier finish “like tempura” – an excellent companion to the roasted red pepper and garlic mayonnaise that Vieira now serves with it.

As a child, she remembers helping her grandmother in the kitchen “to do the things she wouldn’t like to do”, like peeling onions, garlic and of course carefully picking out any bones left in the salt cod.

Today, while nodding to tradition, Vieira is keen to further promote the fish along with seafood local to Portugal – and her high-end restaurant Marlene focuses on just that. She even cooks it at home for her daughter, who, she said, “loves, loves, loves cod” – proof perhaps that despite the lengths the country has to go to secure this North Atlantic fish, the passion for it will continue to flow through Portuguese veins for generations to come.

–BBC

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Chef Heenkenda, Thai Mama and Chef Singh join Mövenpick’s galaxy of shining culinary experts.

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Mövenpick amplifies its Japanese, Thai, North and South Indian offerings

In the city hotel’s endeavor to continually provide guests with novel and refreshing gastronomic experiences, three talented chefs – the famed, Chef Heenkenda, the much-loved Thai Mama and Indian culinary wizard Chef Mangal Singh have joined Mövenpick’s galaxy of shining culinary experts. These brilliant Chefs who have excelled in their respective gastronomic genres have joined the hotel’s exceptional culinary team to provide guests with unforgettable dining experiences. Culinary Services Director Chef Priyantha Weerasinghe heads the handpicked culinary team at Mövenpick.

Chef Heenkenda who has introduced incredible Japanese offerings in multiple hotels has transformed The Robata, Thai and Japanese Restaurant with an outstanding culinary repertoire of Japanese Cuisine with over 30 exciting sushi dishes along with 115 new dishes that will take tastebuds straight to the land of the rising sun. Having excelled in Japanese Cuisine for nearly 2 decades he has worked in local 5-star hotels and overseas as a mentee under Japanese chefs. In Abu Dhabi Chef Heenkenda worked together with Michelin Starred Chef, Chef Eric Hunter who was his mentor for 5 years. Chef Heenkenda is a talented culinary maestro who excels in the entire gamut of Japanese Cuisine, including Sushi, Teppanyaki and Hot cuisine. His wide culinary experience will combine to make unique and inimitable, Japanese creations that Mövenpick guests can savour and enjoy with friends and family.

To greatly augment the Robata repertoire Mövenpick also welcomed Chef Arjee Jithman famously known as Thai Mama, who has transformed Thai cuisine in Sri Lanka. Hailing from Bangkok Thailand, Thai Mama discovered her passion to pursue culinary arts at an early age while helping her mother cook authentic Thai dishes at home. She later moved to Sri Lanka to further her knowledge and has made this her island home for over nine years, tantalizing both local and international tastebuds with her exceptional Thai culinary skills, taking guests on unforgettable gastronomic journeys infused with delicate herbs and sweet and sour tones. Thai Mama is delighted to provide diners at Robata with a brand-new array of her notable Thai dishes such as the spicy Tom Yum Soup, Pineapple Fried Rice, Thai Papaya Salad, Chu Chi Goon and fish fresh from the sea, marinated in curry chili paste infused with special Thai herbs.

Chef Mangal Singh, who specializes in South and North Indian cuisine, has been curated the most flavorsome Indian cuisine for a decade at Sri Lankan 5-Star resorts and trendy restaurants in Mumbai and Delhi. Chef Singh will be heading the brand-new Indian Restaurant to be launched at Movenpick. Chef Singh has also studied under Chef Bruno and Chef Anack during his career stint in Thailand. With 13 years of experience in preparing Indian cuisine from the North such as Chicken Makani, Biriyani, Goan Curry and Mutton Roghan Josh, Chef Singh’s Indian repertoire is wide and colourful. Guests can expect special Thalis featuring both North and South Indian favourites. Having grown up in the snowcapped misty Himalayas, Chef Singh was inspired by his mother’s recipes, many of which will be delightful features at the new Indian Restaurant to be launched at Mövenpick. His favourite dishes that promise to tantalize guests include, Mutton Biriyani, Rasams, butter chicken, including a very special Indian homemade chutney.

For over half a decade the famed Swiss Brand has introduced guests in Colombo from across the world to an intriguing and fascinating gastronomic journey, encapsulated in a luxurious and artistically stunning interior. Mövenpick Globally holds a growing portfolio of more than 80 hotels in 24 countries and is a part of AccorHotels, a world-leading travel and lifestyle Group comprising 5000 hotels, resorts and residences with over 1 million rooms worldwide.

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