Archives For Food

Yamu

April 22, 2013 — Leave a comment

Yamu means ‘let’s go’ in Sinhala. Yamu.lk is a startup based in Colombo. Right now they’re a city guide, but they’re quickly evolving to cover all things Sri Lanka. If you’re looking for a good restaurant, bar, or activity they’re your source.

Every day about 1000 unique visitors come to the site to find out whats going new in Colombo.

I’ve recently started writing for Yamu, so things have been quiet here on brightful.ly. Check out some of my recent articles:

Its great to have an excuse to get out and visit new restaurants…

Going without

February 14, 2013 — Leave a comment

Living in a developing country there are lots of things you get used to not having:

  • Hot water
  • Electrical appliances (namely washer and drier)
  • A stable (and fast) internet connection
  • Toilet paper
  • Many food items

Arguably, one of the hardest things to get used to is the lack of food items. Be it good wine, coffee, snacks, or otherwise. There are just a lot of things that you cannot buy in many parts of the world, or the cost of importing makes them prohibitively expensive. Going without isn’t necessarily a bad thing either; it forces you to adapt to the local norms, and you end up appreciating your home so much more.

photo by law_keven

photo by law_keven

My diet in Sri Lanka is quite devoid of meat and diary products. I’ve become a circumstantial vegetarian. At most I take meat (primarily fish) once a day, and I’ll eat a dozen eggs over the course of a week. Cheese isn’t widely available, and most milk is sold either in powdered form or in a tetra-pack. I also eat curd (think Greek yoghurt, but made from buffalo milk) a few times a week, its delicious.

Last week was unusual for me in two ways, I bought a liter of milk and I ate beef while in Colombo. Its been about two months since I last ate beef, and I ordered it at a Korean restaurant. I felt awesome afterwards. I didn’t realize how devoid my diet was of protein, but I had a surge of energy following the meal and into the next day. Its been about five months since I drank a glass of milk, after consuming a small glass I became ill for the rest of the evening and into the next day. The day following the glass of milk I was still popping imodium like tic-tacs.

I thought it was odd how my body reacted to two previously common items of my diet. After eating a couple of pieces of lean beef I slept great and felt energized. After drinking a glass of milk I was sick. Just a few months without regular milk consumption was enough to make me go sick. My body’s response to milk makes me think that maybe I shouldn’t try to get back into the habit.

When was the last time you went without something, or tried modifying your diet? It wasn’t until I went abroad, and was forced by circumstance to drastically alter my diet. Given how my body responded to milk I don’t really see a need to consume much of it in the future (save for ice-cream).

What about calcium? As it turns out some vegetables contain as much calcium as milk. I’ve included a few choice examples from nutritiondata.com:

  • Arugula, 1 cup = 32mg
  • Spinach, 1 cup (cooked) = 245mg (almost as much as a cup of milk)
  • Spinach, 1 cup (raw) = 30mg
  • Broccoli, 2 cups (cooked) = 188mg (about the same as 1 oz of cheese)

There are some interesting studies out there which claim milk and cheese actually deplete calcium from your body, as they are processed as acids and your body neutralizes them with calcium salts from your bones. (interestingly, fermented milk products such as yoghurt and sour cream are a neutral food) Its a hotly debated issue, but even Harvard’s School of Public Health advises you to drink less milk.

If not for going abroad I would have never cut milk out of my diet.

L.R. Cake Shop

January 31, 2013 — Leave a comment

The first time you attend a wedding in Sri Lanka you will likely notice a beautifully decorated cake somewhere in the reception area. You may be surprised when you are served an individually wrapped piece of cake, not from the wedding cake. Upon close inspection of the cake you may realize that the core of the cake is styrofoam; cakes are made this way so that they can hold up to the heat and humidity during the entire wedding day.

My Amma (Sinhalese and Tamil for Mom) is the founder of L.R. Cake Shop, Trincomalee’s only degree granting cake decorating school. She makes the most whimsical cakes; American cakes do not compare at all. Last week, when I stopped into the shop, I was delighted to stay and watch a cake be made. I was only present for the final assembly, which took nearly an hour. It was amazing watching plain cake and pink fondant being sculpted into a princess’ dress. Next, white fondant was formed around the Barbie doll, to complete her dress. Lace was intricately cut to layer around the base of the dress, as a bow was made for the back. A lucky little girl will get this princess cake for the cost of 3,000 SLR ($23 USD).

All of the cakes are made to order. You cannot walk into the shop and buy a cake like you can in Colombo. It seemed odd to me at my first visit, but since I’ve gotten better acquainted with the area it makes sense. Trinco’s economy cannot yet support an on demand bakery, and Amma’s cakes are so varied and unique that it would be impossible to forecast the demand for something like a princess cake.

Amma can turn just about anything into a cake. She won third place in a national competition for cake making. For years she has been providing the area with cakes as well as training out of her home. It wasn’t until the end of 2012 that she felt comfortable taking the risk and opening up her store front, things were just too volatile in the East. Now every time I stop in town I visit her shop, which is usually full of students or customers placing orders. Sitting and talking with Amma is great, except for the constant barrage of cake being offered; I tell Amma she will make me fat.

It was no surprise when she told me that she will be making a cake for the President when he visits Trinco on Monday for Independence Day celebrations. Just a day in the life of Trinco’s premier baker.

Today marks the final day of the Tamil harvest festival, Pongal. The first day of Pongal is spent worshiping the Sun; the Sun is the giver of life, and without it crops would not grow. The second day is spent paying respect to cows. They are critical to life on a farm; not only do they provide milk, but they save countless hours when it is time to till the soil. On the final day, nothing in particular is celebrated. So on this final day of the Tamil festival, Sarvodaya had a Pongal.

I arrived at Sarvodaya’s Trincomalee District Center at 7:30 in the morning, and preparations were already underway for the Pongal. Reeds were being hung, the pots were being put in place, and the food was being prepared. Pongal is both the name of the holiday, and the name of a delicious sweet rice made with coconut milk, dates, nuts, raisins, jaggery, and a healthy dose of sugar. Speakers were brought in, and not an hour later the fires were burning and the speakers were blasting. It was really quite something to see this community come together.

Local religious leaders – Buddhist Monks, Catholic Nuns, Christian Priests, Hindu Pandits,and Muslim Imams – all arrived for the opening ceremonies. Once the water had begun to boil, each religious figure filled their palms with rice and lifted it up to the Sun before pouring it into the Pongal pot. The cooking had begun!

After many years of war Sri Lanka is still a very divided society. Over the past few days I have been greeting everyone I speak to with, ‘happy Pongal‘. On more than one occasion, I was told by the person I had offered this greeting to that they were not Tamil, and they did not celebrate Pongal. Even here in Trinco, a primarily Tamil city, if I greet someone who is Sinhalese with vanikam (Tamil for hello) I will often be told that I should have said kohomada (Sinhala for hello). The environment at Sarvodaya could not have been more different.

When contextualized, the actions of these religious leaders are inspiring. I really respect the work that Shanti Sena, Sarvodaya’s peace building arm, put into this ceremony. Even my Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim students wished me a happy Pongal (in English!) when we first met this morning. The day could not have been summed up better than by a fellow staffer who told me, “we teach all Sri Lankans about Pongal, so we hope that when our students graduate they will tell their friends and family about Pongal next year. I hope they have made Tamil friends and can celebrate together.”

Reconciliation occurs slowly, one person at a time. These cultural activities are incredibly important, as they help to strengthen the sense of community across cultures. Given the affinity Sri Lankans have with sugar, you would be hard pressed to find anyone on this island who doesn’t like eating Pongal.

Wadi, wadi, wadi!

January 12, 2013 — 1 Comment

Anyone who has traveled through Sri Lanka will be familiar with the plethora of food vendors that sell their snacks on trains and busses.

Wadi, a fried ball of chickpeas, curry leaves, and seasonings, is a staple in Sri Lanka.

Sometimes your food comes in plastic bags, sometimes newspaper, and occasionally it is served on homework.

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  • He only visited France.
  • Manik only reads schoolgirl stories.
  • Wimal only listened to classical music.

Today it seems the student did quite well. By the time I finish the snack I find that this student got a check plus. It’s always sad to get served food when the student failed their test.

A man walks down the street, 
It’s a street in a strange world. 
Maybe it’s the Third World. 
Maybe it’s his first time around. 
He doesn’t speak the language, 
He holds no currency. 
He is a foreign man, 
He is surrounded by the sound, sound ….
     -Paul Simon, You Can Call Me Al

 

SriLankan Airlines flight 554 touched down in the predawn darkness of Colombo. Ten hours earlier we had embarked from Frankfurt, and had finally arrived a little after 4am local time. There was a light rain as we left the plane, and I was immediately struck by the humidity. Even in the early hours of the morning it was hot.

I met one other Fulbrighter in the airport and we found our driver, about an hour later we arrived at the bungalow where we will be staying for this month. After a large glass of water and a shower a nap was in order. Some hours later I woke up and made my way to the bank. Sidewalks, apparently, are not common in this section of Colombo. So the thirty minute walk was just what I needed to get out of the fog of jetlag.

After getting some currency, we made our way to a local restaurant. It was a simple place, with good food. For SLR 100 ($0.77) I had a delicious plate of food. It consisted of some rice topped with several curries – most of which were quite spicy – and a piece of chicken. Diving right into the culture, we ate without utensils; instead utilizing the tips of our fingers to mold the curry and rice into balls before shoveling them in our mouths.

Tomorrow starts our orientation.