We often talk about how people make a place what it is. Owing to this wonderful human ingenuity, the places we visit are often more memorable because of the experiences the inhabitants create. The same can be said about the experiences one could witness when they visit Sri Lanka, which often ends up offering a melting pot of cultures to travellers. As such, this cultural pot is known to have a varied ethnic representation, all of whom contribute great flavour to the overall food that can delight your taste buds on your travels to this country.
The Sinhalese are the major ethnic group in Sri Lanka, believed to have inhabited the island since before 5th century BC. Historically the community have mostly been agriculturalist, a product of which led to a style of cultivation known as chena, the oldest known agricultural method on the island. This style of tending to the fields allowed the farmers to grow the country’s vegetables, cereals, greens and grains on land which has been cleared in the process of ‘chena’. Quite naturally, the food that resulted from this bountiful produce allows for some delightfully delicious dishes to taste.
A common practice that is observed within this community, one that comes across especially during festivals, Sinhalese New Year being one of them is the ‘Avurudu Food Table’. The festival which coincides with the end of harvesting season, celebrated in April, is an occasion where friends and family come together, offer prayers and then share meals togethers. Rice, being a staple of Sri Lanka, obviously features in large amounts, with the preparation of Mick Rice in newly purchased clay pots, headlining as the most important event of the festival.
Let’s dive into the top five dishes you’d usually come across on tables in most Sinhalese households for this festival.
The milk rice (Kiribaath) being the star, is made by cooking steamed rice with coconut milk and salt into a porridge like consistency which is then cooled and cut in diamond shaped pieces. This is usually served with an onion and red chilli paste known as lunu miris.
The next unmissable dish is the Kevum or Kevam is an oil cake made with rice flour, kithul treacle (a type of palm sugar found in the country), sugar, and spices like fennel and cumin. The sweet, made in a mould that gives it the traditional conical shape, has a crunchy outer coat and soft and sweet inside.
Another ubiquitous dish that will be found on New Year celebrations and many other festivals are the Kokis, a take on the cookie, this is made with rice flour and coconut milk. This yellow crispy cookie gives the palate a break from the sweetness you’d find in the spread. A delight for all ages, the kokis are a must have for any New Year celebration to be a hit.
Undu wel or pani walalu is a deep-fried snack made with a black gram batter and can be served as either sweet or savoury. This golden-brown coil of fried goodness is sure to keep the moods high.
For all the vegans out there, we have something for you that would delight your taste buds. The Halapa is a healthy teatime snack makes its way in the list of New Year specials because of its mouth-watering goodness. This steamed dish is a mixture of finger millets (Kurakkan), rice flour and the traditional Kithul palm syrup. This is steamed in a ‘kanda’ leaf and cut in a semi-circle and served. Not only is this had during the New Year festivities, one can most certainly snack on these steamed cakes of goodness whenever they feel like a snack. Don’t forget to brew a pot of your favourite tea though.
While this is by no means the exhaustive list of dishes served for the festivities, these sure will fill your plate up and give you more than enough food for thought.