Visiting Sri Lanka was like coming home.
Only for true Malayalees. For the rest it was a fantastic vacation.
We were a family of five.
The oldest my mother, and the youngest, her girl grandchild all of 6 years.
And in the generational middle my sister and her husband.
A motley crue.
As for me, I shape shifted between happy vacationer and Malayalee coming home whenever I deemed it right. Especially at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Eating time.
For my sis, bro-in-law and their kid, it was vacationing all the way.
The tour guide, driver and the vehicle remained the same from our pick up from Colombo airport and back for the short, 10 day tour.
That’s 10 days and nights of seeing the only two familiar faces during our travel through the island.
A young, talkative guide Daniel who knew his every way around the tourist circuit and a driver who knew all about vehicles, seldom spoke but knew his way around every local place.
Somehow I liked the driver.
There was something about the Emerald Isle outside of the tourist circuit that felt like life goes on without the tourists.
Sri Lanka (what a name for an island nation) had the best of the world’s beaches, shore front 5 star hotels, dense evergreen jungles, hill country, wild life sanctuaries, gambling dens and discos.
And a highly evolved tourism industry.
Like Kerala, the locals thrived off the revenue generated by all the tourists in these demarcated areas.
In most parts of the island, life just went on. At a cool pace.
Like an Elephant walking.
The best of the coolness of the people, in spite of the celebratory spirit was on full display during the Kandy festival, an annual phenomenon much like our Kerala Temple Utsav’s or Festivals.
Unlike Kerala, no one broke into a drunken dance, screamed, whistled or chatted in loud voices. The local folk had lined the streets dressed in their colourful, new attire and even happily sat on the roadsides in silent anticipation of the performers to parade by. Body painted, bejeweled, twirling, drumming or sitting quietly atop elephants that filed by in a slow strut.
The absolute calm on the faces of the locals that visited the temple of the tooth complete with lotus flowers and a somber, Buddhist charm added to the whole scenario. Dark skinned buddihsts monks in white attire reflecting the real peace on the faces of the people within the temple and around. It tricked down to the cops too.
From the beach front village of Hikkadua, through Negombo, Kandy, the hill country of Nuwara Eliya (that reminded so much of Kodaikanal or Coonor), beautiful Colombo city or the raw wilderness of Yala National Park territory, it was the sight of countless elephants out on their morning stroll from the Pinnawala orphanage to the River that got me transfixed.
The elephants came in all sizes and generations. Grandfathers, Grandmothers, mothers and fathers with biological and adopted baby elephants who seemed to be having a ‘Baby’s Day Out’ moment.
Elephant’s Orphanage they call it.
It was a huge hit with the tourists who went on overdrive with their cameras clicking away at these magnificient beasts who like the locals, were least bothered about the awe and attention they cooly seem to command.
Now the one of the reasons why I jelled with our driver who handled the 10 – Seater Toyota was that I called her Sri Vahini. A fallout of 70’s Bollywood movies where screen stars Amitabh Bachhan and Hema Malini adressed their vehicle by name. As there were only 5 of us, Sri Vahini was spacious and comfortable enough to be our moving palace on rubber wheels on our road trip through the island.
The other was that Murugan, our driver, filled me in on the local food delicacies and took us to local houses and shacks where the curries were darkest brown I have seen. Murugan told me they were roasted and ground. Be it the mutton, fish or pork the flavours were deep and lingered long. All accompanied with coconut rotis, puttus or steamed rice hoppers with a bullseye bang in the middle. Like a third eye peeking out of the heavens.
When we hit the Yala National Park, I was lucky to witness a wild boar crossing amongst other bird and animal life. Every vehicle stopped and waited for the Boar family to cross. 3 generations of wild boar.
That night when I opted for a second serving of pork in the hotel where we stayed for the night, I chatted up the chef on how he cooked up the juicy, dark brown (Black is what they call it) goodness.
And driver Murugan was right. The secret was the Sri Lankan curry powder mix.
Back in my home kitchen in Bangalore, I attempted to make the curry mix. I did not have the local tamarind. I made do with local tamarind paste. But I had a box of Sri Lankan cinnamon – thinly rolled cylinders.
I first picked up a kilo of boneless pork from the local Ham shop in Frazer town. A branch of the iconic 100 year old Bangalore Ham Shop on M.G. Road.
The Black Sri Lankan Pork masala is my tribute to the island people who once used to cook up lamb and wild boar eons before the sanctuaries and the orphanages came to be. I have paired this with a wheat dosa and a Sri Lankan sambol (Coconut Chutney in Kerala) both being a common accompaniment in most Sri Lankan and Kerala homes.
My Sri Lankan Dark Pork masala turned out to be juicy and dark.
As dark as a Sri Lankan elephant.
Recipe – Sri Lankan Black Pork Curry, Wheat Dosa & Sambol
Firstly you’ll need to make a batch of Sri Lankan roasted curry powder; a must in every Sri Lankan kitchen. This is what gives the pork or any other meat dish that dark, deep flavor. It is basically a mix of spices, roasted first and then ground.
Sri Lankan Roasted Curry Powder
- 4 tablespoons Coriander seeds
- 3 tablespoons Cumin seeds
- 2 tablespoons Black Peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons raw rice or Basmati uncooked
- 1 tablespoon Black Mustard seeds
- 3 teaspoons Whole Cloves
- 2 teaspoons Cardamon Seeds from pods
- 1 teaspoon Fennel seeds
In a non-stick pan place the rice and over medium flame roast till they turn light brown.
All other spices and roast for about 3-5 minutes making sure they don’t burn and the aroma fills the air. Keep moving the pan to prevent the spices from burning.
Once the spice mix has cooled down, blend them up in a blender and keep aside for cooking or storage.
Sri Lankan Black Pork Curry
1 Kilo of cut pork medium pieces without bone preferably with the fat.
- 4 teaspoon whole Black Pepper
- 6 Cardamom pods and crush the seeds.
- 1 heaped teaspoon of SRI LANKAN ROASTED CURRY POWDER (Recipe given above)
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3 teaspoon tamarind paste
- 4-5 sliced green chillies
- 1 inch of crushed ginger
- 10 nos garlic cloves crushed
- 1 large onion, chopped finely
- 2-3 Bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon sugar
Crush the cardamom pods with a mortar and pestle and add in whole pepper, cinnamon, roasted curry powder, salt and mix well in the same mortar and pestle. Marinate the pork with this mix and leave in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight for best effects.
The next day remove the meat from the fridge and bring to room temperature.
Add 2 spoons of oil to a Pressure Cooker (wok or large vessel if not Pressure cooking) and sauté the ginger and garlic till browned. Then add in the onions sauté well and then toss in the sliced green chillies. Add in the marinated pork and mix well with sugar. Add a cup of water and pressure cook till done. (Pressure cooking is optional. If cooked in wok keep adding water as required till done)
After cooking Pressure cooker remove to an open wok and slow cook till the right consistency.
3 Cups of wheat flour (for about 12 wheat dosas)
Mix water with flour to dripping consistency.
Add salt to taste.
Add chopped 2 tablespoons of finely chopped ginger, green chillies, curry leaves and mix well.
Pour out a spoonful of the mix into a dosa tawa on medium flame and spread around in a circle from the middle.
After a minute add a few drops of ghee or oil. Flip over and cook till a golden brown glow.
Coconut Sambol Or Chutney
Grate half or whole coconut as desired.
Add sliced green chillies, a bit of tamarind, a spring of curry leaves, 3-4 small onions and salt to taste.
Blend well in a dry blender.
Serve the Sri Lankan Pork Curry with golden wheat dosas and fresh coconut sambol.
About the Author
Monu Danesh Surendran works for a retail organization in Bangalore and heads it online and branding division. He is a foodie by passion and therefore tries his hand at stuff in his home kitchen. While not dabbling in cooking during his days off he likes his music and of course trying out food. He prefers home cooked cuisine though restaurant fare guarantees a good outing with friends.
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