When April beckons, there are three events which truly herald its advent. The first is the enthusiastic blossoming of ehela trees. Aptly nicknamed ‘Golden Shower’, clusters of gloriously yellow flowers sprinkled around the city only means that April is around the corner. The second is a heightened frequency of the koel’s distinctive cry, immortalized in [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

April flavours

Adilah Ismail checks out some innovative entrepreneurs who have embraced traditional sweets and foods that are very much a part of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year

Achcharu Kade’s Avurudu fare

When April beckons, there are three events which truly herald its advent. The first is the enthusiastic blossoming of ehela trees. Aptly nicknamed ‘Golden Shower’, clusters of gloriously yellow flowers sprinkled around the city only means that April is around the corner. The second is a heightened frequency of the koel’s distinctive cry, immortalized in folk songs and easily recognizable from other bird calls. The third is the abundance of traditional food which begins to make its way on the shelves of bakeries and kitchens.

For the Avurudu edition of Eat Street, we’re focusing on some of the food which makes April an interestingly epicurean month and expanding our scope from the confines of a selected locality to comb Colombo for interesting eats. To paraphrase Louisa May Alcott, if Christmas won’t be Christmas without presents, Sri Lankan festivals won’t be the same without the food and April is a perfect time to sample traditional Sinhala and Tamil sweets. The more authentic Sinhala fare are often found in unexpected nooks and corners of each city and are made with age-old family recipes dusted out especially for the New Year. For quick samplings of favourites such as kokis, kevum and aasmi, popular bakery chains are perfect for a food fix and if you’re feeling really fancy, most of the city hotels also dish out traditional goodies.

For sweets for the Tamil New Year, most roads lead to Wellawatte. When we visit Vasantham’s (opposite the Wellawatte Arpico), there’s a line spilling over onto the pavement with people thronging to pick up packets of onion pakoda, murukku and boxes of laddoos and soft muscat. The deceptively small shop has an impressive array of sweets and savoury items and is a popular stop during the New Year while assorted shops near Nelson Place and Manning Place in Wellawatte also have sweets for sale.

Here’s what some innovative home cooks, shops and entrepreneurs have in store for the season.

Chathura Munaweerage’s enthusiasm for good dodol is infectious – even for those of us who aren’t cheerleaders of the sweet. Chathura’s rendering of dodol was inspired by sampling a great tasting version of it in Ambalangoda and he has been churning out batches of dodol for loyal customers for nearly nine years.

Mune’s dodol treat

For dodol sceptics, who aren’t a fan of the heavy, viscous and often oily sweet, the dodol made by Mune’s products may just convert you. The dodol comes wrapped in an arecanut leaf, is cylindrical in shape and steers clear of the muscat consistency of most dodol. Thanks to its packaging and an eye on quality ingredients, it is also oil-free and the taste of buttery coconut cuts through the sweetness. When sliced into round discs, the rice flour-jaggery-coconut-cashew concoction makes for addictive snacking and is a welcome addition to any New Year table.

When in a supermarket, he noticed how people would instinctively pick out chocolate for their sweet cravings and wondered why sweets such as dodol were never first choice. As a micro-entrepreneur, Chathura is on a mission to disseminate the gospel of dodol and attempt to make it a retail equivalent of popular consumer sweets such as chocolates. It’s not an easy task – there’s an ingrained tendency to reach for imported sweets and spurn traditional ones among most Sri Lankans, he laments – and the journey over the years have been arduous but Chathura’s passion and firm belief in his product has weathered many a storm.

When we meet, he is cheerfully bracing himself for orders for the upcoming Sinhala and Tamil New Year and whips out his phone swiping through pictures of the dodol making process in his factory in Padukka. He smilingly explains that the potential for experimentation with dodol is vast and gives us teasers about the additions which can be made to the dodol, changing it for different palates.

Chathura’s kaludodol sold under Mune’s Products, is available at selected Cargills outlets in time for the New Year and is also delivered.

Danu Innasithamby can remember the first meals his sister proudly made as a teenager while doing her A/Levels. One was a chicken curry and the second was a formidably thick pizza curiously topped with mashed potatoes. After feeding assorted family and friends and cooking as a stress-buster, Thushara was coaxed into expanding her Jaffna inspired food to a larger audience. My Sister’s Kitchen serves up home-style comfort Sri Lankan food, with flavours drawn from the North. The focus here at My Sister’s Kitchen is flavourful and hearty, no-frills home-style food.

Thushara’s brand of Jaffna cooking is done purely on instinct, adding a touch of curry powder or a handful of herbs, experimenting with vegetables to fine tune her dishes. It is her mother and grandmother who have heavily influenced her cooking and she draws inspiration from her Jaffna roots and the past when formulating her dishes.

My Sister’s Kitchen reiterates the importance of fragrant curry powders, medicinal herbs and a balance of elements in the dishes. For the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, there are set menus ready for order. Instead of focusing on the sweet meats and assorted table fillers, My Sister’s Kitchen will be serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner menus carefully picked out for the season. The menu for the New Year spans crowd favourites such as red brinjal curry, potato and mushroom masala, banana flour cutlets, creamy milk rice kesari and chakarai Pongal. For Thushara, it is always gratifying to know that when families meet during seasonal holidays such as Christmas and New Year, it is around her food that everyone congregates at the table.

My Sister’s Kitchen can be reached on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/My-Sisters-Kitchen) or via email info@mysisterskitchen.lk

Despite its name, Achcharu Kadè’s repertoire extends beyond the humble achcharu. A favourite at the weekly Good Market in Colombo, Natalie Raymond began with achcharu and now serves up wholesome Sri Lankan food. From dishes such as polos, lotus root, breadfruit curry to Sri Lankan chicken curry, AchcharuKadè, enthusiastically embraces modern local fare, supplementing it with healthy organic produce and has built a firm fan base.

My Sister’s Kitchen: Drawing from Jaffna roots

For the New Year, Achcharu Kadè also opts for pre-planned breakfast and New Year table menus which need to be ordered in advance. The menu sticks to the familiar traditional food and goes back to the basics to serve up well cooked Sri Lankan food which doesn’t stint on fresh produce or overwhelm with too many flavours.Accompanying the savoury dishes in the set menu are a handful of kevili such as kevum, mung kevum, kokis and aasmi. Achcharu Kadè’s set menus include portions of creamy kiribath, spiced red chicken curry, fish ambulthiyal, cashew curry, mutton kalupol and its popular crab curry and can be customized accordingly for the New Year.

The Achcharu Kadè can be contacted via Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theachcharukade

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