Sri Lankan cuisine is unique but in preparation some people waste energy either purposely or due to unawareness.
Posted on April 29th, 2014

Dr Hector Perera   London

It is possible nearly all Sri Lankans consume rice and curries on daily basis, whether they live in Sri Lanka or abroad. There are quite a few Buddhist temples and Kovils in and around London. On special occasions such as on full moon day, quite a few Sri Lankans take Sil or Ata Sil. During the lunch time first the priests are offered the dana then everybody are served with dana. It’s amazing to see; those who observed Ata Sil, sit on the floor just like back home and listen to sermons all day then participate in dana. Rice and curries are served but vegetarian only, followed by a large number of desserts including ice cream, watalappan, fruit salads and many more.

In the kitchen of the temple you would be surprised to see how many ladies are cooking in real Sri Lanka style, opening and stirring the curries, may not taste the gravity because it’s for dana. One lady told me they check the salt by the smell only then add more salt. The curry smells are in the air, certainly some would have deposited on them but they don’t care, take it for grant as normal cooking. They are in a hurry to serve the crowd. Actually too many cooks showing off their traditional cooking skills. The kitchen has become a ladies only place. Nice to see so many ladies cook in the traditional way. During the whole time the gas fires are usually turned full, may be to get them cooked faster and faster. Due to incomplete combustion and poor ventilation some gas rings had yellow flames. In some gas rings, the flame was not clear blue but yellowish blue that shows incomplete combustion. When they don’t burn on full combustion, you don’t get the full efficiency of the gas. Then black soot deposit on the cooking vessels just like on firewood cooking.

In South London there is a GanapathiKovil, on every Sunday usually a large number of people come and everybody are served with lunch, nothing but rice and curries followed by lots of desserts. I have been to quite a few temples and to Ganapathi Kovil as well. I have seen a large number of Sri Lankans come to temples on special days but not everybody takes Ata Sil. That shows whether they are back home or abroad, they eat rice and curries at least once a day. They meet, eat, chat in Sinhala and it’s like a small Sri Lanka, amazing. Apart from Poya days, they meet on this New Year day as well.

Sri Lankan cuisine is one of the most complex cuisines of South Asia. Sri Lanka is not too far from South India, for that reason the cuisine of Sri Lanka shows some influence, but in many ways it’s quite distinct. Rice, which is consumed daily, can be found at any occasion, while spicy curries are favourite dishes for lunch and dinner. A large numbers of Sri Lankan restaurants are found in and around London. If the Sri Lankans are not eating that kind of food why there are so many restaurants?

Sri Lanka has long been renowned for its spices. In 1505 when Portuguese landed in Sri Lanka by accident, they promised the King to protect Sri Lanka from foreign invaders and the King awarded virtually lorry loads of spices in return. Some Sinhalese people reported the King that these people ate white rock [Thiruwana gal] and drank blood. The King was misled but actually they were eating bread and drank red wine or tea without milk. No wonder the King promised to give spices and elephants to protect Sri Lanka. Actually there were no invaders at that time except those Portuguese. Since ancient times, traders from all over the world who came to Sri Lanka brought their native cuisines to the island, resulting in a rich diversity of cooking styles and techniques.

Sri Lanka cuisine mainly consists of boiled rice served with curry. Now in supermarkets there are far too many varieties of rice to choose. They cook plenty of curries such as fish, chicken, pork, beef, goat or dry fish as well as several other curries made with vegetables, then red split lentils, jack fruit, actually far too many to mention. The spices and ingredients added for each curry is different in qualitative and quantitative. Vegetable curries are prepared with less or no red chillies but green chillies are always added. There are just a few cookery books but they know their cooking traditionally.

Side-dishes include red onion and green chillies pickles, chutneys and coconut sambol which are made of fresh coconut mixed with red chills, dried Maldive fish, salt and lime juice. First the paste is made then mixed with scraped coconuts. This is gently ground to a paste and eaten with rice, as it gives an additional taste to the meal and is believed to increase appetite. Now packets of scraped coconuts are found in Sri Lankan supermarkets so no more traditional way of scraping coconuts. You mean bye bye “Hiramonae”?

Believe me, soon you would say, Bye bye rice cooker, once you come to know my SCIENTIFIC ENERGY SAVING COOKING. Who would not welcome my method if it saves more than 60% energy; yes you heard it right, 60%.

In addition to sambols, Sri Lankans eat “mallung”, green leaves such is mukunuwenna are chopped and mixed with grated coconut and red onions and green chillies. Freshly squeezed coconut milk is used in most Sri Lankan dishes to give the cuisine its unique flavor. Today packet or canned coconut cream is available in other countries that mean even in overseas they use coconut milk perhaps for curries.

Sri Lankan people use spices liberally in their dishes and typically do not follow an exact recipe that is every cook’s curry will taste slightly different. Furthermore, people from different regions of the island for instance, hill-country dwellers versus coastal dwellers traditionally cook in different ways while people of different ethnic and religious groups tend to prepare dishes according to their customs. Although Sri Lankan food appears similar to South Indian cuisine in its use of spices such as chilli, cumin, coriander, turmeric and many more other spices, then add Maldive fish as well for some vegetable curries.

Not all types of dishes are prepared by cooking on fire such as salads and sambol. If sambol is fried with curry leaves, it gives a really tasty sambol. Rice, fish, meat and vegetable curries definitely need to be heated or cooked on fire but again not for the same length of time. I have observed many British TV chefs just don’t care about the wastage of fire or gas used for cooking. Some of them hardly have any idea about cooking on fire carefully, probably unaware of gas or energy efficiency. I have witnessed some of them purposely set fire to the cooking pan and the fire that went over more than two feet into the air. They must be thinking, higher the fire, more viewers or better attention. Have they got the idea that the volatile ingredients get burned in the fire and that does not bring any flavour to the food they cook. I can understand our servants who used to cook on firewood stoves sometimes let fire goes over the cooking pot and the pan but never let them catch fire. The firewood stoves always give yellow flame due to partial combustion.

One lady doctor from Sri Lanka Negombo, wrote to me and mentioned, sometimes foods get stuck to the pan. She found out in cooking vegetables this is often a problem. I am certain that is because of too much heat also not enough water in the pan. If some tomatoes are also added to the vegetables it gives out some juice also it gives an additional taste.   Rather than adding too much water, tomatoes would do because the juice has enough water. Further tomatoes are healthy to eat. One needs to cook in low temperature so there is enough time for the juices in vegetables to ooze out slowly then allowing them to react and interact. Most people are in hurry to cook so they put gas fire at full pressure and try to cook, that is where the problem started. According to science until the water content is evaporated, the temperature does not rise in the cooking pan. When water evaporates too quickly again a reason for forming Dankuda? Our servants and some housewives occasionally check the water of rice pot using a long handled wooden spoon, like checking oil in the car engine with a dip stick. Perhaps they didn’t realise some heat is lost during this process. They taste a few grains that come out with the end of the handle, if they think rice is still partially raw then add some cold water and stir. Sometimes this addition of cold water can spoil the rice. Strictly speaking this can be totally avoided, it can be cooked scientifically without opening to check water. Usually firewood stoves give under 500C but gas fire is always near 2000C. The excess heat must be responsible for forming burnt rice or Dankuda. Some cooking pots have high thermal capacity that means even when there is no fire, the absorbed heat is able to cook the food gently for few minutes. Clay pots are bad conductors of heat so there is not much heat retention or have less thermal capacity. I would think twice in choosing clay pots for as they absorb heat very slowly. Long time ago they are the only ones we used on firewood cooking but gives the food a different taste, actually tasty.

Most of the foods have more than 60% water content but additionally we add more water in cooking curries. Some people need lots of gravy in their curries but higher the dilution, less tasty the food and it needs plenty of salt to make it tasty. A reasonable amount of gravy in a curry or thick gravy has more taste. Some people judge if the curry is cooked by visually looking at the amount of gravy. Some add more water because they know the water evaporates while cooking but it can be controlled to some extent. Sometimes you need not stir all the time, once or twice before it actually boils is enough then by sheer experience they know roughly how long it takes to cook. Things like “Kirihodi” are constantly stirred to avoid curdling again it does not take that long to cook. I assume fish must be cooked for a shorter time than any meat such as chicken, pork and beef. If fish curries are stirred constantly, most of fish likely to dissolve.

This has to come from experience but not by constant stirring, opening and closing while it boils. When repeatedly open, the water vapour escape as steam then some ingredients piggy back water molecules. I am sure you heard before that you are likely to get food smell depositing on you while cooking. During this New Year period of cooking, far too many dishes are prepared and more and more chemicals tend to get deposited on you while cooking. Higher the fire, faster the rate of escaping volatile chemicals come out while cooking and more chance of getting chemical shower from curries. Please tell me, is it a traditional secret beauty therapy?

One reader from Philippine wrote to me, steam can clean the skin then any herbal chemicals from spices can have additional beauty treatment. And he assumes that is why those ladies keep on opening boiling hot curries, is that the real traditional secret?

I have mentioned that nearly 60% of the wasting gas in cooking rice and curries can be saved if cooked scientifically. Actually, the energy experts and energy authorities should find out very soon, my scientific energy saving cooking is right or wrong that means please either approve or disprove the technique.

Let me tell you again if I was disproved that challenged money will be given away but if I was right what do I get? My work is based on the principles of science, according to science, “Every action have an equal and opposite reaction”. If this is right many people who cook rice and curries anywhere in the world can cut down the wastage of gas. You do not get this fossil fuel for free from the suppliers. The question is why do you waste gas unnecessarily? Wasting gas means burning money. I am positive if people come to know how to cook and save gas, more people would use gas so the suppliers would be in demand. Additionally unnecessary wastage of gas causes air pollution that leads to many problems such as climate change. Also other health difficulties such as respiratory problems can be cut down. Let me request those energy experts and energy authorities to find out more details of cutting down energy wastage in cooking rice and curries scientifically. Your comments are welcomed

One Response to “Sri Lankan cuisine is unique but in preparation some people waste energy either purposely or due to unawareness.”

  1. SA Kumar Says:

    Dr Hector Perera Thank you ( how to saves more than 60% energy)
    Yes it is true, in all western counties Saiva Temples people wait in queue to get rice and curries.

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