Sri Lankan flavours come to Waypoint Cafe Kolkata
Anthropologist and home cook Sulakshana De Mel cooked a hearty and homely meal
On a lovely Sunday afternoon, Indulge went over to Waypoint Café on Sarat Bose Road to have a hearty SriLanka meal cooked for a group of around 40 people by Sulakshana de Mel. The meal was a reflection of the coastal flavours of the country and we couldn’t help but wonder about the similarities between South Indian food and a homely Sri Lankan Sunday lunch across Moratuwa.
De Mel is a social and cultural anthropologist and it was intriguing to see how through her grandmother’s recipes, from which she cooked for us, socio-cultural events, trade routes, eating habits, and history, influenced the food of the town she resides in. Speaking to Indulge she mentions, “Looking at the food in my town through an anthropological lens has helped me to understand the diversity and the confluences of influences in our food. Anthropology has helped me read food, like the colonial history, trade routes, taboos, social stratification etc. through food.”
On the menu was chilled Ceylon Peach Black Tea which was Iced Tea brewed for several days. The cut Orange infused a refreshing citrusy flavour. The tea was just a precursor to the delicious food that was yet to come.
For the mains came a specially curated thali as per vegetarian or non-vegetarian preferences. Our Thali had Kaha Bath or yellow rice which was brought to the cuisine around 1800’s. The rice inherited its rich sweet flavour through the heavy use of roasted cashews and raisins. These were made with short grain rice used especially to make this dish. The Ala thel dala or the spicy potato fry (with added fish flakes for the non-vegetarians) had a balance of flavours with the large cut potatoes, fried with onion, chilli flakes, mustard seeds, and curry patta. It picked up on the spice from the chilli flakes, the pungency from the mustard, and a strong aroma and flavour of the curry patta.
When asked about the ingredients or whether they were local or home-sourced she explains, “It is not that ingredients cannot be sourced here but to maintain the authenticity of the dishes I got my own spices from home like Ceylon cinnamon, Ceylon turmeric, Ceylon cardamom, Ceylon rice and kokum, cashews. I have tasted the ingredients here but there is a difference. For instance, our cardamom is stronger and it explodes in your mouth but here it is more subtle.”
The sweet and spicy chunky Pineapple Curry, De Mel mentions came with the Dutch. This dish was instantly addictive. The Cashew curry which happened to be her aunt’s recipe was full of soft cashews, curry patta, and coconut gravy. Kokum was specially added to make the cashews softer in texture.
To end the meal was the Love Cake with Ice Cream dessert. The Love Cake was brought to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese and was almost considered as an aphrodisiac. The Cake itself had a chunky and crumbling texture loaded with dry fruits and the ice cream complemented the cake by providing the melt-in-the-mouth texture.
As she took to the industrial kitchen for the first time, she shares her experience with us, “I am a home cook but the industrial kitchen is a different ballgame. However, it’s very helpful because it has an enabling environment. You don’t have to worry about the size of the utensil to be used or the amount of gas that will be consumed. Also, Megha has an amazing kitchen staff who provided support throughout. It’s been a good learning curve.”