people but by most Sri Lankans. The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia.
It is a public holiday in Sri Lanka. It is generally celebrated on 14th April (13th April on leap years). After dawn of the New Year, the first task of the year is lighting the hearth or the firewood stoves according to the auspicious time and boiling milk and they expect it to boil and over flow the vessel, they call it “Kiri Uthuranawa”, it’s a sign of prosperity. Subsequently, people used to prepare milk rice (Kiri Bath) from the harvest obtained from their paddy fields. Through these rituals, people believe that there won’t be a food shortage in their houses throughout the year.
In this task, all family members customary assist the housewife (mother) to do everything in perfect manner.In the preparation of milk rice, the directions and advices given in Astrology need to be adopted properly. The other main items that mix with the milk rice include sesame, green gram, jaggery and honey. When kiribath is prepared by adding mung beans or green grams, it’s called mung kiribath. I think the mung beans need to be soaked overnight before adding to rice. I have witnessed in our house where our mum used coconut milk to prepare milk rice. I must say I also prepared milk rice in the same manner but used packet or canned creamed coconut. I cook on gas fire unlike in our traditional way at home that is on firewood stoves.
I tried to cook by not overflowing the pot with boiling coconut milk since when it overflows it has some difficulties such as falling on the cooker sometimes it might block the gas vents. To check if it really boils, I lifted the lid just a bit but didn’t take it off. Yes it really boils well and tries to over flow but I managed without overflowing. I have experimented that by cooking my way, it does not give brunt rice and I am able to do other things while it cooks.
There is nothing like kiribath with katta sambol and now ready-mades are found in supermarkets in England, bottled in Sri Lanka. Usually it is prepared by crushing red chilies, onions, Maldives fish and some salt then mixed with freshly squeezed lime juice. When I cook, no mixing of boiling rice while it cooks because the method gives some energy saving as well. No words can complete the explanation but a demonstration make it a difference. I am not interfering with the traditional way of cooking Kiribath but what I am trying to say is there is another way to cook without spilling boiling milk all over the gas cooker.
I have witnessed this boiling milk spilling over the firewood stoves and I take it as a quite normal thing. In cooking Kiribath, over spilling of boiling milk is regarded as a traditionally good sign and many people think that it must be done that way if kiribath is cooked. There is a famous word among the public related to New Year celebration called “Avurudu Kema” (Enjoying food). This is a good evidence to explain the relationship between the Sinhala New Year and enjoying food. Since there is a close relationship between the Sri Lankan food culture and the housewife, she is given a prominent place in the Sinhala-Tamil New Year. Most houses in Sri Lanka have servants but on this special occasions, they just take a back seat as the lady of the house takes over cooking.
I think most professional ladies such as doctors, lawyers, teachers, bank managers and many other working ladies, hardly cook at home because they have no time but they have servants who do the cooking. My mum was a teacher and she cooks while the servant as well helps in cooking. Those days no gas to cook and we used kerosene oil lamps as we didn’t have electricity. I wonder how the present generation of working ladies would manage to cook on special occasions because they are not in touch with cooking. The servants usually prepare fresh curry paste by grinding than using readymade curry pastes from the supermarkets.
They are quite knowledgeable how to prepare them because they have been doing that for a number of years. Now the cooking is really easy, just add some readymade curry paste to chicken or fish, mix it and cook. The taste of food made by freshly ground curry paste and food prepared by readymade curry paste have different tastes.
According to my scientific technique, I am able to show how to avoid these curry smells depositing on them while cooking. I asked a few housewives why they always open and stir the boiling curries. They gave far too many excuses and some of them cannot be rejected.
Sometimes they forget to add some ingredients so they always have to open, add them and mix it well even when streams of steam mixed with chemicals ingredients are escaping. They also said, the food must be mixed and turn around several times during cooking to cook properly, that looks acceptable. When cooking rice, first the rice at the bottom of the pan cooks faster than the grains on the top of the pan or in the pot of rice. Would they mix and turn around rice while cooking so they get cooked evenly? I think this is where rice goes pear shaped or Etta Kuna also a chance to form burnt rice.
ingredients are very temperature sensitive and we must make use of them to flavour the food than allowing them to escape into air without flavouring the food. When we cook with the local spices such as curry leaves, lemon grass, “Rampae”, also called pan dam leaves, ginger together with the freshly ground roasted red chilies, coriander, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, cardamom, cloves and many more ingredients, the aroma is really appetizing. I like that flavour to be in food but don’t like to wear as an after shave, would you? I have seen the foods such as chicken or fish are mixed with those ingredients and allowed them to stand over for few minutes, they call it for marinade. Sometimes they use what is called “Gram masala” which is usually a mixture of black peppercorns, mace, cinnamon, cloves, brown cardamom, nutmeg and green cardamom.
When these ingredients are mixed with fish, chicken, beef or pork, they give out a very strong smell due to a mixture of chemicals in the ingredients. Sometimes just in a single ingredient, there are more than 15 different aromatic chemicals. Usually we add more than or nearly 10 different ingredients as mentioned above and each one has a number of different aromatic chemicals. When they are mixed with chicken or beef, some of the ingredients stay on the surface while some get adsorped and some get absorbed. I called these two processes as chemisorption.
When you listen to a nice song, the voice can be compared to the food and sounds from the musical instruments to the ingredients. The voice and the sounds from a number of musical instruments harmoniously mixed to give a beautiful song for example Sinhalese karaoke songs. On these kinds of special occasions the people prepare far too many verities of dishes with lots of spices. I love this appetizing smell coming out when curries are cooked but I do not like to wear them as after shave. That is the reason why I adopted my method to cut down smell depositing on me while cooking. I am sure you might have witnessed how they are cooked, to me nothing wrong but I was thinking the housewives cook these things tirelessly and they are really enjoy cooking. Sometimes cooking is like a TV drama, they keep on opening and stirring the boiling curries and keep on tasting the gravy.
The gravy is piping hot but they blow on them and put a few drops on the palm and taste then the fire goes up then come smoke and drops of ash. If they think it needs more salt, then add more and taste it again and again. Every time they open these boiling curries, streams of chemical vapours escape and simultaneously loses heat and they think that is quite normal cooking. Now who would not agree with me that those hot vapour with so many chemicals, tend to deposit some of it on any cold surface? When they stir, the hand and fingers are first to get this chemical smell on them then the face, hair and on the clothes, apart from that this smell spreads all over like, “Love is in the air”. The smell spreads all over the kitchen then to the rest of the house, that is unavoidable.
Everybody agree the cooking smell is very appetising but who would like to get that smell on them and cat walk? I am sure the housewives are quite used to that kind of cooking and the smell spreading all over but the problem arises when the children try to cook that way. Some University students just warm pizzas, pies, or fry sausages and burgers and only while some student’s cook pasta but very rarely they cook rice. They do not look for individual spices to mix just like at home. They cook chicken or fish curries, most of them just add readymade curry paste bottles and cook.
Still they open the boiling chicken or fish curries and stir them and taste them just like what they have seen at home again is that a traditional thing? Stir at the start is understanding but repeating that several times even when boiling is the problem. Some of the housewives told me that opening and tasting boiling curries is a traditional way of cooking, I quite agree with them. Have they forgotten that at the same time they get curry cologne and chicken cologne shower on them? I was thinking the present day children must be educated to cook scientifically.
The servants are gold dust, cannot be found all the time to prepare your food. Unless we know some cooking, I am not asking them to be master chefs or we have to depend on takeaways and unhealthy junk food. I am not trying to change or force the traditional cooking styles but trying to point out it can be done scientifically to avoid forming “Dankuda” also can avoid the curry smell depositing on us while cooking.Additionally some energy can be saved also able cut down some air pollution. Nowadays this subject pollution is a huge problem.
The ladies are used for traditional cooking, that is by stirring curries while it gives out fumes and smells of curries. They just ignore any chemicals depositing on them while cooking, they think it is a must also they might think brunt rice also must be part of cooking. The curry smell on them is not a problem, they cover that smell with fragrant sprays before the relatives and visitors come for lunch or supper. Certainly they ignore any energy wastage in cooking. We got firewood for free from the garden but we all have to pay for gas and electricity so how can we forget energy wastage? I think energy wastage is somewhat similar to burning money.
Author: Dr Hector Perera, London.