Assignment 28: Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Location: South Asia, off the southern coast of India
Population: 21.4 million
Capital: Colombo
Geography: A tropical island nation, mostly of plains, with a small mountainous area
Language: Sinhala, Tamil
Signature flavours: Rice, ginger, chilli pepper, curry leaves, fennel, roti, treacle

The Menu

Eric and I have been eating Sri Lankan food for years at one of our favourite restaurants, South Indian Dosa Mahal, which sadly burned down a few weeks ago. Eric recreated one of my favourite dishes of theirs (masala vadai), as well as finding several more online.

SRI fish
Basa, pre-baking

Devilled Fish: Basa whitefish seasoned and baked, served on basmati rice with a spicy bell pepper and tomato stew.

Prep and cooking time: 30 min
Difficulty: 2/5

SRI roti
Frying up some rotis

Kottu Roti: Strips of roti bread cooked in a curry of leek, carrot, and a mix of spices.

Prep and cooking time: 30 min
Difficulty: 2/5

SRI vadai
Deep frying vadai

Masala Vadai: Deep fried chickpea flour balls embedded with curry leaves, hot peppers, onion, and ground fennel seed.

Prep and cooking time: 15 min
Difficulty: 2/5

SRI aggala

Aggala: A dessert of molasses, pepper, and rice flour balls pressed into shredded coconut.

Prep and cooking time: 15 min
Difficulty: 2/5

Hoppers: Thin, bowl-shaped rice flour crepes similar to Indian dosa, made in a special pan, which Eric purchased and prepped for the occasion.

Prep and cooking time: 4 hours (including time for dough to rise)
Difficulty: n/a (see below)

The Shopping List

Toronto has a fantastic neighbourhood in the east end for anyone who loves the flavours of South Asia. Little India offers dozens of grocery stores and restaurants, and it was there that Eric ventured in his search for ingredients. He also found the special pan for the hoppers — a small rounded metal pot similar to a mini wok. His spices came mostly from Bulk Barn, and vegetables came from our local FreshCo.

SRI spices

The Meal

I was looking forward to Sri Lanka night for days, knowing already that I am a fan of the curries and pastries of the region. Eric chose a great line-up to showcase Sri Lankan flavours. He found most things pretty easy to make, but the hoppers were a bit of trouble. He found his dough did not quite match the “runny but sticky” consistency described in the recipe, and decided to save the hoppers for another time.

SRI plate
Devilled fish and masala vadai

The devilled fish was very spicy. The basa, from South Asia, was flaky and moist with a mild whitefish flavour. It went well with the potent flavour of the curry and the buttery basmati rice.

SRI kottu
Kottu roti

The kottu roti was simply amazing. I loved the curry-soaked strips of roti mixed in with the vegetables. The dish had some heat, but the predominant flavour was curry and garam masala.

The vadai was another success. They tasted just like the ones we eat at Dosa Mahal! They have a firm, bouncy texture, and are a bit like a pakora in consistency, except the flavour that comes through the most is the whole curry leaf.

Aggala has a very strong molasses flavour, like super-concentrated brown sugar. The intensity of the taste is tempered somewhat by the shredded coconut.

Sri Lankan cuisine will most definitely feature in our regular meal rotation. I’m already bugging Eric to make more vadai, and dreaming of that curry leaf taste.


Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.

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