Sri Lanka captured my heart when I was just seven. A bored and lonely kid growing up in a grim series of small towns in New Zealand, I was delighted to find a nine-year-old penpal, Arusha, in Colombo. Sri Lanka seemed so bright and colourful, so exotic, so … spicy! We fell out of contact after a couple of years, as you do when you’re a peripatetic little kid, but I never forgot that glimpse into another world. Over the ensuing forty years my passion for eating, for cooking, for things colourful and spicy and exotic grew and grew.
To this day I’m fascinated by that teardrop-shaped island in the Indian Ocean. Its literature, its food, its politics and its curly-wurly scripts. I visited Colombo briefly for work three years ago and was utterly charmed by the warm and earnest people, not to mention the glorious food. Arusha managed to survive the long civil war in Sri Lanka and I managed to escape small-town New Zealand. Both of us ended up in Australia.
Two years ago we found each other again and met up over a delicious home-cooked Sri Lankan lunch. It was fabulous to renew our friendship in person, even if we did have to explain the concept of a ‘penpal’ to her bemused teenage daughter!
Here are a couple of my favourite Sri Lankan recipes:
Parapou (or parippu) – a spicy lentil dal
Wattalapam – a coconut custard