Category Archives: Sri Lankan life

Everything about living in Sri Lanka, whether it is the quest for finding some decent cheese, brown bread and general day-to-day observations and experiences.

Overflow

Excellent blog post by a volunteer about the good and the bad of the relief efforts in the recent floods & landslides to hit Sri Lanka. As Indi brilliantly put it “Sri Lankans are actually amazing in a crisis, but if we were organized we could actually be effective.”

three sugars in my tea.

Endless lessons have been learned in the last week of witnessing and being involved in activity to help support families affected by floods in their time of need. Lessons we’ve learned on the go and after making mistakes, as this relief effort has by and large been a trial and error system put in place by thousands of concerned citizens. There have been overflows everywhere – in our rivers, in our lakes and in our hearts, as laid out in the observations below.


Social Media

I might spend time on it but I’m actually not a fan of Facebook. Until last week.

I was added onto two groups #FloodReliefLKA Volunteers and Flood Relief Sri Lanka – Volunteers – that were functioning as two large hubs for information exchange on needs and availability of items.
Long story short, it was a blessing and a curse. Blessing in that someone who needed…

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Vesak 2016, One Like No Other

Today is Vesak Poya (full moon) Day. It is probably the most important festival of the year in the Theravada Buddhist calendar. Buddhists commemorate the three most important events that took place in the life of Lord Buddha on this Vesak Poya Day (always the first full moon in the month of May). First is the day Siddhartha Gautama was born, which took place under the arbour of Sat trees in in Lumbini Park on the Nepalese border where Queen Mahamaya gave birth to him. The second event was Siddharta Gautama’s supreme enlightenment as the Buddha, under the Bodhi tree in Gaya. The third event was Lord Buddha’s Parinibbana (passing away) over 2,500 years ago at Kusinagar.

lord-buddhas-parinibbana

Lord Buddha’s Parinibanna

YAMU states that “Vesak is traditionally the most observed day of uposatha, the Buddhist day of observance. Devotees flock to the temples to observe ‘Ata Sil’ (the eight precepts), spend the day in meditation and attending sermons, and generally partaking in dana (giving), sila (observing precepts) and bhavana (meditation). Vesak usually attracts the most number of attendees out of all twelve annual Poya days”.

“Even the seemingly ‘secular’ celebrations around Vesak carry deep spiritual meaning. Offering flowers is a way to contemplate the way the flowers wither and die in the sun, just as every being does, and a reminder to be mindful of the fragility and impermanence of life. The eight-sided classic Vesak lantern is meant to represent the Ata Lo Daham (the eight vicissitudes of life – gain and loss, good repute and ill repute, praise and censure, and pain and pleasure), and the candle inside is to remember not to get attached or affected by these – lest it be a cause for suffering (as the candle touching the sides of the lantern causes it to burn down).”

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Vesak Lanterns

As with all religious festivals (you need only look at Christmas), commercialism has left its mark, not always for the best. However, with the recent sad natural events in Sri Lanka with large parts of urban areas on the outskirts of Colombo and in the West of the country being flooded due to extremely heavy rains, and more disastrously several landslides more inland close to Kegalle causing nearly two hundred deaths (the definite numbers are not yet known as rescue operations are ongoing), this Vesak will be one like no other. I remember last year we were praying for Nepal during Vesak, now we are praying for the country I choose to call home, Sri Lanka.

Many relief operations are ongoing (see below if you want to help, especially the end note).

During Vesak the Dana (food) plays an important role. Every devotee gives alms. This symbolises sharing the joy and peace with people. Richer members of the community will usually donate food or money to poorer families and societies or just groups of friends will have collected money from the community in order to organise a local dansal (free gifts of food, coffee, tea and refreshments to people, in particular travellers on their way to worship at temples). In my village, Narigama in Hikkaduwa, the dansalas have been cancelled and the food and money collected has gone to help survivors of the floods and landslides.

If you would like to make a donation or help in any other way then this article has all the information you need:2016 Flood Relief by YAMU

2016 Flood Relief by YAMU

NB: if you are going up to affected areas with donations please use your common sense and do not hamper rescue operations in any way. If you do not have a direct contact where you are going I would advise you to bring your donations to a known collection point instead. In some areas supply is exceeding demand whereas other areas have nothing. There are also opportunists around who are all too happy to accept your donations with fake tears. Don’t go on the off chance you may be able to help – you won’t. By all means collect items that may be of use in the coming weeks BUT, LEAVE THE DISTRIBUTION TO THE PROFESSIONALS IN THESE EARLY DAYS. 

May the thrice blessed Vesak be a contemplative holiday for all.

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A-Z Introduction to Sri Lankan Food & Drink

This is a great A – Z guide to Sri Lankan food. Enjoy!

Style in Sri Lanka

Fresh, local produce is plentiful and widely available in a variety of mouth-watering dishes across Sri Lanka. There are also likely to be many foods you haven’t tried or perhaps even heard of before which alone is one of the many highlights of visiting this beautiful country; making your joyful way through the diversity of indigenous foods & local cuisine.

This A-Z list only touches the surface of Sri Lankan foods, offering an introductary insight in what springs to my mind with each letter- I hope you enjoy, do share your personal favourites in the comments below. As suggested with the image above- place your cutlery to the side and dig in with local style…I can assure you it tastes a whole lot better!

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Power Cut Prawn Curry

Now unless you live in Sri Lanka, I am 99% sure that you will have absolutely no idea of what I am talking about except for the prawn curry bit.

Basically, Sri Lanka has had some “issues” with island-wide electricity supply since Sunday the 13th of March when the entire country was without power for around 8 hours due to an explosion at a major power station. This caused another major power station to malfunction and (so we have been informed by various media sources and politicians here – make of that what you wish) that the latter power station was not built according to international standards and hence it is needing huge repairs, so daily power cuts of seven and half hours have been imposed throughout the country. Five and a half during the day and two at night. The citizens, residents and I expect the tourists not lucky enough to be in hotels with a generator are pretty pissed off. And with the power cuts come water cuts. A whole big barrel of laughs NOT.

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Life by candlelight

People do take things like this in their stride though and Sri Lankans, who are notoriously laid back (in a great way) particularly so. People flocked to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with funny photos, comments and memes (#PowerCutSL). I meanwhile decided, as I didn’t want my laptop battery to die, to cook a yummy prawn curry. I had plenty of gas for cooking and plenty of candles (and wine!) so it really made the night time power cut bearable. Therefore, I thought I would share the recipe with you.

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Power Cut Prawns

Power Cut Prawn Curry Recipe (serves 2 as a large portion or 3)

Ingredients

  • 20 large prawns, shelled and keep some heads aside
  • 6 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 3 – 4 stems of curry leaves or 30 to 40 leaves
  • 1 thumb size of fresh ginger, sliced
  • 3/4/5 long green chillies, sliced (up to you!)
  • 2-3 small red onions, sliced
  • 4 cardamom pods, squashed
  • 1 tbsp. fenugreek seeds
  • 1 cinnamon, stick broken
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 2 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp. ground coriander
  • 1 tbsp. red chilli powder
  • 1 tbsp. ground turmeric
  • 1L coconut milk (fresh is best, but I used the powdered milk and cans will be just as good)
  • Oil (I used virgin coconut oil)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Lime to taste

Method:

  • In a large frying pan, add a little oil and cook the prawns in batches of 8 to 10 at a time, or about 1.5-2 minutes depending on the size of the prawn. Keep aside to cool
  • In a large saucepan, heat the whole spices and cook until toasted and aromatic.  Add your oil to the pan and then add the garlic, curry leaves, ginger, chilli and shallots. Cook for 2 mins.
  • Deshell the prawns and put the prawn heads in the saucepan with the spices.
  • Add the rest of the powdered spices with the coconut milk and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain to remove prawn heads.
  • Pour the sauce over the prawns in the frying pan, and season with salt, pepper and some fresh lime juice and you are ready!

Serve with rice and wedges of lime.

prawn

Power Cut Prawn Curry

There is always a silver lining behind every cloud! 🙂

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Weird and Wonderful Vegetables of Sri Lanka

Going to the vegetable market is always fun in Sri Lanka. It’s pretty much pointless to make a shopping list for me because I never stick to it. I can be convinced that I’m going to buy potatoes, onions, cabbage and tomatoes but what I’ll actually come home with are sweet potatoes (the normal variety were small and the sweet ones SOOO purple… seriously colours get me every time), aubergines (tomatoes weren’t fresh), courgette (zucchini – my new favourite food), limes (just because) and yes onions, always onions.

I have lived here for nearly twelve years and I still don’t know what all the vegetables in the market are.

A selection at my local market

A selection at my local market in Hikkaduwa

Don’t let the picture above fool you. I live in a tourist destination and our market caters for that so you will find many vegetables popular with non-locals (with prices to match). It makes for great shopping but what really interests me are the veggies that are so indigenous that they don’t have an English name, vegetables that aren’t well-known and have no endless recipe suggestions when you do a Google search on them, vegetables that have health benefits that only Ayurveda practitioners or Sri Lankan grandmothers (Aatchis) know. Strange vegetables. Weird vegetables. Wonderful vegetables.

Attention grabbers include the gourds (bitter gourd, snake gourd, bottle gourd, ridge gourd etc.). These are related to squashes and pumpkins but seem to have many more health benefits, such as helping to lower blood sugar and eradicating toxins. Locally these are usually made into curries and sambols.

Snake gourd

Snake gourd

Baby bitter gourd

Baby bitter gourds

Another vegetable you are not likely to encounter in an average supermarket abroad is murunga, also known as drumsticks. They are eaten in a similar way to their chicken equivalent in name, you basically hold them in your hand and suck off the edible bit. Again they are said to be incredibly healthy, not to mention an aphrodisiac.

One of my absolute favourites to use raw in a spicy sambol are winged beans, aka dambala:

Dambala

Dambala

This strange looking vegetable is so delicious fresh; simply finely chop it into a sambol with onions, tomatoes, chillies and lime (with salt and pepper to taste). Providing it is not too hot I even eat that on a cheese sandwich. Seriously good.

If you have followed this blog for a while you will know that I love aubergines (brinjals, eggplant, wambatu, whatever). So I’m in my element here in Sri Lanka because they come in all different shapes, sizes and colours! Big, long, oblong and deep purple to tiny, round and white and green.

Brinjal heaven

Brinjal heaven

Another favourite of mine are snake beans. They can be prepared just as normal beans but they are much longer and in my opinion tastier. They are less stringy than normal green beans and make an absolutely fantastic curry. Peter Kuruvita has a lovely recipe here.

Snake beans

Snake beans

Then there are all the different kinds of leaves, ranging from spinach to the more exotic gotu kola. Your more familiar vegetables such as potatoes, onions, leeks, carrots can of course also always be found and increasingly vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, courgettes, peppers etc. are available at larger markets and supermarkets.

One thing that I simply cannot imagine any Sri Lankan market to be without (other than coconuts) is the wonderful karapincha. These are curry leaves. A mere crunch of these in your hands gives off such a Sri Lankan curry smell that it is almost overpowering. They grow abundantly in my garden and I would consider them a horticultural nuisance if they weren’t so tasty and healthy!

Curry leaf tree in my garden

Curry leaf (karapincha) tree in my garden

Karapincha are indispensable in any kitchen in Sri Lanka. They are added to almost every curry recipe or even just fried briefly in oil to flavour the cooking oil. It is a hardy plant and its health properties are numerous.

There are also dedicated karapincha dishes, like karapincha mallung (or mallum) and karapincha kenda (a herby drink). Karapincha kenda is a mixture of a cup or two of finely shredded leaves, grated coconut, chopped garlic and ginger, a teaspoon of mustard powder, and pepper and salt to taste. Mix the ingredients together with water and season with lime juice. Put the same spice mix with a couple of green chillies thrown in, through a blender to make a fine and healthy karapincha dip for your potato wedges.

Of course, Sri Lankan cooking is not just about taste. Combinations of ingredients and dishes are chosen to optimise nutritional balance and health, and often to address health issues. In that sense, karapincha is somewhat of a workhorse, adding much more than flavour. The native ayurvedic medicine system lists a variety of uses for almost all parts of the karapincha tree, from its leaves to bark, roots, fruits and flowers.

Its bark and roots are used as a tonic and a stomachic, and stimulant. The raw leaves, rich with amino acids and oils, purify the blood, bring down blood pressure, prevent diabetes and aid digestion. Studies have identified a compound that slows down the breakdown of starch, making it effective for weight control.

A visit to the vegetable market in Sri Lankan is therefore so much more than a shopping trip.

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Poson & Weird Weather

Happy Poson poya day!

Mihintale: where Buddhism was introduced in Sri Lanka. A special place on Poson poya.

Mihintale: where Buddhism was introduced in Sri Lanka. A special place during Poson poya.

Today is a full moon day (poya) and in the Sinhala Buddhist calendar it celebrates the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC. It is a festival of great historical and religious significance and is celebrated island-wide, second only to Vesak. I like poya days for many reasons, written about here. So, as I often do on a poya day when less busy than usually, I ponder on things. It’s my form of meditation and for some reason a full moon helps. Feel free to call me as mad as a hatter but there are many that agree that a full moon has a special significance. There is even a wiki page on this phenomenon ‘Lunar effect‘. Far from going a bit nuts, though, I feel calmer.

I find it is a time to put the things of the month gone by in perspective and Poson is particularly relevant to what is to me just a very personal thing: “On the day, pilgrims gather at Buddhist temples across the country to Observe Sil (“Atamasthanaya”) – A practice where followers wear the most simplest of white clothes, and take time out for a period of reflection, on both the self, and on the teachings of the Buddha. This period of self reflection is said to bring one closer to detaching from worldly pleasures and coming closer to attaining Nirvana. Devotees also gather to listen and understand the teachings of the Buddha or “Dhamma”, through sermons and preachings by senior Buddhist monks.” (taken from amazingasia.com). I did none of this but the mention of self reflection hit a nerve. So, it is not all mysticism and talk of werewolves? The moon has an effect on tides, that’s pretty big is it not? So, why should it not affect our moods? Food for thought if ever there was any.

It is a lovely peaceful day. The girls and women in the village dressed in white walking to the temple and whole families enjoying themselves on the beach with picnics. Along the Galle Road other families are crammed into pick-up trucks or singing on a rented bus. Distant chanting of monks from the village temple ebbs and flows with the wind in my breadfruit tree. Yet, something is bugging me today. It is the light. Something about the light, something about the weather. And it’s not the moon bathing the garden in ethereal light these last few nights, it’s different.

It is no secret that India is in the midst of a pre-monsoon heatwave. The Times of India has proclaimed it the world’s 5th deadliest heatwave ever.  That is quite scary in general. All the more so here because Sri Lanka is not a million miles away. I have been hot, my fan is on higher, colder and I am complaining more. It’s humid, sticky and hot. Uncomfortable.

So yes it is very hot, we have established that, but I have noticed the light is off, it’s different. I have been observing this for a while but it was especially noticeable after having left the country for 6 days a fortnight ago. Now, when we have the cross-over from season to off-season this happens, but this year it is extreme. In Hikkaduwa where I live the sunset has moved quite considerably in position. Sadly I do not have good photos to compare but let’s just say it no longer sets where it usually does (or should do at this time of year, however, given our proximity to the equator it should not deviate much at all). The strength of the sun has also increased as I can testify by getting sunburnt in half the time I would have done in December, just a few days ago.

Pre-monsoon deceptively strong sun

Pre-monsoon deceptively strong sun

The sun shines when it doesn’t, it buckets down when it shouldn’t (or when you are least expecting it to). The BBC weather centre tells me the rains are coming, yet it told me this last week and we are still waiting, sweating. It’s different.

On this Poson day, this leads me to consider global warming, then suddenly remembering how the light was off in the weeks following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami when the weather turned weird and different. I was here then too, suddenly the memory is razor sharp and I remember nuances which I had pushed to the back of my head. Could it be Nepal, the earth’s axis adjusting once again? Shivers suddenly rush down my spine in this heat, and humidity. The earth changes, as do the seasons, the sun and moon are in a constant state of flux. The only constant thing is change.

I had a flutter of panic in my chest until I realised that. The only constant thing is change. Now I watch the moon and am at peace once again.

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HAPPY VESAK!

With special thoughts and prayers for Nepal on this Vesak day in 2015.

ankie renique's blog

Now unless you live in a mainly Buddhist country like Sri Lanka or are a devout follower of Buddhism, you’re probably wondering “what is she on about now?” when I happily wish you and your family a happy and peaceful vesak. Today is Vesak Poya (full moon) Day. It is probably the most important festival of the year in the Buddhist calendar. Buddhists commemorate the three most important events that took place in the life of Lord Buddha on this Vesak Poya Day (always the first full moon in the month of May). First comes the birth of Siddhartha Gautama which took place under the arbour of Sat trees in in Lumbini Park on the Nepalese border where Queen Mahamaya gave birth to him. The second event was Siddharta Gautam’s supreme enlightenment as the Buddha, under the Bodhi tree in Gaya. The third event was Lord Buddha’s Parinibbana (passing away) 

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