This is, the ultimate Sri Lankan feast, lamprais .. (pronounced LUM-RAI) a mound of rice surrounded by various curries, all wrapped in a banana leaf and then baked.
Appam or Hoppers
Ooo.. that marvelous smell of baked banana leaf! That magic moment of peeling back the banana leaf, releasing a delicious rush of sweet fumes, the roasted spices and tamarind mingling with the chicken, beef, pork and mutton of the baked parcel, the sweet tang of the pickled brinjals, the caramelized onions of the sambal, the oceanic smell of the prawns.. and finally, pouring the spectacular pipping hot lamprais curry all over the rice with a flourish!
Apparently done the traditional way, making the perfect lum-rai is a cooking feat that takes two days or so. My old tea-lady was Sri Lankan, back in my first job and she told me that in any household in Sri Lanka, cooking the lamprais was a real performance. Something of a treasured family activity that the Sri Lankan families took pride in and fussed over.
In the days leading up to this gargantuan task, large crates of dry goods and spices would arrive from the grocers at her home. Her mother (even though my old tea lady currently had no two front teeth, she was once a pretty cute kid yes..) would place a special order at the local butcher’s, as the lamprais curry required not one but FOUR meats! I am not sure how many meats the Aliyaa one has but I am pretty certain three at least.. Not only that, for that day, extra help would be employed, and the children were forbidden to enter the kitchen. However, kids being kids would still try to sneak a peak at their family members griding coconut, boiling rice, chopping mounds of garlic, ginger and onion, and minced fish in the meat grinder for the spiced fried fish balls.
Oh, how she loved them fried frikkadels! It became an obsession of the kids to try and steal freshly fried frikkadels from the counter without getting their hands slapped!
Now looking back, she says that she can appreciate the amount of love and labour that went into making this dish. Back then however, all the old tea lady cared about was getting a share of the lamprais in her grubby little hands before her older and bigger relatives polished off everything. Being tiny, you had to be fast to survive!
Yes, the old tea lady said to me.. Even if I am homesick and have not had the lum-rai in a long time.. I picture this in my mind’s eye, because it is my favourite image.
A lady that stands in the kitchen with her apron covered in curry stains. Her hair greasy, her brow furrowed, her fingers yellow with turmeric. Her shoulders and calves and hands twitch involuntarily as they ache from all the cutting and chopping and standing in front of the stove. Picture a young girl running to hug her. They both start to giggle as lady and child alike, get covered in turmeric. The happiness is contagious just like the yellow dye. It sticks and though time passes, no amount of washing will dislodge it.
1. This post is specially dedicated to my friend Yvonne Siew. When I first got back from London to start work in Malaysia, she brought me to Aliyaa and introduced me to the Lamprais. She also taught me how to pronounce it correctly;)
2. This post is also dedicated to a Lil Fatmonkey and Velvetescape. The photos are from the former and the great dinner mood due to the latter!
SRI LANKAN BICEPS
(as in, eat sri lankan to get biceps. the monkey is obviously chinese)Google Maps