Dani Venn, a participant of MasterChef Australia Season 12, won the hearts (and the taste buds) of its judges, including Gordon Ramsay, simply by whipping up a taste of Sri Lanka; a mud crab curry, pineapple curry, pol sambol and roti.
The way she praises Sri Lanka for its glorious culinary fare is truly admirable. While bringing Sri Lanka into the spotlight, she made us islanders feel special, and at the same time, quite proud.
Also, it got us thinking, what makes our food so darn delicious?
An Arsenal of Spices
There's no Sri Lankan dish that doesn't involve a dash of spices. No, we're not talking about the basic salt and pepper combo; we mean an arsenal of spices. And we don't use them just to make our food spicy. We create so many other flavours, textures, colours and an enticing aroma that one could smell from a mile away.
Take a simple Ala (Potato) Curry for example. From fennel seeds, salt, curry powder to turmeric powder, curry leaves and green chillies, every spice and element that goes into this curry has a purpose to fulfil. Turmeric to make it so gorgeously yellow, curry powder to give that curry edge, green chillies to spice things up, and fennel seeds to add a bit of sweetness along with an irresistible aroma, while curry leaves boost it up. And this is just a basic curry, there are many complex ones too, proving that there's no limit to the wonders we can do with spices.
The juice squeezed from grated coconut flesh, pol kiri (coconut milk) is a mandatory component in many of our curries. It's what makes the hodda (gravy) for us, which we use to scoop up our bread, rotis, and string hoppers, and it also enriches the curries with a wave of milkiness.
Wrapping rice & curry in a piece of banana/lotus leaf is a habit that Lankans have been practising since the ancient days. Not only it protects the food from getting spoiled, but it also produces a lovely leafy odour that could grow one's appetite.
Black Curry Paste
Like we stated previously, Sri Lankans have an endless potential towards mingling with different spices. Black curry paste is one of the complex inventions we create with spices, which is why it deserves a special shoutout.
The Black Pork Curry and Ambul Thiyal are two of the most popular dishes that are boasting with this goodness. Spicy, tangy and sour, this paste has almost every flavour in the book, and it also helps the meats to form the balance between the firmness and softness of its texture.
A Sri Lankan meal is simply a burst of flavours and textures. Spicy, sweet, salty, sour, bitter and tangy, each element at play contributes different flavour notes, and you can mix and match them to your heart's content to create the perfectly harmonised ensemble of flavours.
All Kinds of Miris
Chillies can make a grown man cry, but no meal in Sri Lanka is complete without it. Even the milkiest curry has a few chunks of green chillies in it. Our island is rich with different kinds of chillies; kochchi miris, nai miris, maalu miris, bell pepper, and many of us have no problem handling this heat. It's like we're fire eaters.
The Freshest Seafood
Surrounded by the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is blessed with a bountiful produce of fresh seafood. Aligned with the 1800km coastline lies a number of lively fishing towns, like Beruwala, Negombo, Galle, Weligama, and Koggala which are in charge of supplying this produce to both local and global markets.
It's all about creating a well-balanced out flavour profile, so we make good use of condiments like chutneys, sambols and papadum. But sometimes, we don't need a whole range of curries to gobble down mounds and mounds of rice. Just one sambol is enough; we're simple like that.
A Cuppa To Wash Everything Down
The elixir of life for Sri Lankans is tea; it tastes like hopes and dreams to us. Drinking a cuppa helps to tone down the fieriness of the meal while helping our body to digest it, and soothing our mind.