When 39-year-old Basilica left Mannar, Sri Lanka, for India in 1990, she didn’t know how her life would turn out. Thirty-one years later, she is overseeing the cooking of authentic Sri Lankan cuisine at a small cloud kitchen called Yalpanam by Serendip.
The food is cooked by Sri Lankan refugee women in a pop-up cloud kitchen in the city, which is run by the social enterprise Serendip Boutique, founded by filmmaker and social activist Poongkothai Chandrahasan, to empower vulnerable women.
In a chat with DT Next, Basilica and Poongkothai talk about the specialty of Sri Lankan cuisine, the style of cooking, and the cloud kitchen.
“We use coconut oil and coconut milk in most of our dishes. The preparation and ingredients of the dishes vary according to the regions in Sri Lanka — there are small differences in cooking styles in the Sinhala provinces and Tamil provinces and there are different specialties in each province,” Basilica starts the conversation.
She adds that in many of the households in her province (Mannar), the breakfast would be pazhaya soru with some side dish. “Red rice puttu and idiyappam are also regular breakfast dishes. We make pol sambol — a dish made from coconut, as an accompaniment with string hoppers and puttu. Lunch mostly comprises fish curry, vegetables and rice. When we buy fish, we make three types of dishes with it — fish sothi, kuzhambu and fry. Fish sothi is a mildly spiced fish curry where fish is cooked in a coconut milk-based gravy. For dinner, we either opt for meals or rotis. One of the traditional dinner dishes is coconut roti (pol roti) — this is made with maida and coconut. This coconut flavoured flatbread can be eaten with seeni sambol. It is a caramalised onion chutney,” reminisces Basilica.
Like many other cooking styles, Sri Lankan cooking is labour intensive. “We always use freshly made spices for cooking. Fennel seeds are an important spice in Sri Lankan preparation. One of the most famous dishes of the Sri Lankan Tamil province of Yalpanam (Jaffna) is Jaffna kool. It is a combination of seafood and tastes like a spicy seafood soup.”
When it came to a discussion on desserts, Poongkothai reminisces, “We have a popular sweet called laveria. It is rice flour string hoppers with coconut pani or treacle and desiccated coconut spiced with cinnamon stuffing. A popular Sinhalese dessert is watalappan which is like a coconut custard. Sri Lankans also make milk toffees which is a huge favourite among children.”
Talking about the inception of the cloud kitchen Yalpanam by Serendip, the filmmaker tells us, “Due to the pandemic, many Tamil refugee women and their husbands lost their livelihood. When we discussed how to raise money, the idea of a cloud kitchen popped up. So far, we have done two set menus on weekends. We are taking orders for October 30 and 31.”
For the next pop-up kitchen, the team has already curated a set menu. Two vegetarian set menus include dishes like sigappu arisi idiyappam, parippu kiri hodhi (coconut milk stew cooked with lentils), pol sambol, makaral pirattal (string beans dry curry), bonchi ala kadalai pirattal (beans, potato and chickpeas dry curry), sigappu arisi kuzha puttu, and payatham paniyaram (made of moong dal, coconut, jaggery and spices).
Orders can be placed on 98400 56530.