WASHINGTON: Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya joined Washington-area guests last week to celebrate the release of Rice and Curry, a new cookbook by Sarath Fernando, a Sri Lankan-American author who has worked to popularize Sri Lankan cuisine in the United States.
The cookbook, which includes 208 pages of traditional Sri Lankan recipes, from patties and cutlets to shrimp and crab curries to fruit dishes and puddings, was recently honoured in The New York Times 2011 List Of Notable Cookbooks as part of the Times’ Holiday Gift Guide.
Rice and Curry is not just a cookbook, but an abbreviated encyclopaedia of Sri Lankan cuisine, with sections that explain the island nation’s abundant spices, a trip to a Sri Lankan market and even a short profile of Leela, an ever-present cook who made traditional dishes in Fernando’s household as a boy in Sri Lanka.
Fernando attended Harvard and Colombia Universities, and today lives in Baltimore, but travels frequently, including many trips back to Sri Lanka. His cookbook fuses both worlds, updating old-time recipes that call for exotic Sri Lankan ingredients with staples found in the United States. He spent part of the evening signing books and the rest describing Sri Lankan cuisine.
“As a young boy I would watch my mother cooking in the kitchen and wonder what she was doing and how she was making the meal,” Fernando told the crowd of over 100 guests. “And when she left the kitchen I would climb up into the cupboard and put my finger in all the spice jars to try them. I think that’s when I became interested in this food.”
Fernando’s talk was followed by a cooking demonstration by the ambassador’s chef, who made hoppers and egg hoppers for guests. Afterward, a spicy Sri Lankan buffet of rice, fish, chicken and eggplant curries and desserts was offered. The spicy aroma of the evening filled the ambassador’s residence, transporting some of the guests back to Sri Lanka and temping other to visit.
Fernando became a well-known expert on Sri Lankan cuisine when he accompanied Anthony Bourdain, host of the popular U.S. food and travel show, “No Reservations” to Sri Lanka in 2008. The pair visited several popular restaurants and also some out-of-the-way haunts in their quest for spices and traditional Sri Lankan cuisine.
Today, Fernando runs his Rice and Curry blog and markets spices (http://riceandcurry. wordpress.com/about/)
Fernando’s book launch in one in a series of events that Ambassador Wickramasuriya has hosted to promote Sri Lankan culture, cuisine, trade and tourism. The Rice and Curry event included a number of American food writers, as well as diplomats and Washington professionals.
The ambassador has scheduled a second annual “Signature Tour” for 2012. During the first tour, he took 25 Washington-area professionals to Sri Lanka for a 10-day visit.
Rice and Curry, Sri Lankan Home Cooking is published by Hippocrene Books, Inc.