By Cheranka Mendis
Sri Lankans are blessed with many things wonderful, among which its cuisine inspired by the country’s diversity stands out.
Thanks to the rich heritage of the country and the various travellers, traders and immigrants who stopped over at the paradise island over time, we are now blessed with a truly diverse range of gastronomic delights – some more common than others, and some only prepared during certain times of the year.
Hailing from the golden age of Dutch exploration, the lamprais or the ‘lomprijst’ (Dutch words ‘klomp,’ which means lump and ‘rijst’ which means rice) as it was known then is possibly one of the greatest gifts passed down to the locals from the Dutch.
Though the origins of this marvel are unclear and the most common belief is that it was discovered in Java where the locals prepared small packets of rice consisting of a few leftover curries wrapped in a banana leaf, small enough to hold in the palm of their hand while eating, the Dutch are said to have refined it, adding some of their own touches to the now highly popular dish.
In truth however the lamprais that you know – the oily rice wrapped in a banana leaf with an egg and a piece of chicken sold in most of fast food outlets – is not the real deal. Having been improvised to fit the budgets of consumers and producers, the authentic lamprais is not what lamprais lovers often get.
Sitting down with four out of the five individuals who run The Dutch Grocer (TDG), a place that promises ‘mouth-watering and authentic culinary delights from a bygone era of our Dutch colonial heritage and Sri Lanka fusion food,’ we are told that we have been deceived over the years and been fed everything but a real lamprais.
There are essentially seven items that go into making a real Dutch lamprais, Rohan Bultjens said. “There is the savoury rice, fikkadels, blachan, mixed meat, ash plantain, brinjal pahi and seeni sambol.”
The fikkadels is a fried and crumbed cutlet of sorts while the blachan is made of prawns and coconut. The mixed meat consists of three types of meat – pork, chicken, and beef.
At The Dutch Grocer, this is exactly what goes into the packets that are lined up in the corner waiting to be picked up by the many who stop by. As for vegetarians, the mixed meat is substituted with a soya meat and cadjun curry and the fikkadel is replaced with a vegetable cutlet.
“This is prepared according to an ancestral recipe that has been passed down for generations,” Bultjans said. “It is a well-guarded secret and is, for me, the best there is.”
Having formed TDG after a discussion with Rohan Moonamalle on where to find a good authentic lamprais, the outlet has only been opened for eight months and has quickly risen to popularity. “The fresh lamprais is made at a secret location,” he quipped, “and is overlooked by Micheal Labrooy, who is a veteran in the hospitality industry.”
The lamprais here certainly lives up to expectations. The rice portion isn’t too large and the curries that supplement it aren’t too small either. “We wanted to strike a proper balance. Oftentimes there is too much rice and too little of everything else.”
The savoury rice is not your average oil mill and the mixed meat is a lovely treat compared to the usual chicken-only. “We are careful about the quality and consistency.”
Having successfully launched the lamprais, TDG has now branched out into homemade chutneys, special love cake with fruits, coconut rocks with cashew nut and chocolate topping and homemade thala-guli. “All of this has been well-embraced by our customers.”
Labrooy added that he has a few more surprises up his sleeve as well. Acknowledging that he cannot reveal too much, he mentioned pork kalu-pol, chicken beduma and beef smore among dishes to be introduced this month.
“They will be reasonably priced and are all homemade,” he said. “In due course we will introduce more dishes according to customer preferences.”
TDG now offers delivery services for over 10 packs within Colombo. Orders are undertaken for events as well as for overseas packaging.
Pix by Sameera Wijesinghe