‘Brownie point seeking business promotions’

Friday, 22 June 2012 01:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

My wife and I were delighted to see nearly daily, colourful, creative and professionally targeted advertisements by the Grand Oriental Hotel (GOH), York Street, Colombo 1, published over the newspapers during the last one week. These advertisements showing a mouth watering dish serving crab read, “Vanakkam, The Jaffna Food Festival, Authentic Jaffna Cuisine by traditional Jaffna chefs, From North with Love… Come, enjoy the suvayana Yaal Food”.

My wife and I invited another couple resident in the UK to join us for the above festival feast (the husband, originally from a traditional Jaffna family and the wife an English lady). The end of York Street, via a prominent Bill Board, reminded us of the attractive newspaper advertisement.

The entrance to the GOH had traditional banana trees with hanging bunches of fruits. The fourth floor entrance was similarly decorated in traditional style. The traditional Jaffna brass oil lamp and a bevy of girls wearing traditional dazzling silk sarees and bedecked in traditional jewellery greeted us with a ‘Vannkkam’. They applied the traditional white and red pottu from brass plate with a brass decanter on it. The traditional Jaffna music was blaring in the background.

Unfortunately, after that attractive start to the traditional Jaffna food festival, rest of the events that unfolded, dashed all hopes of the much looked forward to an enjoyable evening savouring ‘Authentic Jaffna Cuisine cooked by traditional Jaffna chefs’ and ‘experience Jaffna with love’.

The girls who greeted us were greeted back in Tamil along with a compliment by my guest. Unfortunately, they admitted in Sinhalese that both of them knew no Tamil, being Sinhalese girls who had only disguised as Tamil girls for the event. What a start to a Traditional Jaffna festival!

After we were seated another lady with a clear Sinhalese accent came in to promote in English pre dinner drinks, offering for the ladies Queen’s Cocktails or Princess’s Mocktails as the special promotions of the evening.

 For the men the promoted items were Scotch or imported wine. An inquiry as to the availability of fresh toddy or arrack bought negative responses. An inquiry of the availability of ‘Masala or Plain Moru’ brought bewilderment in the Sinhalese Waiter in a dhoti. He was reluctant even to check whether the Jaffna cooks could specially make it for us. The lady serving drinks and the supervisor on duty were of no help either.

The complementary small cup of traditional Rasam served was ghastly and close to dish water.

The traditional Jaffna Odial Cool served as soup was an insult to Jaffna Traditional Food and far out from the published Asian recipe. It was extremely chille hot and had not been made using Palmyrah root (Odial) flour.

The saviour of the evening were the hot vadai’s, made of both Ulundhu and Dhal.

The main meal had Jaffna Biriyani represented by vegetable rice (not even proper fried rice!), white rice, string hoppers made from white wheat flour and pittu made from a mixture of red and white rice four. The fish/meat curries were so red hot and not edible even by those used to hot curries. Hopper counter serving ‘Traditional Appam’ had a Sinhalese cook who could speak neither English nor Tamil.

The Special ‘Thosai’ counter had a cook who could not explain in any language the options available.

He merely served some very badly made onion pancake like item. Dhal curry and brinjal were far from satisfactory. What a disappointment and what an insult to Authentic Jaffna Cuisine by traditional Jaffna chefs.

The sweet counter had a bowl of ‘Payasam’ which had no raisins, cadju nor traditional spices to be served with a tablespoon!

What was evident by the end of the evening to all of us was that it was possibly a business promotion, targeting positive image building and a PR oriented publicity stunt, put together by those in charge, seeking brownie points from their political masters by publicly hailing that a ‘Jaffna Food Festival, serving Authentic Jaffna Cuisine made by specially brought down traditional Jaffna chefs, had been delivered to guests ‘from the North with love’ at a  ‘suvayana Yaal Food Fiesta’ organised by a Government owned business undertaking subsidiary of the leading State Bank.

I could not resist the temptation of a protest and threaten not to pay for the bill! On my way out, after due settlement of the bill, the supervisors on duty were told to convey my feeling to their bosses and never again to misrepresent, mislead and damage their reputation further. Having advised them to visit the ‘Cinnamon Grand’ Indian Restaurant for comparison and bench marking of quality of food and service, I lamented the fact that as a member of the PERC I had failed in the initiative to privatise the GOH, for it was clearly evident that the present management had no idea of how to run a food promotion. I trust this letter copied to the bosses in charge will open their eyes to the reality.

Chandra Jayaratne