Did you make any new year’s resolutions this year? Planned to reduce your macaron intake? Wean yourself off Gossip Girl? Combat the Tight Pants Fairy’s evil work? And did your good plans disappear as quickly as that box of macarons and the sight of your toes?
Well fear not, because the new year has only just begun! The Sri Lankan New Year begins on either 13th or 14th of April each year, with the exact time and date dependent on the time when the sun moves from Meena (Pisces) into Mesha (Aries). The recent new year began on the 14th of April (at 6:58am to be precise), and I was lucky enough to join in the Sri Lankan Cultural Society of Western Australia new year celebrations on Sunday the 18th of April.
It was held at Centenary Park in Wilson on a beautiful sunny Autumn day. I was enjoying the warmth of the sun in a singlet (and shorts, I might add) which turned out to be a clever idea as friends were able to find our group by spotting my blindingly white skin amongst the more melanin blessed crowd.
I was barely there for two seconds before food was being thrust upon me. I got the feeling I was going to enjoy celebrating the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year.
We decided to load up on foods and find some grass to relax on so there would be no injuries should we go into simultaneous food comas. The foods on sale were written up on a whiteboard, and I was glad to have my own personal translator, my friend Lil deVious, to explain the dishes. Fish Roti and Buriyani were fairly obvious to someone who is familiar with Indian food, but I was a little confused by the Cutlets, Chinese Rolls and Wadai under the Shorties part of the menu (though not quite as confused as I was by the chips, fish & chips and hot dogs on offer).
While we were lining up, I was a little alarmed by the apparent popularity of the chips and hot dogs, but I guess if you make your own yellow rice and curries at home every day, it might be nice to treat yourself with a bucket of chips on a Sunday.
The Chinese Roll and Cutlet are somewhat similar, both containing a spicy fishy filling which tasted like a spicy, aromatic version of my Mum’s tuna patties. I love my Mum’s tuna patties and I loved these. The Cutlets are round crumb-coated balls of the fish mixture, while the Chinese Rolls are like a spring roll that has been crumbed before frying.
The next tasty fried shorties were wadai, spicy fried lentil patties. The outer layer was perfectly crispy and I loved the amount of heat contained within each naughty morsel. These would be perfect with a cold beer.
The “rice and curry” came with “fish, potato, beans, dhal”, while the yellow rice came with “chicken, potato, eggplant”, and both had a dollop of spicy spicy chilli. Both were aromatic, well spiced, filling meals. I would have liked a bit more of a kick to it, but was able to achieve this easily by adding the chilli to my forkfuls. I can understand that they couldn’t exactly have every component knocking your socks off with the heat, as they were cooking for a large crowd and even with a mostly Sri Lankan crowd you sadly cannot assume everyone is a chilli fiend.
One of the other non-Sri Lankans in our group got these chips. He’s a Kiwi. I like to think he got them purely to entertain us with his pronunciation of “chips”. They looked nice and crunchy but I was not willing to spare a single chip worth of stomach space.
This was my first Sri Lankan hopper experience and it will not be my last. Oh no, as the magical Hopper Man is my witness, I will never go hopper hungry again! Hoppers are basically thin pancakes made in quite concave pans. There are many varieties of hoppers, but on this day we had a stack of plain hoppers finished off with an egg hopper on top. The egg was perfectly cooked such that there was no “snot” on the white (thanks Dad for giving me such a classy vocabulary) but the yolk was gooey and begging to be dipped into with pieces of hopper. The accompanying chicken drumstick was tender and spicy and the coconut sambol was heaven in a hopper scoop.
In addition to the good eating, there were a number of games being played throughout the day. I’m not sure what they are called in Sinhalese or Tamil, but I would call them hitting a claypot piñata, pillow fighting, and of course a good old game of cricket.
Watching a talented piñata smasher bust open the clay pot was amazing. All of the children that had been impatiently waiting around the sidelines rushed in faster than I could capture with my camera, eagerly grabbing at the freed treats while the triumphant stick-wielder pumped his fists in the air. I felt a little sorry for him – to pause for your success to be captured on film, or to make sure some of those liberated lollies make it into your pockets? A tough choice.
The pillow fighting went on for hours, with many heats leading up to the finals. Watching the men’s finals was something else, these guys really meant business. I think they had been training in their backyards. The ultimately triumphant pillowman had a winning technique of absorbing all the force of his opponent’s whacks in the side of his head before making his move with one or two hits to throw his opponent off balance and send him tumbling off the log.
I didn’t watch much of the cricket, but I did manage to capture a little mini Muttiah Muralitharan deliver a killer doosra all of about 2 metres, forcing the batsman to run forward more than half the length of the pitch to reach the ball.
I didn’t want the celebrations to end, and luckily they continued the following night when Lil deVious invited me around to her place for dinner. The place smelled so good when I arrived I could have just walked around chomping the air and almost have been satisfied. Almost. Fortunately for my bundy (stomach) we got to eat the source of the smells, and the kiribath (milk rice), chicken curry and seeni sambol were right on the rupee. Bohoma sthuthi, Lil deVious, your cooking is truly rasai. I’m worried my bundy is going it pack its bags and migrate to Sri Lanka without me.