Juliet Coombe discovers it’s no doddle to make Dodol.
Yala’s Suduvelipedesa village is famous for its paddy farming and ability to make the sweetest of Sri Lankan sweets, Dodol. Dimuthu’s sixth generation family, who live 11 kilometres from Jetwing Yala hotel produce the traditional treat and now also teach you how to make their Dodol secret recipe. Sitting on Dimuthu’s kitchen floor is lots of fun, while grating the required five coconuts and then pouring water onto the grated pieces and squeezing them through, for their milk. It is however no doddle to make this confectionary delight that contains coconut milk, sugar, jaggary and rice flour, which are all stirred together continuously for around four hours, in a giant wok, over an open wood fire in the garden fanned by peacock feathers, until all the ingredients are reduced by half. The liquid is hand turned until the concoction is truly sticky, thick, sweet and no longer sticks to your fingers when touching it. This can, if done in a big batch, take between four to nine hours to make depending on the size of the batch, so only a few villagers have specialised in producing this ancient sweet, given as gifts on festival days, or as special offerings, at Kataragama and in the past was also bought by Sri Lankan Royal.
Dodol undoubtedly came with the traders, who were looking for spices, and its unique formula has been developed over time, changing from village to village, each adding things to the basic ingredients, from cashews to broken peanuts. Today, it is commonly served in Avurudu festival – Sinhalese & Hindu New Year, also during weddings, and festivals, such as Eid ul-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, as sweet treats that all the children enjoy. The history of using palm sugar, a traditional natural sweetener made from the sap of the Arena pinnata plant, goes back hundreds of years and, as a result, is one of the oldest indigenous sweets developed across the maritime base of South East Asia. It is a highlight of the Yala and Kataragama area. Some attribute it to the Portuguese, who occupied parts of the country during the 16th and 17th centuries and others to traders from India and Malaysia, where the sweet is equally popular. Over the centuries, several dodol recipes developed in Sri Lanka, such as kalu dodol and cashew nut dodol, which once made lasts up to two weeks without refrigeration.
After twenty minutes of stirring and adding coconut shells to the fire under the wok, we added the jaggery, which turns the mix a lovely syrupy brown colour and then left Dimuthu’s mother Somaseeli and wife Malkanthi to carry on turning the liquid, whilst we explored the area and learnt how to make pottery. Returning a few hours later to do the finishing touches and of course try the sweetest of Sri Lanka’s sweets.