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Sweet-making with the local sweeties

Sweet-making with the local sweeties

By Juliet Coombe

To give balance to the amazing Ayurveda treatments at Jetwing Ayurveda Pavilions in Negombo, Rohan, the immaculate dashing master chef for the hotel has developed holistic local experiences in unique hideaway spots, where traditional life remains untouched, along with their family values. My teacher was Anastin Fernando, ably assisted by Mary Jaya, who were experts in making all kinds of special treats for festival time. We go to work immediately, mixing a bowl of rice flour, wheat flour, sugar, Jetwing Blue’s own treacle I tapped myself, coconut and rock salt, which we worked into a liquid that looks much like pancake mix.

We then set the fire alight with various grades of palm fronds beneath a smallish wok laid on three bricks and continued to coax and fiddle with it to get the right heat for the entire cooking period – it really was a good part of the art of village cooking and was a steamy business. The wok, filled with virgin coconut oil, made harsh bubbling noises as it became ready for the mix, which Anastin tells me, “You must pour in the mix slowly, so that the boiling oil has maximum contact with the mix before collecting in the bottom of the wok. After that you have to spike the top, pour the oil in and coax the uncooked mix within out through the top.” This was the hardest bit as it required great attention to detail and lots of movement with both hands, as if caressing a splinter out of a thumb. I sort of got the hang of it after several attempts, but realised that she made it look so much simpler than it was. All parts of the process and ingredients were locally sourced and the resulting Oil Cakes (Kondakeum) were absolutely delicious like a hybrid of pancakes and sticky toffee pudding.

Learning how to make oil festival cakes so fresh they melt in your mouth
Learning how to make oil festival cakes so fresh they melt in your mouth

We then moved on to the Kokkies (a sort of crispy cracker in a star/flower shape), where I came into my own, as this involved dipping a bit of metal hardware into a mix of rice flour, turmeric powder, coconut milk, salt, an egg and water and then cooking it in the simmering virgin coconut oil and literally shaking off the cracker from the metal star when it was ready, which was not easy as it often held on for dear life. Both the dipping and the dropping in required some skill and I was much better with this, often turning out perfect stars when mine were aligned but again not up to the standards of Anastin.

Everyone around sampled the sweets and loved them. The kids particularly Netumi and Shehara gave me a thumbs up.Cyril, the daddy of the family, was keen to introduce us to the local arrack but I think one sip of that, after standing the heat in the kitchen on top of tropical temperatures, would have gone directly to my head. The final dish was delicious coconut milk rice served on a newly cut banana leaf was a sweet and wonderful end to an unforgettable cooking experience. Something made even more special by sharing this feast of food with the family that enjoyed teaching us as much as we enjoyed learning the art of Sri Lankan sweet making. Completing the mind, body and spirit circle with a feast of treats, photos and unique memories that makes every Jetwing Hotel experience a special one.

Hubble bubble and hey presto magical festival cookies, first brought to the island by the Dutch
Hubble bubble and hey presto magical festival cookies, first brought to the island by the Dutch