Sri Lanka’s ‘Kithul’ Palm Syrup: An Ancient Sweetener In Need Of Saving

National Public Radio · January 26, 2017

The story of Sri Lanka’s most beloved sweetener starts with the kithul, or fishtail, palm tree and a tapper, like 58-year-old Amuvita Gamage Dayasena.

The slightly built farmer sharpens his knife on the fallen branch of a tree and climbs up a wooden lattice that he has tied to one side of a kithul tree in his garden. Within minutes, he is on the top of the nearly 40-foot-tall tree, making sharp incisions at the base of a cluster of flowers that droop down from a branch like a bunch of grapes. Dayasena ties a jute sack to the base of the cluster to collect droplets of sap trickling down.

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Halfway Home: Talking with Pakistani refugees in Sri Lanka

adda · January 23, 2017

A lone shaft of afternoon light filters into the cavernous church hall. Today, the light reveals a glint of joy in Paul’s eyes. An elderly musician is playing the mandolin, another visitor is strumming the guitar, and the melody seems to shake something loose in Paul. He flashes a rare smile, his teeth stained red with betel, and asks the musicians in his Urdu-tinged English if they would listen to a song he has composed. It is a song about unrequited love, with a lone English line in the chorus, and although one may cringe at the lyrics, he sings them with complete self-assurance. As the music rises and fills the church hall, it becomes harder for the others to resist. Shyly at first, and then more confidently, Peter begins to sing. He sings about Yesu; gospel songs in Urdu that are unfamiliar to my unaccustomed ears. Neena joins in, her voice teetering and shrill, and everyone begins to clap. They sing about Christmas — and even though it’s still September, in a place so far from the one they call home, their absolute faith lends the empty church hall a strangely festive fervour.

In all the months that I have known Paul, Peter, Neena and their families, this brief interlude is the closest I have seen them come to happiness. They are always glad to see me — if only for the simple pleasure of speaking Urdu and being understood — but inevitably, the conversation returns to their current living situation. This limbo, how long will it last? How long before we can dream of a new country to call home? And every so often, a doubt laced with dread: what if that day never comes?

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LJ Iyengar Bakery: Rising from the south

LiveMint · January 21, 2017

Once a quiet, tree-shaded suburb of Mysuru, Kuvempu Nagar hasn’t been able to stave off the deliberate march of urban development. Two-wheelers zip up and down its streets, adding a noisy soundtrack, while an outcrop of new businesses competes for your attention. Where there may have earlier been an odd bakery or two to serve the neighbourhood, there are now several on the same street, all loosely tied together by a prefix that serves both as a descriptor and a brand. These are the Iyengar bakeries: stubbornly old-school, vegetarian bakeries that have defied passing trends and fickle tastes to retain an almost puzzling popularity.

The LJ Iyengar Bakery is a modest establishment, like the others in the area, with a rectangular glass display you can gently lean over while you pick what you would like to eat. In one corner sit neat loaves of freshly baked white bread, and in the other are “puffs”, layers of puff pastry folded into golden triangles, encasing an onion, carrot and potato heart. The biscuits lie heaped on the highest rung: Crumbly, cardamom-scented almond biscuits alongside rich, cashew-flecked ones, and earthy ragi biscuits to soften the burn of the green chilli-laden khara (or spicy) biscuits.

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Kebab and Korma topped by ‘Kurmura’

LiveMint · December 02, 2016

Lucknow is justly renowned for its princely fare, but its street food in the lanes of Aminabad, Hazratganj and Chowk is as unique

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Cookbook Tells The Story Of Sri Lanka’s Civil War Through Food

National Public Radio · October 9, 2016

Even if you knew nothing about Vijaya, her haunting portrait would likely give you pause. She peers out of the page, unsmiling, her silver hair pulled back and her eyes conveying an unspoken anguish. From the accompanying narrative, we learn that a few years ago, almost overnight, Vijaya became her granddaughter Anjali’s primary caretaker. Her daughter, Gayathri, set out to find nutritious food for the family amidst heavy shelling, at the violent end of Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war, and never returned home.

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Sri Lanka’s bread vans: Bearers of short eats and happiness

Express Foodie · July 31, 2016

Afternoons tend to be quiet in the tree-shaded inner by-lanes of Colombo, with the stifling tropical heat bearing down on the city like an unwelcome blanket. Very little seems to stir in these languid hours until a faint tune, often a speedy version of Beethoven’s Fur Elise (or a similarly familiar number), draws closer. The tune is a clarion call to the neighbourhood that the bread van is on its midday rounds. As the shrill horn plays on loop for maximum impact, customers begin to trickle out onto the streets for their dalliance with their daily bread.

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Ticking Japan Off the Bucket List, One Meal at a Time

National Geographic · July 5, 2016

A few months ago, shortly before my husband Vishnu and I embarked on our first trip to Japan, I woke up one morning, checked my email and felt my heart skip a few beats. A day earlier, I had written to the travel writer Pico Iyer, who has made Japan his home for nearly three decades now, asking if I could interview him during my visit. I had not expected a personal and warmly worded reply from the man himself.

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22 Things to Know Before You Go to Sri Lanka

Roads & Kingdoms · June 03, 2016

Sri Lanka = serendipity. Serendipity is not just the name of a New York bakery and a mediocre John Cusack movie. The word serendipity (“happy accident”) came from Serendib, an old name for Sri Lanka. It may be a South Asian cliché, but it’s also a fitting expression for the-happy-go-lucky fatalism that governs life here. Time is elastic. People make grand promises and don’t follow through. Events unfold as the heavens will them. And yet, Sri Lankans try their best to make the stars align in their favor: parents have detailed horoscopes done for their children based on the time of their birth. Wedding dates and job changes are planned in close consultation with astrologers, and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa even set an early election date on his astrologer’s advice. (He lost).

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Sweetening the deal

National Geographic Traveller India · April, 2016

Several years ago, on my first-ever visit to Sri Lanka, I remember enjoying one particularly memorable meal at Beach Wadiya, a glorified seaside shack in Colombo. An apt introduction to the unhurried pace of life in the island I would eventually call home, the meal stretched over several hours and multiple courses of freshly prepared seafood. But the fondest memory I have of that day is of the final course: a generous scoop of chilled yogurt, sweetened with a drizzle of what I thought was honey. It reminded me of my childhood fixation with curd sweetened with sugar. It wasn’t until years later that I found out that the simple dessert was in fact a national obsession, and that the syrup was not honey at all. It was kithul treacle, one of Sri Lanka’s best-loved secrets.

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Food Guide: Sarafa Bazaar, Indore’s Legendary Night Food Market

National Geographic · March 3, 2016

Unforgettable meals in the bustling city in Madhya Pradesh.

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