DESSERTS IN SRI LANKA
Desserts in Sri Lanka include of fruits like the mango, bananas and plantains as well as curd, treacle and habala pethi. Treacle and jaggery are common ingredients for Sri Lankan sweets. Treacle is molasses or syrup made from sugar cane or palm sap. Jaggery is sugar-like solid made from cane sugar or palm sap. In Sri Lanka is often a solidified treacle extracted from the kitul palm. Beverages such as boiled ranawara, beli mal, pol pala, iramusu (sarasaparilla), water with jaggery, and palmyra fruit, kirala fruit and wood apple juice mixed with coconut milk and jaggery are also consumed as desserts. Sri Lankans also like puddings.
Among the recommended sweets are wattalappam (vattalappan, a rich pudding made with jaggery and fudge from Kitula palm treacle), dodol (coconut milk, jaggery and cashews), aluvas (fudge-like sweets made with treacle, rice flour and cashews), thalaguli (sesame balls), rasakevilis (rich, sticky sweetmeats made with rice flour and coconut milk), kiri peni (water buffalo curd, honey and treacle), and kavun (teacke and spiced flour cooked in coconut oil). Wattalapam is of Malay origin and often made with cashews and various spices including cinnamon cloves and nutmeg.
In Sri Lanka you can find delicious papayas, pineapples, several varieties of mangoes, passion fruit, and over a dozen varieties of bananas. Mangosteens, rambutans, sapodilla. Soursap, guava, beli, varaka and durian are unique and delightful. And there is also fruit juice made from melon passion fruit, oranges, pineapple and papayas. Tambili is King coconut juice drunk straight from shell and husk. Kurumba is crushed pink rice of water.
The best known of the sweets is, perhaps, "Kavun". It is a delicious type of oil cake, made with rice flour and treacle and deep-fried to a golden brown. There is another variety of "Kavun", called "Moong Kavun", which is made from green gram — a type of pulse — which is then ground to a paste and shaped like diamonds before frying.
Sweetmeats and Kavuns in Sri Lanka
Sweatmeats is a term widely used in South Asia to describe confectioneries or sweet food. Among the favorite ones in Sri Lanka are kavuns (oil cakes), konda kavun (sweet cake is made using rice flour and treacle and deep-fried to a golden brown), naran kavun (sweet coconut ball), thala kavun and undu kavun
According to the Sunday Times: The best known of the sweets is, perhaps, "Kavun". It is a delicious type of oil cake, made with rice flour and treacle and deep-fried to a golden brown. There is another variety of "Kavun", called "Moong Kavun", which is made from green gram — a type of pulse — which is then ground to a paste and shaped like diamonds before frying. This is equally enjoyable. [Source: Sunday Times, 1996]
There are several varieties of kavum. Among them the konda kavum is very popular. Naran kavum, thala kavum, undu kavum, mun kavum, seeni kavum and atiraha are also prepared during the Avurudu season. Naran kavum as the name implies is the size of a naran fruit and the center is filled with pol peni. Hendi kavum is another variety. Hendi means spoon and here the dough is not taken bit by bit in the hand and made into a ball, but a spoon is used to make the kavum. Thus the name hendi kavum. Achchu kavum, more popular in the areas of the upcountry is a type of murukku.
Sweets in Medieval Sri Lanka
Asiff Hussein wrote: As for sweetmeats, a variety of them were popular from very early times. Solid food cakes (puva) were extremely popular, especially among children. A peculiar kind of such cake fried in clarified butter was the net cake' (jala-puva) which according to the Mahavansa was known during the time of King Dutugemunu (2nd century B.C.) and which is probably the same as the present day del-kevum (The Sinh. del net' derives from the aforementioned Pali word jala), a cake made of rice-flour and kitul honey and fried in oil. This cake is very much used during festive occasions such as the National New Year. [Source: Asiff Hussein, Culled from the Mahavansa and other literary and epigraphic sources]
The Saddharma-Ratnavaliya (13th century) refers to rice cakes with honey (peni-kevum) and those made of rice-bran (kudu-kevum). It also mentions atirasa (a sweetmeat made of flour in the shape of a disk), sundengiya (sesamum mixed with sugar and honey and rolled into balls, today known as tala-guli) and aggala (flour fried in oil and mixed with honey, which is then made into a ball and fried once again). During Knox's time, the last mentioned sweetmeat was embellished with pepper, cardamom and a little cinnamon.
However, none of these sweetmeats have been as popular as the delectable kevum, which as we have seen earlier has a very long history.Knox states that when the Dutch first came to Colombo,” the King ordered these caown' (kevum) to be made and sent to them as a royal treat. And they say, the Dutch did so admire them, that they asked if they grew not upon trees, supposing it past the art of men to make such dainties.” Another sweetmeat, aluva, made of milk, sugar and spices harkens back to the Moghul halwa which has its origins in Arabia. The Portuguese introduced a new type of confection made of fruit called dosi' (Port. doce).
History of Kavuns and Superstitions Surrounding Them
According to the Sunday Times: The most interesting historical data surrounding Avurudu sweetmeats is centerd on the popular kavum which is a very old sweet. In the good old days kavum was associated so closely with the Sinhalese that often people would fondly say that wherever there was a Sinhalese the kavum was certainly to be there as well. Prof. J.B. Dissanayaka in his book on folklore writes that even though the 'Sinhalaya' proves himself incapable of doing other things, he will certainly admit that he is good at eating. This fact has been expressed humourously in a popular Sinhala saying: 'Sinhalaya modaya, kavum kanna yodaya' which means that the Sinhalaya is a fool but a giant or a real champion at eating kavum. [Source: Sunday Times, 1996]
Kavum dates back to very old times and even our classical texts bear evidence to this fact. Some of the Jataka stories, like the Ummagga Jatakaya and literature such as Saddharma Ratnawaliya and Pujawaliya narrate how kavum was enjoyed even by our ancestors.
In the villages superstitious beliefs surround the process of kavum preparation. It has been in village oral tradition for centuries that the first kavum is the 'konduru kavum'. Kondurawa is an insect that is drawn to a place where kavum is being made. The village lasses hang the first kavum up for the insects, so that the rest will be spared. The last kavum made is 'diya kavum'.
Diya means water. Accordingly the last part of the dough is considered tasteless and thus the last kavum is said to taste like water. Women also believe that they must refrain from talking when the first kavum is being made. If they talk the results may be unfruitful.
Asmi is also a traditional sweetmeat in the shape of'string hoppers dipped in treacle. According to Prof. Disanayaka the name Asmi was not only used to describe the sweet but also applied to a similar white nest built by wasps. Aggala was often taken by villagers when they went on long pilgrimages to Sri Pada. Aggala is a sweet that can be preserved easily and thus people prepared aggala as it could be kept for long periods. Today it is also served as an Avurudu delicacy.
In certain areas of the Southern Province there is a revival of folk dance. Processions are organised and the villagers, some dancing, visit temples. The procession is accompanied by a cart decorated to depict the solar eclipse, the Prince of New Year the planets and the stars. A colorful feature is the large number of sweetmeats hung all around the cart. Kavum, kokis, atiraha are strung up in their numbers and the onlookers can simply pluck them from the cart . The poor are also treated to these delicacies from the cart. 'Although kokis had become synonymous with the Sinhala New Year, Prof. Dissanayaka says that the name came probably from the Dutch during their long stay in Ceylon. Thus the name kokis is believed to have been derived from Dutch 'Koekje' which in English is 'cookie'.
Breudher: Dutch Burgher Cake
"Breudher" (also spelled as "Brueder" or "Bloeder") is a sort of cake that is a made and consumed by people from both the Ceylonese Dutch Burgher community and the Malacca Dutch Eurasian community.A traditional mould is used to bake the "Breudher." It is usually a heavy brass mould with deep groves and a sort of pike in the center, so that when the cake is baked, it comes out in a grooved ring shape with a hole in the center.
Each family has their own adaptation, but generally the recipe contains butter, sugar, lots of eggs, bread dough, milk and sultanas. The end product is a bread like cake with a slight yeastyness in its taste. For serving, it is cut into slices, spread with butter and topped with Dutch Edam cheese. It is usually made during the festive season, like Christmas.
Ceylonese Dutch Burgher families have been making "Breudher" for generations, since their ancestors were the "Vrijburgher" community in Dutch Ceylon. The difference in the "Breudher" recipe between the Ceylonese Dutch Burgher and the Malacca Dutch Eurasian community, is the Malacca "Breudher" uses toddy (fermented sap from the flower of the coconut tree) instead of yeast. Toddy was probably used as a local substitute when yeast was difficult to find.
The Malacca Portuguese Eurasians claim it as originating from their community as they also have their "Blueda" which is said to be a traditional Malacca Portuguese cake. The Dutch from The Netherlands have never heard of the cake called "Breudher" but if its recipe and the description of its peculiar shape is described, the Dutch will immediately know it as the "Tulband", which means "Turban" because of its shape. Therefore, it can be concluded that "Breudher" originated from the Dutch and probably the Portuguese "Blueda" is from the Dutch version. Also, "Breudher" probably comes from an ancient name that have now even been lost to the people of The Netherlands.
Kalu dodol is a dark and sticky sweet dish that is popular in Sri Lanka made from kithul jaggery (from the sap of the toddy palm), rice flour and coconut milk. Kalu dodol is a very difficult and time-consuming dish to prepare. The Hambanthota area is famous for the production of this dish.
Jagath Premachandra wrote: Few people can resist Kaludodal. History records that this kaludodal trade was first cooked by the Muslims. At that time it had been called Jaa-dodal and the sellers had concentrated on selling to the commuters at the bus halt. Business soon began to flop as dodal sellers began to increase and there was more dodal to sell. [Source: Jagath Premachandra]
S.K. Semaratne remembers this kaludodal trade almost from its inception. "On the route to Kataragama for about 200 to 300 meters are the kaludodal sellers and they have been there for about ten years,'' he said "In the 1960s this trade began by groups belonging to the Muslim and Malay communities. Then this area was crowded with Wetakeiya bushes. My parents put up a temporary shelter and this hut was the premier business place," said Siththi Sameena.
Even today this family engages in the kaludodal trade, but the majority of the business is run by the Sinhala people. Though the woman who first engaged in this trade is now paralysed she is helped by her family with the money they make from the very business they started. "Kaludodal can be kept for one and a half months. There are no left overs. We make the kaludodal when we expect a crowd," said Erandathi. "At most times we have to give samples to taste, Though we have to give lots of kaludodal as samples we do not consider it as a loss. But there are people who just sample the kaludodal and leave to another place," she added.
But we always think that those who sample do not eat a kilo or two, giving a few pieces of kaludodal will not put us out of business. We are in the process of making more and more kaludodal because we expect business to flourish in the coming months. We require coconut milk, natural essences, flour and sugar. To make 62 kilos of kaludodal we require 3 hours. It requires constant stirring and we are able to judge its completion by the change we feel in the stirring" said E.P. Chandrasena.
It is no easy task to make this tasty dodal. They have to stand by the fire for hours because it requires constant attention. "There was a time when business was flourishing during a certain period in the year, but it is not so now. We have business almost everyday. But of recent times however there seems to be a drop in sales. This is beause there are kaludodal sellers in both Kataragama and Sella kataragama today," said Dilani another kaludodal dealer. Like in every other trade, there is heavy competition among the kaludodal sellers too. This is why each one tries to make better kaludodal each day.
Fruits in Sri Lanka
In Sri Lanka you can find delicious papayas, pineapples, several varieties of mangoes, passion fruit, and over a dozen varieties of bananas, including red ones and plantains cooking bananas . Mangosteens, rambutans, sapodilla. Soursap, guava, beli, varaka and durian are unique and delightful. Among the locally consumed fruits are jackfruit, coconuts, breadfruit, woodapples, passion fruit, sapodilla, guava, beli, lemons, watermelons, cantaloupes and varaka,
The season for mangosteens is from July to September. The season for durians is from July to September. The season for rambutans is from July to September. Fruits such as jackfruit, breadfruit and plantains are cooked as well as enjoyed uncooked. Ripe jackfruit, boiled or curried. Mature jackfruit, bread fruit, manioc and yams like kiri ala, hirgurala, wel ala, rajaala are regarded as healthy foods.
Bananas, plantains and mangoes come in a huge number of varieties, shapes and sizes. Woodapples are made in to drinks, desserts toppings and jam. Sri Lankans believe that coconuts flush out the kidneys and settle upset stomachs. Prickly brown durians are also sold at many wayside spots. Many people find their odour very offensive, but those who are brave enough to actually taste the fruit, declare it to be rich, creamy and absolutely delicious. It is in fact called the "Honeymoon" fruit in South-East Asia because of its supposedly aphrodisiac properties!
Chandra Edirisuriya wrote: Fruits available in Sri Lanka can be categorised into endemic, those brought from overseas and grown here and imported fruits. One of the earliest mentioned fruits in this country is the mango. The well-known questions Arahant Mahinda asked King Devanampiyatissa, to test the king's intelligence was about a mango tree. Other fruits growing wild in the dry and wet zone jungles in Sri Lanka include divul (woodapple), palu, weera, mora, kon, nelli, madan, goraka, tamarind, beli, koholle lavulu, timbiri, himbutu. Fruits brought from other countries and propagated here include jak, papaw, bananas and plantains, guava, pomegranate, avocado or alligator pear, mangosteen, rimbuttan, cashew apple, jambola, tangerine, orange, pears, peaches, strawberry, gooseberry, mulberry, loquats, lime, star-fruit, anona, passion fruit, pineapple, sapadilla, durian, rata goraka, breadfruit etc. Mulberry fruits when fully ripe make an excellent jam and a single tree in the garden will supply enough fruits to eat as fresh fruit also. [Source: Chandra Edirisuriya, WS]
Pineapple is grown on a large scale in this country in plantations because it has a ready demand in the international market. Fruits like cantaloupe melons and water melons are grown in the Mahaweli areas also for export. Many other fruits like mangoes, bananas and others can be grown on a large scale for local consumption as well as for export. The export of passion fruit juice was thriving at one time but owing to inability to follow basic rules of quality control it had to be abandoned. The demand overseas for most tropical fruits exceeds supply. Imported fruits enjoy a good market here because of the stringent quality control exercised by authorities in other fruit exporting countries. The country has much to gain by growing fruits systematically on a large scale both for local consumption and export. Jams are made from local fruits like divul (woodapples), mangoes, pineapples, passion fruit etc and from imported fruits like apricots, strawberries etc. Mixed fruit jams with a combination of those fruits are made. Jams made of fruits like plums, black berries, blue berries etc are imported into the island. [Source: Chandra Edirisuriya, WS]
Mango, orange, lime, nelli and mixed fruit cordials are made here. Orange, mandarin, grapefruit, apricot, mango, apple and black current cordials and juices are also imported. Divul kiri also used to be canned by a reputed cannery but no longer. Papaw jam is also not made now because papaw today is one of the most popular fruits eaten fresh. Fruits are best in their natural form rather than preserved.
Almost all kinds of fruits grown in the Mediterranean and temperate climates can be had here. Apples take pride of place among imported fruits. In the 1940s and the 1950s there were only green apples which were very sweet smelling, each one wrapped in tissue paper and packed in pinewood boxes. Apples of different colors, shades ranging from red to pink to green are imported from the US, Australia, China, India and Pakistan. Jaffa oranges came first and now oranges and tangerines come from Australia and Pakistan as well. Red and green grapes come from Mediterranean climates. Even plums, kiwi fruit, nectarin and grapefruits are available at the supermarkets at a price for those who can afford to buy such exotic fruits.
Woodapples and Cashew Apples
Woodapple (divul) is a wooden-shelled fruit (a favourite with elephants) that is so hard a hammer has to be used to break it. The truffle-like pulp within has a pungent smell, but it has an agreeable slightly sweet-sour taste. The pulp is eaten with salt, although the most popular preparation is a drink called diwal kiri made with the pulp, treacle and coconut milk. A fruit cream made with the pulp and condensed milk is also popular, as is woodapple jam.
Woodapples are made in to drinks, desserts toppings and jam. It is now cultivated as a plantation crop in the Southern province, because this fruit has a big demand, to make divul kiri, mixing the pulp of the fruit with coconut milk, jaggery or sugar and salt to taste and to make jam on a large scale for domestic consumption as well as for export. It is difficult to get mature, well-ripened divul fruit in the market because unscrupulous traders pluck the tender fruit and ripen it artificially. However, good-quality fruits can be bought from supermarkets and reputed dealers at reasonable rates.
The cashew apple is the yellowish-orange fruit in which cashew nuts are found. Although it is known mainly for its nut, the "fruit" sold for eating on a swollen stem in Sri Lanka. It has a very thin skin-green when unripe and turns to yellow, pink, or more rarely, bright scarlet, when ripe. The ripe fruit is sweet, crisp and juicy with a faint rose perfume. The cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) is a tropical evergreen tree can grow as high as 14 meters (46 feet), but the dwarf cultivars, growing up to 6 meters (20 feet), prove more profitable, with earlier maturity and greater yields.
Mangosteen is a dark purple fruit with luscious translucent segments within. Its flavour may be described as a combination between strawberries and grapes. They are seasonal and are available from July to September. Mangosteens are commonly sold by the roadside at Kalutara.
Mangosteens are regarded by many as the most delicious of all fruit. Some people have a deep passion for them. R.W. Apple Jr. wrote in the New York Times: “No other fruit, for me, is so thrillingly, intoxicatingly luscious, so evocative of the exotic East, with so precise a balance of acid and sugar as a ripe mangosteen...Merely typing the name makes my mouth water. Whenever in my travels I spot a mound of those precious orbs in a market place, my heart pounds.”
Mangosteens are about the size of a tangerine. They have a leathery deep purple or maroon skin with moist, fragrant segments of white, fruit inside One is supposed to cool off by eating mangosteens. They have traditionally been eaten after durians, which are regarded as a hot fruit. Thought to be native to the Sunda Islands and the Moluccas in Indonesia, the mangosteen comes from an evergreen tree. Smaller than an apple, and purple, topped by thick, shiny green leaves and a sturdy stem, the fruits are purple, creamy, described as citrus with a hint of peach. Once opened, the fruit reveals a white pulp divided into four or more segments.
According to hotelclub.com: It's possible to gauge the fruit's ripeness by the deepness of its colour (rich purple is ideal), while the shell should be slightly soft to the touch – but not overly so. The mangosteen is rich in xanthones, which are thought to help allergies, infections, cholesterol levels, inflammation, skin disorders, gastro-intestinal disorders, and fatigue. They are also extremely high in fiber, with about five grams of fiber per serving. On top of that they are rich in antioxidants, with some scientists even suggesting it can lower risk against certain human diseases, such as cancer.
See Separate Article DURIANS AND MANGOSTEENS factsanddetails.com
The durian is probably the most notorious of tropical fruits due to its unpleasant odour. The fruit, which is round to ovoid and covered with sharp spines, has a white, custard-like pulp regarded as an aphrodisiac. You either love it and consider the fruit delicious, or you loathe it without eating it, unable to surmount the olfactory barrier. For the uninitiated, its best to try it creamed as fresh fruit custard. The season for durians is from July to September.
Durians are eaten throughout Southeast Asia and South Asia, They have a creamy texture, an ultra-sweet taste that stays on the tongue for hours and a nasty smell that can linger in the air for days. The famous botanist Alfred Russel Wallace described them as having “a rich butter-like custard...flavored with almonds...onion sauce, brown sherry, and other incongruities." Its scientific name Durio zibethinus means “a thorny fruit smelling of civet cat." [Sources: Rabb Walsh, Natural History, September 1999; Henry Genthe, Smithsonian]
A durian taken from a tree looks like a green rugby ball covered with spikes that turn brown as the fruit ripens. After it is split open with a knife, the husk reveals five interior compartments, each filled with a edible section of fruit that surrounds a large brown seed. The soft edible sections have's glossy look, creamy texture and range in color from pink to pale yellow to orange to white.
Durians can weigh up to 40 pounds. Every year several people are killed when over-ripen versions of these fruit falls on their heads. In the forest durians are fed n by a variety of animals, including orangutans, monkeys, sun bears, mouse deer and even tigers. Some animals eat the seeds within the fruit and deposit with fertilizer.
Thought by many to have aphrodisiac qualities, it is an expensive fruit whose name in Vietnamese means "one's own sorrows." You may wonder why it is called his. The answer lies in a famous Romeo-and-Juliet-like love story. Long ago, there was a young couple that lived in a region where the druit was grown. Because of social prejudices that could not be overcome, the couple sought their own deaths in order to be faithful to each other. Their own sorrows received the population's sympathies, and the story of their tragedy has been handed down from generation to generation. To commemorate the couple, the locals have named one of their most valuable fruits sau rieng. [Source: Sawadee.com]
See Separate Article DURIANS AND MANGOSTEENS factsanddetails.com
Breadfruit, Jackfruit and Passion Fruit in Sri Lanka
Chandra Edirisuriya wrote: Breadfruit is not eaten uncooked. It is said even wild animals like elephants do not eat the ripe breadfruit fallen on the ground from trees in the African jungles because it contains some strong acid. It is because of this that boiled breadfruit is eaten with liberal quantities of scraped coconut or made into a mallun with a scraped coconut and turmeric etc or into a curry with coconut milk and spinach, to neutralise the acid. Breadfruit is also peeled, cut, sliced and dried to make a sweetmeat by frying in oil and coating it with sugar or treacle. [Source: Chandra Edirisuriya, WS]
Breadfruit was introduced to this country by the Dutch, from the East Indies, because they wanted to export the rice produced here. In Fiji, Tonga Islands Hawaii and other islands in the Pacific ocean it is eaten roasted with pork. A pit is dug and lined with banana leaves. Peeled breadfruit and pork with salt etc. added, is laid in the pit, covered with more banana leaves and topped with soil. A fire is lit with firewood on the covered pit for the contents to be roasted.
Jak (jackfruit) is a versatile fruit eaten as a curry when tender (polos), boiled and eaten with scraped coconut or pork curry or made into a curry (kiri kos) to eat with rice, when mature. Tender jak mallun is also prepared with scraped coconut, turmeric, black pepper etc also to eat with rice. Mature, cream or yellow-colored pods of the jak fruit are boiled and dried as atu kos, fried in oil and put in hot sugar syrup or treacle to make a sweetmeat.
Ripe jak as wela or waraka was available canned sometime back but not now, and is a delicacy. The ripe pods are usually golden yellow but waraka with pink-colored pods is also to be enjoyed. The mature jak seed is preserved in sand (veli kos eta) to be eaten during scarcity. An excellent melluma (niyambalawa) is made from jak seed so preserved. Raw mature jak seeds are also made into a curry with roasted and ground scraped coconut (kalu pol maluwa). Jak seed can also be eaten boiled or roasted under embers in the fire place, with coconut. Aggala, a sweetmeat ball is made from roasted jak seeds mixed with scraped coconut, sugar or jaggery, black pepper and salt to taste, pounded in the mortar with a pestle. Both jak and breadfruit are dehydrated now to make various preparations.
Passion fruit takes its name from the flower symbolic of Christ's Passion. Passion fruit are round, slightly oval fruit 5-8cm in length that grow on long, trailing vines. They are purple or yellow in color . and have a smooth, thin skin that wrinkles as the fruit loses moisture — a normal process which doesn't affect their flavor. Their juicy flesh is orange and contains several soft, edible seeds. Passion fruit have a bittersweet flavor and pungent aroma.
Bananas and Plantains in Sri Lanka
Chandra Edirisuriya wrote: In Sri Lanka, where the word plantain is often used interchangeably with banana, this fruit is a general favourite, served to complete any meal. Bananas come in many sizes, and can be green, yellow or even red in color. Some of the most popular varieties are: embul — small, yellow when ripe: sweet and sticky kolikuttu — yellow when ripe: sweet and starchy anamalu — long, bright green when ripe: slightly floury seeni kehel — small, yellow when ripe: very sweet rath kehel — thick, red when ripe: very fleshy. [Source: Chandra Edirisuriya, WS]
The most common varieties of bananas and plantains grown in this country are ambul (sour plantain), ambun (brought from Ambonia, where porridge made from flour obtained by pounding sliced and dried ambun is given to infants, kolikuttu, anamalu (ripe anamalu with boild eggs is given to those recovering from food poisoning) rath kehel (red banana) called merandavalu in Tamil because of its medicinal properties, ash plantains (alu kehel) made into curry after frying or just raw but more nutritious when ripe (an ayurvedic rasayanaya is prepared by mixing ripe ash plantains and kithul jaggery and burying it under the fireplace in a clay pot), suwandel, seeni kehel, rata honnaravalu, puvalu etc. Ati kehel grows in the wild. The high potassium content in bananas is said to prevent strokes.
Bananas and plantains are best eaten tree-ripened or left to ripen in the shade. Smoking used to be the method of ripening in the villages when it was necessary to ripen large quantities in a short time of two or three days in view of festivals or wedding ceremonies. A pit is dug in a shed and burnt with dried plantain leaf and straw. Bunches of bananas are cut into combs and stocked on a layer of keppetiya, biling and caju (cashew) leaves held to the fire and covered with more such leaves.
The pit is then covered with planks, gunny bags and topped with soil. A hole is bored in the soil leading to the chamber where the fruit is to blow smoke into it, every six hours or so. Now traders use smoke rooks to ripen large quantities of fruit. Application of chemicals is now recommended by the Department of Agriculture to ripen fruits all at the same time on condition that the chemicals do not come into direct contact with the fruits.
Bananas are by far the most widespread fruits in this country. Matara and Alawwa are famous for kolikottu. Anamalu is confined to the wet, cool areas in the hill country starting in the Rambukkana area. Ambun is cultivated in the wet zone both low country and up country. Ambul plantains are grown throughout the country. Ambul plantains of record size used to be grown in Jaffna by the industrious Jaffna farmers. Rath kehel, the most nutritious of all bananas needs very fertile soil. Puvalu and suwandel are delicious varieties found in the country. Every home garden can accommodate at least one kind of banana to advantage.
Mangoes in Sri Lanka
Chandra Edirisuriya wrote: Fruits available in Sri Lanka can be categorised into endemic, those brought from overseas and grown here and imported fruits. One of the earliest mentioned fruits in this country is the mango. The well-known questions Arahant Mahinda asked King Devanampiyatissa, to test the king's intelligence was about a mango tree. Mango is also one of the most popular tropical fruits. It is extensively grown and consumed in India. Mango juice and milk was the favourite and the only diet during the latter part of Mahathma Gandhi's life. [Source: Chandra Edirisuriya, WS]
In Sri Lanka mangoes have been eaten from time immemorial. Half a century ago there were only the indigenous varieties like ambul amba, etamba, walu amba, mee amba. Rata amba, pol amba, betti amba, gira amba, dampara, kohy amba, pilikuttu amba were propagated from seeds. Then there were the famous Jaffna mangos like kartha kolomban, vella kolomban etc. All these kinds and the red villard are now also grown as budded trees in plantations mainly in the dry zone.
Rambutans are bright red fruit, covered in soft, hairy spikes. They are somewhat similar to lychees. In some places they are so valuable that growers have to guard their trees from poachers. Rambutan means “hairy." You have to break it open like a nut to get at the white fruit inside. The rambutan exterior is a vibrant pink, with hints of green, with a coat of thin, long, soft spikes. Inside, the fruit is similar to a lychee, but thicker and sweeter. This fruit is native to Malaysia, and has spread throughout Southeast Asia. It grows to a limited degree in Sri Lanka, India, and parts of South America.
Rambutan fruit has a tender, translucent, white flesh with a cool sweet flavor. A rambutan tree has broad foliage and many branches. In warm areas the tree yields fruit at the beginning of the rainy season . The season lasts until the end of the rainy season (from May to October). The skin of this fruit is tough, thick and hairy. When buying rambutans look for fruit that are bright in colour, with little-to-no browning at the tips of the spikes. Rambutans contain some protein and fat, as well as phosphorous, iron, calcium, and vitamin C. It is thought that the seeds, when eaten raw, can help to reduce body fat. Copper and zinc are also prominent in the fruit. Rambutans come from an evergreen tree. They are a popular garden fruit tree and one of the most famous in Southeast Asia. The fruit is juicy and commonly found in jams or available canned.
The season for rambutans is from July to September. Indika Sakalasooriya and Rathindra Kuruwita wrote in The Nation: From pavements to supermarkets one cannot avoid the lovely sight of rambutan at this time of the year. They come in different colors and in various sizes and Sri Lankans can’t seem to get enough of them. Although rambutan is a foreign fruit to our soil, since the day the seeds were planted in Sri Lanka it has become an exclusive aspect of the Sri Lankan culture. Legend says that the Portuguese had a fortress in Malwana and that they found that the soil in the Kelani Valley was ideal for the plant to thrive. [Source: Indika Sakalasooriya and Rathindra Kuruwita, The Nation, July 16, 2006]
It takes one bite into a ripe rambutan to be hooked for life. The plump white fruit in bright red and yellow shells litter pavements in Colombo and close to the rambutan heartland – Malwana for a few months of each year. This is rambutan season and Malwana’s orchards are heavy laden with fruit. Along with other seasonal favourites, mangosteen and the smelly but delicious durian, rambutan gives us mere mortals a little taste of ambrosia, the food of the gods, and provides one more reason to believe that this little tropical paradise really is heaven on earth.
Indika Sakalasooriya and Rathindra Kuruwita wrote in The Nation: “Though now grown in most parts of the country, for most of us, Malwana is synonymous with rambutan. So in order to get the inside story on rambutan we made a visit to Malwana at the zenith of the Rambutan season. It is said that the Portuguese brought the first rambutan seeds to Sri Lanka from Malaysia. Although rambutan is a foreign fruit to our soil, since the day the seeds were planted in Sri Lanka it has become an exclusive aspect of the Sri Lankan culture. There is also a story about how rambutan came to the Malwana area. Legend says that the Portuguese had a fortress in Malwana and that they found that the soil in the Kelani Valley was ideal for the plant to thrive. [Source: Indika Sakalasooriya and Rathindra Kuruwita, The Nation, July 16, 2006]
“As we all agree, Malwana is reputed to be the heartland of the luscious rambutan fruit. If we had any doubts, they were dispelled by the sight of rambutan glistening like a million rubies spread across a green blanket from both sides of the road at Malwana. Almost everyone in Malwana owns a rambutan tree. But we were out in search of one man, Numero Uno, when it comes to rambutan in Malwana and the Mapitigama area, Mr. Silva. Mr. Silva owns a seven acre rambutan estate and he is one of the well known rambutan farmers in the area.
“There are several varieties of rambutan in Malwana. ‘Malwana Special’ is the most distinctive one. The Malaysian Yellow is the other one. As Silva said ‘Malwana Special’ is a hybrid of a foreign variety and the traditional Sri Lankan variety which we call “Val rambutan.” Malwana Special is heralded as the best variety and it is sold at the highest price. “Malawana Special has the highest demand in the local market and also in the international market,” Silva tells us. “The ‘Malaysian Yellow” is also very sweet, sometimes tastier than the ‘Malwana Special’. But the demand is low for the yellow because the Malwana Special has a very beautiful skin and as in every other thing, people are attracted to red,” Silva says smiling.
Rambutan Farming in Sri Lanka
Indika Sakalasooriya and Rathindra Kuruwita wrote in The Nation: “Even rambutan exports have gone down this year. Last year at this time there were several chances to export our products to some of the European countries, but this time there is none,” Silva explains. Leasing out the trees is a system practised by owners of rambutan lands who have acres of rambutan to be plucked. But farmers like Silva say they don’t like to lease out land because the people who lease it out only think about plucking the fruit. “They don’t care about the trees and they sometimes break the branches of the trees and that badly affects the next year’s crop. Therefore I employ some of my men for the task,” Silva remarked. [Source: Indika Sakalasooriya and Rathindra Kuruwita, The Nation, July 16, 2006]
Although the rambutan time comes once a year it still can make a person who is engaged in farming a wealthy man, is what we learned. The conclusion is, a reddish, perfectly ripened Malwana Special is an experience of a lifetime and a taste so close to ambrosia, that people are willing to pay the price. Rambutan time normally comes once a year. But sometimes we get lucky and have a dual season. Too much rain when the trees are full of flowers really affects the final result. “The rain that fell in the month of January badly affected the production this time. What the trees have produced is almost a half when compared with last year’s crop” said one of the rambutan farmers.
The prime enemy of rambutan is the bat which is called “Eta Vavula” in Sinhala. “When the sun goes down hundreds of bats appear and can cause great damage if not chased away” said one of Silva’s watchmen. He adds that in the day time animals like squirrels and various kinds of birds feed on rambutan. It is a must that the guardians need to be constantly vigilant in order to save the fruit. “In the night time we switch on all the lights which we have placed on the top branch of the tree to keep the bats away from the fruits” said another watchman of Silva. We also saw a lot of ‘tukkas’ made out of iron hung on to the branches of rambutan trees. This is one of the traditional ways the farmers practised to scare away the animals who come for the fruit. “Looking after a rambutan plantation is very difficult and I have done this all my life,” said Chandare, a rambutan farmer we talked to. “We have to keep awake all night long and one false step could mean the end of all the hard work of weeks.
In order to be awake we used to sing folk songs. But now I hear a lot of new popular songs being sung through out the night,” said a watchman of Silva who seemed to be in his late sixties. Society is changing and it seems that the rambutan plantation also cannot escape from it. In the past there were some unique traditions practised in the Malwana area when the harvesting times were over. A “Gam Maduwa” was organised to praise the god of Katharagama for giving them a fine crop. And some people also paid vows to the god they had promised last year, while others promised to pay vows if they obtained a good harvest in the coming year.
Ancient folktales also claim that the fruit must be picked before sunset, lest the picker is thrown down by guardian deities of the tree. But these are old traditions, rarely practised in this modern age. A nostalgic Silva says — “Those things scarcely happen now. As you can see this has become a somewhat large industry and that means money has a great role to play in it.”Watching over a precious harvest
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (srilanka.travel), Government of Sri Lanka (www.gov.lk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated February 2022