Sri Lankan food culture.
The culture differs from country to country. In Sri Lanka, there is unique culture and civilization inherited from the past. It is also important to mention that the country has an unique food culture with a long history. The historical writings and archeological sources provide witnesses for this. Among these writings and sources, Mahawansa, Rasavahini, Saddarmaratnawali, Saddarmalankaraya, Jathaka Atuwa, Tupawansa, Bodhiwansa, Inscriptions at Thonigala, Medirigiriya, Eppawala and Wewalketiya, and Pillar Inscription at Badulla are very significant.
In common, the food items available in the world have been categorized into several groups. They are namely tuber, vegetable, green leaves, fruits, milk, eggs, meat and fish. In addition, items such as confectionery, different kinds of oil and beverages, and spices are taken as food. The components like carbohydrate, fat, protein, water, vitamin and fibre which need to be included in a balanced diet according to nutrition experts are more or less contained in our traditional meals. Our ancestors possessed the knowledge of different methods of food processing and ways and means of natural preservations.
There were evidences on cultivation of cereal by the Aryans before other human groups. As explained in the ancient writings, the meals of our ancestors were mainly based on rice. There was interesting information about paddy cultivation in historical sources. According to the historical evidences, the tank which is an essential factor for the cultivation of paddy was introduced in the days of King Pandukabhaya. There were around 20,000 tanks in the South and North. The ancient Pali writings stated about seven varieties of cereal. There were 317 kinds of paddy varieties in the past. It was said in the folklore that there were more than 1,000 paddy varieties. The cereal like sesami green gram, millet, kurakkan, thanahal, undu, gram, dhal and cowpea were cultivated in Chenas (Shifting Cultivation).
According to the above factors, it is clear that the ancient Sri Lankans had rice and other cereal for their main food. In addition to the main stable, they used to have other food items such as meat, fish, eggs and vegetable. In ancient Sri Lanka, there were number of methods in relation to cooking rice. They can be identified as rice gruel, milk rice, tempered rice, ambul bath, cooked rice with bee honey, cooked rice with ghee, and cooked rice with spices. Among the other types of cooked rice, rice mixed with cereal, tempered rice with vegetable, rice kept in water and mixed with onion, chilies, coconut milk, lemon juice, salt water, etc, sunsahal rice, yellow rice, rice mixed with green gram, agiti hal rice and kudu bath were important. The kings had offered milk rice for Buddhist priests and even today it is a meal with high cultural value.
There were evidences to having rotti made by powdered cereal. Three types of gruel were prepared using cereal and they were namely Lunu Kenda, Kola Kenda and Kiri Kenda (Salt gruel, Herbal gruel and Milk gruel). It is believed that there were around 300 kinds of gruel. The ancient kings had given herbal gruel for patients almost every day. This gruel was meant to be herbal medicine and they could be categorized as Batu Kenda, Kohila Kenda, Aba Kenda, Polpala Kenda, Hathavariya Kenda, Iramusu Kenda, Ranawara Kenda and Gotukola Kenda. In most cases, our ancient people used to have gruel for their breakfast. The fruit drinks which were popular in the past, made of mangoes, orange, lemon and wood apple etc.
In Sri Lankan food culture, fish and meat were widely consumed by our ancestors. The popular meats that they consumed were venison, mutton, pork, peacock meat and parrot meat. However, beef was not consumed since it had not been allowed by then rulers. The fresh water fish varieties like Lula, Madakanaya, Magura, Kavaiya, Pethiya, Prawn and Crab were taken for food in the past. However, there was no evidence for eating sea fish varieties. Now sea fish has become a popular food item. Among the eggs that consumed in the past Chicken eggs, Thara eggs, Kalukum eggs and Kesbe eggs were very popular.
Our ancestors used to mix green leaves and vegetables with their meals and they were grown by themselves (home gardening and chena cultivation). As stated in Saddarma Lankaraya, tuber, plantains, coconut, areca and jak were grown in home gardens. The famous vegetable items in the past were Kekiri, Puhul, Breadfruit, Rathtampala, Thiyambara, Thibbatu, Alupuhul, Pumpkins, Mea, Chillies and Ladies’ fingers. The other food items included green leaves, Brinjol, Drumsticks, Kollu, Kiribadukola, Thumba, Ala kola, Madu dalu, Wel kohila, Kesel muwa, Kekatiya and Nelum ala. The scraped coconut, coconut oil and some other kinds of oil were largely used for tasting the food items. The different types of spices were mixed with curries and they comprised pepper, ginger, mustard, tamarind, garlic, turmeric, lemon, curry leave, rampe, wagapuhul, etc.
The confectionary items were made of rice flour and treacle. These items were named as Preenathahara or Madhurahara or Avulpath. The confectionary consisted of variety of items namely Aluwa, Halapa, Ingurudosi, Puhuldosi, Welithalapa, Pani Walalu, Dodol, Lalu, and Kiri rotti. The confectionary items which are famous today are ones that culturally transformed during a long period.
Milk is a food item with high cultural value. The ‘’Pasgorasa” was made of cow milk and it included a combination of items such as milk, ghee and wendaru. There was a famous sweet item called ‘’Chatumadura’’ and it was a mix of ghee, jaggery and sugar cane honey.
The above information suggests that Sri Lanka possessed an inherited and culturally valuable food culture. Although there were some changes, this culture has been existing without any danger. Most of the changes in our food culture influenced by Indian culture. For example, the food items such as Pittu, Appa (hoppers), Indi Appa (string hoppers), Those, Wade and Papadam were come from India. During the Portuguese, Dutch and English regimes, a variety of food items were introduced to Sri Lanka. The vegetable and fruit came from the West are namely Carrot, Beet, Leaks, Cabbage, Mangoes, Rambutan, Papaya, Pineapple, Grapes, Apple and Pears. The muslim culture also inherited some food items to Sri Lanka and they mainly include musket, boondi, date and watalappam.
There were evidences that Sri Lanka had all kinds of food varieties mentioned above. In nourishing the Sri Lankan food culture, the influence of Buddhism and Ayurvedic medicine contributed in a big way. This is evident from the customs and ethics that prevailed in the country. Further, different beliefs, blessings and worships have also contributed to nourishment of the country’s food habits. Finally, it can be concluded that Sri Lankan food culture is an intangible and identical cultural heritage.