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Jason Perlow

Pakistani / Bangladesh / Sri Lankan

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Besides the obvious dietary differences (in the case of the Muslim faith in Pakistan as it relates to the Halal traditions versus Hindu and other Indian religions) how are the cuisines of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) different than India's?

Are there any particular dishes that stand out? And I'm not just talking variations in proteins (Pakistani food I assume uses Beef in curries and such when Indians use Goat and other things -- a search of Sri Lankan recipes seem to include some beef dishes as well) . Do they have different spices?


Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Sri Lanka's food ('Ceylon' is colonial, and can be quite offensive) partly reflects the island's ethnic and religious make-up ( Sinhalese/Tamil and Buddhist/Hindu/Muslim/Christian).

But the whole mix is made much more interesting by the centuries of being at the center of a trans-oceanic trade as well as the comings and goings of a whole range of colonialists. At various times, the island has been Portuguese. Dutch and British. The first two occupiers particularly left strong impacts on the culture (and food) of Sri Lanka, though the contemporary picture is muddled by the recent near-total migration of the two distinct 'burgher' communities.

Anyway, a lot of Sri lankan food is fairly indistinguishable from Indian.The signature items are probably 'hoppers' and 'string hoppers' which are little bowl-like crispy-chewy rice or vermicelli 'pancakes'. You can have an 'egg hopper' which is one of these with an egg cracked (and cooked) in the bowl, and then you eat this with a wide variety of curries ranging from roughly Europeanized and mild to black and fiery. 'Hopper' seems to be a corruption of the word 'appam'.

Another famous Sri Lankan dish is 'lampres' or 'lamprais'. It is rice cooked with meat/fish and stock, mixed with a curry or sambar, and then baked in banana leaves. This is apparently somehow of Dutch origin.

Then there are all kinds of dishes which Indians would recognize as vaguely anglo-Indian, or the sort of food you can still get at the older Gymkhanas and clubs. Cutlets, potato-chops, croquettes, that kind of thing.

--

There are a couple of very decent Sri Lankan restaurants in NYC, and one or two real little concentrations of migrants in the area. The major little community center is in Staten Island, actually, and there is one trade that the Sri Lankans have cornered like Indians have taken over newsstands and Koreans took over corner groceries.

Wait for it. If you know it, we now know about you.....

....it's porn. Sri Lankans own most of the remaining porn shops in the city. Odd, but there you have it.

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Someone else will have to describe Bangladeshi food. Though I've eaten meals prepared by guys from Sylhet probably 300 times (we all have, they're the Indian restaurant cook/owner mafia especially in the UK), it's always been half-assed versions of Punjabi preparations.

But Pakistani food, once again, reflects the geography and ethinc make-up of the country. It's a very diverse country, hard to describe even in half-a-dozen sentences. There are Baluchis and Pashtuns and Sindhis and Punjabis and Kashmiris, and that's only beginning to describe the main geographic components. There are also tens of millions from all different parts of the subcontinent, who went there post-partition.

Anyway, I've not managed to go yet but there are certain things that Pakistan is famous for - each city has signature kebabs, or rice preparations, or certain grilled cuts of meat. Chappli kebabs from Peshawar, Sajji from Balochistan, shammi kebabs in Lahore, etc.

In effect, I suppose you could compare Pakistani food best to the range of North Indian non-vegetarian regional cuisines.

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So to refer to the people or the cuisine as Ceylonese is bad, but its okay to refer to the tea they grow as Ceylon?

In effect.

The tea is a varietal, I'm pretty sure that you can get Ceylon tea not grown on the island (not entirely sure, though).

I do know this though. There is a tea called 'Darjeeling'. Thousands of tons of 'Darjeeling' tea are sold each year, but only a quarter of it (at best) is actually grown in Darjeeling. I have the strong feeling this is the same for Ceylon tea.

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jason,

to learn a little more about sri lankan food you could do worse than pick up a great novel by romesh gunesekeera (bhelpuri mentioned this in another thread) called "reef"--food is used as a metaphor of both sri lankan identity and for communication. it is set in the 60s and early 70s but will give you a sense of the place of fish and spice in sinhalese cuisine. and that brings me to something bhelpuri didn't go into in too much detail:

apart from the various colonial influences it is important to also remember the general ethnic and religious breakdowns of sri lanka (especially given the violence that has racked the country since independence, and particularly in the last 25 years): the sinhalese majority is largely buddhist (though there are also christians); then there's the largely hindu tamils who've come in generally two waves--the first more than a millenia ago, and the second about a 100-150 years ago; then there's the tamil muslims (who apparently are more interested now in charting a separate religious identity rather than a cultural tamil one); finally there's the remnants of the burghers. michael ondaatje is perhaps the most well known sri-lankan burgher outside of sri lanka, and his memoir "running in the family" is an incredible read but there's also a great burgher writer who's never left: carl muller. he has a very good trilogy ("the jam-fruit tree", "yakada yaka" and i forget the title of the third one)--these might be harder to find but they will give you a great deal of insight into burgher sri lanka.

given the sad history of ethnic violence it is hard to find accounts these days of a syncretic sri lankan culture but there has been and probably continues to be mixing (the writer shyam selvadurai, for instance, has a tamil father and a sinhalese mother), and i am sure this has played into food history as well. i'm not sure if sri lankan restaurants in the u.s maintain ethnic divisions on the menu as well or whether there is a pan-sri lankan cuisine that survives ethnic splits.

and for the name issue, as you may know long before sri lanka was called sri lanka or ceylon it was known to european navigators as serendip.

more on bangladeshi food and its relationship with bengali food later (by which i don't mean to imply that i know a lot about it).

regards,

mongo

edit to add this link: http://cities.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=6607

an article on sri lankan food quoting a prominent sri lankan chef in a leading indian newpaper--the page takes a while to load but eventually shows up.


Edited by mongo_jones (log)

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One huge dietery distinction immediately springs to mind. Coconut. According to this article:

In Sri Lanka coconut has been the chief source of fat in the diet for thousands of years. The average consumption in the island country has been reported to be 90 coconuts per capita annually.

Neither Pakistinis nor Bengalis are eating anywhere near 90 coconuts a year.

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sri lankans are in the porn trade?

shocking!

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Scott,

Neither Pakistinis (sic) nor Bengalis are eating anywhere near 90 coconuts a year.

No. But most Indian regional cuisines up and down the coasts use coconut very liberally.

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So to refer to the people or the cuisine as Ceylonese is bad, but its okay to refer to the tea they grow as Ceylon?

In effect.

The tea is a varietal, I'm pretty sure that you can get Ceylon tea not grown on the island (not entirely sure, though).

Ceylon tea isn't really a varietal, all teas are from camellia sinensis and if they're not, then they're not tea, they're herbs, and they make tisanes, not tea when you brew them. The differences in tea arise from the location they're grown and how they're fermented/oxidized after being picked.

I don't see why it is surprising that we have colonial holdovers in the names of things but less for people. It's the same when it comes to Oriental. We still have rugs, but in the US anyway, it's considered offensive to call a person as such. I think it's reasonable, after all, I don't call myself Occidental. Tea and rugs are usually lower on the priority list.

regards,

trillium

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Neither Pakistinis nor Bengalis are eating anywhere near 90 coconuts a year.

Don't know about Pakistani's.

But it would not surprise me if Bengalis do indeed eat close to 90 coconuts a year.

90 cocunuts translates into less than 2 coconuts per week. That seems like a number we used to consume when I was living in Kolkata. And folks living in the rural areas of Bengal probably consume more.

Green coconut -- you drink the water, you eat the flesh.

Hard cocunut -- you eat the flesh raw, you can cook with it, make coconut milk out of it, make sweets out of it. And oh, you can also drink the water.

Coconut husk -- makes for good fuel. Its also used in Bengali hindu religious ceremonies. Coconut husks are also used to make a very sturdy rope, used for all kinds of things.

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Malay immigrants have also contributed to Sri Lankan cuisine. Some uncooked Sri Lankan sambols, eg pol sambol, resemble Keralan (I think -- no expert on Indian cuisine here) chutneys of grated coconut + chiles + spice -- but others, like seeni sambol, which is a cooked sambol of onions, various spices, dried fish, tamarind and lime, among other things, more closely resemble Malay sambal. The banana leaf-wrapped packets of curry and dal and rice that Colombo office workers buy at lunchtime seem Indian-influenced .... unless you happen to get one that is smeared with seeni sambol and topped with a piece of dried fish --- almost identical to Malay nasi lemak. Pittu, flour mixed with grated coconut and steamed in bamboo (top with sambal or curry) reminds me of the pressed rice cakes served with Malaysian sate (but probably also resembles an Indian dish). The Sri Lankan dessert vatalappan/watalappan (baked or steamed) is supposedly of Malay origin (I don't know the corresponding Malaysian dish though).

Rotti (dough packets --- soft or more crispy/flaky -- stuffed with veggies, fish, etc.) seem obviously a version of stuffed roti, which are Malaysian-from-India.

What would be interesting is to know how regional variations in Sri Lankan cuisine might reflect the origin of the region's first immigrants. I've only had one example of northern (Jaffna) Sri Lankan food, a soup called kool. Tomato and chile base, with lots of small bits of seafood, a few vegetables, and bits of broken rice. Does this sound similar to anything in one of India's regional cuisines?

To me food in Sri Lanka seemed like a wonderful cross betw. that of India and Malaysia (with a bit of Indonesia thrown in).

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Pittu, flour mixed with grated coconut and steamed in bamboo (top with sambal or curry) reminds me of the pressed rice cakes served with Malaysian sate

I love those! They're called ketupat, but they no longer seem to be that widely available in Malaysia nowadays. :sad:

When did Malays immigrate to Sri Lanka? I know about Sri Lankan immigration to Malaya/Malaysia, but I don't have any knowledge of Malay immigration to Sri Lanka, and I don't think they taught me about it in Malay public school the two years I was in one.


Michael aka "Pan

 

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I love ketupat -- haven't eaten it in Malaysia, but know it thanks to our local Malaysian restaurant. :rolleyes:

Regarding Malay immigration to SL, my guidebook says that "many" Malay Muslims (as opposed to Arab, Indian, or Pakistani Muslims) went to SL with the Dutch from Java. Beyond that, I've no information (though now I'm inspired to google). Ummm... though it sounds a worthy topic for a "research" trip.

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While we are on this topic, does anyone know of any good Pakistani cookbooks in English? My Pakistani friends speak of one particular author, but her books are available only in Urdu apparently.

I love their shammi kababs, chapli kababs, haleem and nihari.

Suman


Edited by rajsuman (log)

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While we are on this topic, does anyone know of any good Pakistani cookbooks in English? My Pakistani friends speak of one particular author, but her books are available only in Urdu apparently.

I love their shammi kababs, chapli kababs, haleem and nihari.

Suman

i don't know about chapli kababs but shammi kababs, haleem and nihari are not pakistani dishes per se--they're subcontinental muslim dishes, and you get very good variations wherever there are large concentrations of muslims. does anyone know how pakistani variants of these dishes differ from the different indian and bangladeshi ones?

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Anyway, a lot of Sri lankan food is fairly indistinguishable from Indian.

:biggrin: Think Sri Lankans may beg to differ - have referred my friend who's of Sri Lankan Tamil descent to this board a few times to ask her whether the recipes were similar to her family's and she said she couldn't comment as Sri Lankan food is different from Indian.

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I love ketupat -- haven't eaten it in Malaysia, but know it thanks to our local Malaysian restaurant.  :rolleyes:

Regarding Malay immigration to SL, my guidebook says that "many" Malay Muslims (as opposed to Arab, Indian, or Pakistani Muslims) went to SL with the Dutch from Java. Beyond that, I've no information (though now I'm inspired to google).  Ummm... though it sounds a worthy topic for a "research" trip.

Slightly off-topic, but I've posted elsewhere a review of a very nice Tamil-Malay restaurant here in Honolulu, called India Cafe. It has on its menu dishes similar to the ones mentioned here - its nasi lemak with spicy eggplant poriyal is a great eating experience.


Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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While we are on this topic, does anyone know of any good Pakistani cookbooks in English? My Pakistani friends speak of one particular author, but her books are available only in Urdu apparently.

The only English-language Pakistani cookbooks I've been able to find in the U.S. are two volumes of the Dalda cookbooks, published by Lever Bros. Pakistan. They are fairly straightforward collections of recipes with photos. Can't comment on how the recipes might differ from those for similar dishes found in India or Bangladesh, but on the whole they make few concessions to contemporary dietary proclivities. A number of them call for huge amounts of Dalda vanaspati (of course) . . . The haleem recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups, plus another 2 cups for frying the onions! The recipes I've tried have actually turned out fairly well once I reduce the fat . . .

The Dalda cookbooks can be purchased online at Desistore.com.


Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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I love those! They're called ketupat, but they no longer seem to be that widely available in Malaysia nowadays. :sad:

I love ketupat too and make a version using banana leaves, rice, kewra, coconut milk, sesame oil, peanuts and red chilli flakes.

The Indian puttu is similar but depends on accompaniments to spice it up.


Edited by Episure (log)

I fry by the heat of my pans. ~ Suresh Hinduja

http://www.gourmetindia.com

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