Spice Up Your Life!

Sri Lankan cooking at home with Numi

There’s nothing quite like a steamy kitchen on a cold winters’ day; add the smell of exotic spices wafting through your home you will instantly transport your guests to warmer climes. TOAST talks to Sri Lankan cook Numi about her love for Sri Lankan cuisine and culture, and gets the secrets behind her incredible Vattakka Kalu Pol Curry (that’s yellow pumpkin curry to you and me) – perfect for autumn entertaining.

With the cooler temperatures of winter on their way, why not warm things up with some exotic flavours in the kitchen? Personally, I am always incredibly impressed when presented with homemade curry at a friend’s home, but I’ve always found the idea of cooking curry from scratch a little intimidating. Numi, however, is quick to reassure me. 

“Sri Lankan cuisine is simple and fun to cook - all you need is a love for food, and a willingness to experiment!” she laughs.

“I was born into a large family and I have such joyous memories of my younger siblings’ excitement while my first experiments were going on. Some of them fought to lick the spoon, or pinch my ingredients - they would even gobble up my very first cakes with glee, even though they were rock-hard! Their enthusiasm really inspired me, and from that beginning I have come a long way, but my number one passion is still food!’

Having been born and raised on the beautiful island country of Sri Lanka, just off the southern coast of Indian, Numi now lives in the UK where she runs a series of authentic Sri Lankan cookery classes and supper clubs from her home in South London. Aside from all the pristine beaches, World Heritage sites, wildlife, rich culture, history and friendly people Sri Lanka also boasts a unique cuisine, which over the years has been heavily influenced by its geography.

Positioned in the Indian Ocean between Eastern and Western culture and having experienced a variety of settlers and visitors from all over the world, Sri Lankan food is an extraordinary melting pot of flavours. Today, the staples are rice and various curries made with plenty of spices, and coconut. Lots and lots of coconut. 

“Breakfast is usually a spicy curry of some sort or pani (a type of thin coconut pancake), finished off with a hot cup of tea” explains Numi.

“At lunchtime the majority of the island sits down for a hearty meal of vegetable curries, fish or meat curries, served with rice and sambols (a traditional side dish made from coconut, onion and spices). Dinner is also curry-based, but usually other staple dishes are substituted instead of rice - like roti (a type of bread), pittu (a rice and coconut side dish) and hoppers, which are crêpe-like "bowls" made from rice flour and coconut milk, with cooked eggs served inside them!”


(Aappa, a type of pancake made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk)

Katta Sambola

(Katta Sambola Crushed red pepper,chopped onion, salt, and lime juice ground together)

Rathu Kalulu Bath

(Rathu Kakulu Bath)

Now this all sounds like a veritable feast but to me but, believe it or not, Sri Lankan food isn’t just about the eating, it’s about the experience of sitting, talking and sharing food together.

Food is an integral part of Sri Lankan culture - it’s about sharing, it’s about identity, it’s about hospitality’ explains Numi.

“I am proud to say that Sri Lanka has a tradition of hospitality, which it is famous for. When a visitor drops in - as they do at any time of the day unannounced! The first thing the host asks is, “have you eaten?” she laughs.

“Having grown up in this culture my enthusiasm to cook and entertain is like my sixth sense. I cherish the memories of sitting down to meals where the table was spread with rice and a variety of curry dishes, cooked in large pots and pans.

And on that note - this time of year is a lovely time to entertain; long, cosy evenings spent around the table, and with the clocks about to fall back (on October 30 to be precise), surely there is no better time to gather friends and family around the dinner table and serve up a steaming hot Sri Lankan feast?! A warming, hearty curry is a wonderful meal to serve up during the colder months and, as well as impressing your guests with a homemade Sri Lankan dish, it also makes a taste bud-tickling change from the usual Sunday roast.

“I love the amazement of people when they smell the blends of spices that I put together and it’s a wonderful experience to taste all those flavour combinations for the first time - coconut milk, shredded coconut, garlic, ginger, chilli, cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, coriander and turmeric, all mixed together!”

With my mouth watering, Numi kindly agrees to share one of her most popular recipes for us to experiment with at home - her famous Vattakka Kalu Pol Currya (Yellow pumpkin curry). Perfect for autumn and Halloween entertaining - take a look at it over on TheEdit, exclusively for TOAST readers.

For more inspiring dishes from Numi or to book yourself on one of her Sri Lankan Cookery courses, you can find her in our Little Black Book. 


Posted in Spotlight

by Sophie Farrah
on on 27 October 2016

  curry, entertaining, sri lanka

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