Central to the cuisine, she writes, is dark-roasted curry powder, goraka (a fruit similar to tamarind, not used, however, by her Tamil family), red rice, plenty of chili heat, curry leaves, coconut milk, shredded coconut, dried Maldive fish and “a touch of tang from vinegar, tomato, tamarind or lime.
“We also eat a wide variety of fish, poultry and meat dishes, which I think is somewhat unusual in South Asia, given religious prohibitions, but can be traced to a long-standing multi-ethnic and multi-religious population.
“A Feast of Serendib” contains a rich assortment of recipes for curries (everything from Fried Liver Curry to Ripe Jackfruit Curry), chutneys, and Sri Lankan French toast (Bombatoast) but it also introduces much less familiar dishes with wonderful names like Hoppers, Uppuma, Idyappim and Falooda.
The first three are grain dishes, and the latter a Sri Lankan version of boba tea. Just saying the words is like a glimpse into a new world.
Of “hoppers,” also called “appam,” Mohanraj writes: “If I had to pick the perfect Sri Lankan meal, this would be it. There’s nothing like breaking off a crisp piece of hopper, dipping it into a broken egg and scooping up some curry and a bit of seeni sambol. Delectable.
“These rice flour pancakes have a unique shape. Fermented batter is swirled in a special small hemispherical pan so you end up with a soft spongy center and lacey, crispy sides — that contrast is the true glory of the hopper. Typically, you’d make one egg hopper per person, plus another plain hopper or two and maybe a sweet hopper to finish up.”