The Sri Lankan Food Festival at The Leela Mumbai
It is very easy to find a lot of similarities between Sri Lankan food and traditional South Indian food, having taken a lot of inspiration from a. Local produce, b. Neighbouring nations, c. tradesmen visiting from across the world!
There is so much about Sri Lankan food that remains unsaid, similarities to South Indian food would be just one small part of it; the textures, the flavours, the impacts of various religion and what not; and it does come to me as a major surprise that a city as diverse as Mumbai, who is home to people across varied taste buds and welcomes so many people from across the world on a daily basis to lack on something like good Sri Lankan food!
That said, when I first heard of The Leela Mumbai hosting the Sri Lankan food festival in association with the Sri Lankan Consulate, saying no to even consider visiting it was not a choice!
They had Deshbandu Publis Silva, MasterChef, Mount Lavinia Hotel, Sri Lanka who came and took over the kitchens at The Leela for a couple of days.
What makes Dr. Silva and his food so special, one may ask!
Well, Read On:
A lot of you’ll may know, that apart from blogging I work very closely with restaurants in various aspects; last week, I was at the launch of the Sri Lankan food festival that was hosted by The Leela Mumbai, in collaboration with the Sri Lankan embassy;
What makes me want to share this part of the experience, apart the food, is one person who I met that day and am sure am to going to meet anyone like him ever!
I have met and interacted with, on a one on one basis, with a lot of seniors from the Food Industry, and this defintely is one experience that am sure am not going to forget for a long time to come.
This person am talking about is Dr. Publis Silva, an 81 year old chef (yes, you read that right, 81 year old) from Sri Lanka who has flown down specially for this festival.
When you look at him, he comes across as any South Indian chef who one could easily blink and miss;
Standing in one far corner, away from the lime light, just waiting for the formalities to get down with so that people could start eating; a lot of people from the hotel and the embassy spoke about the festival and the inspiration behind it and one of them introduced chef; what we heard was unbelievable!
He has been awarded the highest civilian honour of Sri Lanka, had the most humble of beginnings, is the most celebrated and decorated chef of sri lanka, has a documentary made on him and also has his own biography!
And then we started to eat, the food was unbelievably good!
What also happened was he went from table to table individually talking to people, getting to know them, asking them their take on his food (people from across different food cultures, and each ones were known for their knowledge of food were part of this evening) and what not. He made each one of us at home.
I also learned that he has cooked every single dish on the feast that day, himself, and was in the kitchen form 3 pm that day!
This man started of as a coal carrier at this hotel and then went on to hand scraping coconuts and they say the rest is history; today, he is not only the head chef at the hotel, but also a director!
2 years ago, he was felicitated for 60 years of service at the hotel, and what a humble man! all he wants is people enjoy his food, you know how grandmothers ensure you are well fed, he would go to every individual doing that, filled with warmth and love.
Such a rarity to meet people like him, the kind of people we never thought existed!
And now, we come to the food, with a large variety of both vegetarian and non vegetarian food, this feast truly was food made for the Gods!
From exotic Sri Lankan teas to this delicious coconut water and honey beverage and so much more; the beverages were a fantastic beginning to the feast!
Apart from the usual seafood that Sri Lankan food is known for, the vegetarian variety surprised us!
The assortment of Sambols (Katta Sambol being my personal favourite from the variety) to the Sri Lankan Pulav, Traditional Sri Lankan Dhal Curry (made with whole lentils, and a thick sabji like dish), the Lady Finger Isharum (bhindi cooked in coconut milk) , to the Tempered Potatoes that had such a familiar, yet so different flavour!
There also were three more dishes that stood out for me and that will definitely be etched in memory forever; the Kothu which was chopped lachcha paratha cooked along with chopped vegetables and local Sri Lankan Spices, and the local Sri Lankan hoppers that were very similar to the Appams we eat and we paired this with a traditional Cashewnut Curry, truly a match made in heaven! In all my life, I truly haven’t had something as soulful as the Hopper-Cashewnut Curry combination and I truly doubt am going to be able to enjoy a more soul satisfying meal anytime soon!
To The Leela Mumbai and Dr. Silva, thank you; for making us understand the humility and magic of food so simple, humble and delicious!
Dr. Silva went back to Sri Lanka on monday, but the festival is still on at Citrus and the food truly touches your soul!