Thursday, August 16, 2007

Kottu, Achcharu and KFC

After I left my cousins and family I headed off to Majestic City. I felt a need to mooch around there, I hardly ever buy anything but I always enjoy strolling around and being hassled by the shopkeepers. The smaller shops have a way in which they discourage a person from browsing.

Here in the UK I am used to going around a shop, fighting to get the faintest hint of customer service, which will usually be from some spotty kid who's never been taught that customer's buy things and buying things creates turnover, which in turn should pay for the salary of said spotty youth, even if that salary is only going to be spent on spot cream and trainers.

In many Sri Lankan shops, particularly the smaller ones in MC, as soon as I walk in there's a gang of about 4 or 5 people who invade my personal territory and ask me questions about what I am looking for. Once they hear what I am looking for, usually it's nothing specific, they then try to interest me in anything that isn't even remotely similar. You want T shirts, then how about these combat trousers? You want flip flops, then what about a nice tie?

As I wandered around MC I came across the usual bunches of kids. There were groups of boys being boisterous, gangs of girls being followed by the boys, Mothers dragging a daughter with attitude around and the usual gaggle of tourists and expats. There were a few young couples, trying to keep their romance a secret and looking guilty as hell about it. I love to observe and take all this stuff in, to drink in the atmosphere, the sights and sounds and smells.

I wonder if folks like Darwin and Child of 25 observe Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan life with similar eyes to mine. Do you look at things with eternal fascination or are you much more used to these sights and so just accept them as part of everyday life. Or do other "foreigners", a term I feel rather hesitant in labelling myself as, look at things with similar feelings as I do? Maybe it's the Sri Lankan in me that makes me love to people watch so much.

And why is it, no matter how many times I go there, once I go upstairs in Majestic City, I always lose my bearings? Throw me into Heathrow airport, Kingston town centre or Colombo's one way system and I can find my way around quite happily. But, stick me in a small shopping centre, one that's designed with symmetry and Sri Lankan pedestrians in mind, and I'm lost quicker than you can say "didn't I just pass this shop a minute ago". I lied about Colombo's one way system by the way, I haven't got a clue.

You know one of the best things about Sri Lanka? Apart from the scenery and the people, apart from the climate, apart from everything else. It's the food.

You lot have an abundance of delicious food available almost anytime. Of course it helps if you're fond of rice and curry and all things a bit spicy, but we all are. There's mutton rolls, there's bath packets for the price us Londoners would pay for a packet of cheese and onion crisps, there's the whole baked roll thing, the seeni sambol buns and the like, the bread with a filling baked inside it. Western food isn't as good as we get over here but I don't think that's such a negative when you look at the bigger picture.

You have a German restaurant that is treated as a centre of fine cuisine. Good luck with that one. If I'm ever there and friends suggest we go "for a German" then I'll meet them somewhere afterwards. All else is da bomb, as my eleven year probably wouldn't say because no one says that these days.

So, as I perused the charms of Majestic City and tried on flip flops and stuff I felt some of those hunger pangs hit me. They were welcomed with open arms as the remedy was sure to be enjoyable, tasty and cheap. There was only one thing that would hit the spot, there was only one surefire way of satisfying my pangs and filling the gap. I headed for KFC.

I know that my brother, in his lectures on fast food or whatever, mentions McDonalds and how its menu in Sri Lanka is slightly adapted to suit the Sri Lankan palate. I'm not certain of the exact context in which he uses this but I know he does. KFC is even more colloquial. It does things like KFC buriyani and chicken and things.

I ambled into the KFC, pushed my way past the gangs of youths, that bit reminded me of London. I looked at the board and decided to order sensibly. I had a dinner thing that night and didn't want to pig out too much so some sensible eating was the order of the day. Three pieces of chicken, a portion of pilau rice, some gravy and of course a diet coke. I sat down and noticed that Sri Lankan KFC has a certain social air about it that UK ones don't have, as if it's slightly higher up in the pecking order than it would be in the UK. I guess that chicken restaurants must be ranked by pecking order too, there could be no other way.

As I took my seat and got ready to steam into my nosh my phone rang. I answered it. It was Java Jones.

"Where are you?" he asked.

"I'm just having something to eat at MC, where are you?"

"I'm at Majestic too"

So we arranged to meet up, Java had to go and pick up some DVDs and he said he'd come into KFC when he was done. I didn't ask about the DVDs, it was best not to. This blogging thing is one of those fascinating experiences in my life and I've made many friends from it. Java is one of them, a fellow that I feel as if I've known for longer, like a disease that you've had for a long time, but it's never been diagnosed.

The time had come for me to tuck into my food. Again.

Damn it was good. It wasn't the chicken, that was a bit spicier than the KFC in the UK and that was good, but it was the rice and the gravy that made me feel like I'd discovered a little known secret. Although I also suppose most secrets are little known, or they wouldn't be secrets, they'd be facts, like gravity and the apple thing or the smell in House Of Fashion. I'd ordered myself a portion of gravy, expecting a little tub of watery sauce, flavoured vaguely of meat. What I got was a little pot of paradise.

I had checked out my rice. You Sri Lankans take rice in restaurants and cafes for granted, as you should. I reckon if you lived here you'd think differently. Here we have to get used to rice that comes in all forms, invariably forms that would be simply unnacceptable if served in a Sri Lankan establishment. The biggest problem is rice with no salt in it. Honestly, they really do that here. You get your measly portion of rice, serve it and devour the first mouthful only to find that salt has not been anywhere near the whole cooking process. It may be good for you to reduce salt but it can't be good for you can it?

Then there's portion size to consider. In Sri Lanka a portion of rice means just that. Order a portion and it turns up, enough for you, your companion and anyone else at the table. I don't know how the system works but it does, you order and they bring the right amount. In the UK we get exactly 4 Sri Lankan mouthfuls of rice to one order, it must be a regulation or something. My English friends laugh at me when we go out for a curry and I insist on a portion of rice for myself. They'll be laughing on the other side of their white faces in a few years' time, when they've got slim and toned stomachs and I've got a big Sri Lankan rice belly. Then they'll be sorry indeed.

But back to the KFC rice thing. I had checked it out it was delicious and abundant. There was salt in it and there was rice in it, two of my essential requirements. The pot of gravy wasn't weak bisto type stuff as I had expected. No, it was a little tub of something that makes my mouth water now when I think of it. The most delicious sort of meaty brown spicy sauce. the type that I would be quite chuffed about if I had managed to cook myself.

I don't know about you but I'm very child like in my approach to eating food. It's quite mature to mix things up nicely as you're eating, to take a little bit of this and a bit of that and make a nice balanced spoon or forkful, but it's no fun. I like to save the best bits for last, then savour them. So, when a fried egg finds itself on my plate, I'll eat the white first and cut around the yolk, then I'll have the gorgeous yellow that is the yolk. Unless there's bread present, in which case I'll dip it into the yolk at the beginning, but that's only natural and obvious.

So, I wolfed down my chicken like a wolf eating errmmm some chicken. The rice and sauce was calling my name:

"Rhythmic, rhythmic, come and eat me please..."

I heard. It sounded like a dream I once had, but it involved less rice and more Britney Spears and the sauce was very different. I ate and I savoured each mouthful. The whole meal had cost me about as little as I'd pay for a dodgy sandwich from Tesco at work, the sandwich would have had about as much taste as one of those videos that Gaz, my partner, forwards all the time, the type that Java likes so much.

As I ate the feast of flavours I thought about how great it is that Sri Lanka has so much flavour in its food, from KFC to rice and curry. Sausages and chips are nice, in fact they're also one of my favourites, but a bit of rice can't be beaten.

As my Dad often says

"You can't make an ommelette without breaking wind".

As I'd finished my last forkful Java turned up. He strolled in with the casual air about him that follows him everywhere. We made our way to Barefoot and looked at books.

Life doesn't get much better.

Until Monday.


Darwin said...

EW @that 'Britney eat me' comment. And the sauce. Ew! I just had my breakfast! Ew ew ew!

But erm to answer your question, I hate shopping, so when I go to MC I try and get it done asap, but invariably get lost. The guilty lovers (we call them 'hora couples') make me laugh. The boys (we call them MC kabbas) don't bother me as such as I usually end up going there with a boy anyway, so they tend to leave me alone, although I've had some guys attempt to pass me scraps of paper with their #s on it:)

Azrael said...

Yep there's nothing like a good meal of rice and curry to satisfy your hunger...

Damn you made me hungry now...

ddm said...

ok, next time have some buriyani from buhari or big byte. and you'll never go to kfc again :)

Indyana said...

MC...God I had a nightmarish experience there once...! But, do miss all things Lankan.

Parthi said...

i felt so jealous reading this post...made me wanna go back to srilanka just to eat! the sad part is here in canada they have gizzilions of sri lankan food stores but none come even closer to the taste u get in srilanka...but the people seem to think its way better than they get in srilanka which makes me wanna punch them!

nsharp said...

Hey, are you still in sri lanka?
what's your email address?

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Darwin - Yes, I tried to pass my number to a girl in a white skirt and a red top the other day, but she wasn't having any of it. She took my picture though.

DDM - your recommendation has been logged

N# - I'm back in London now. Leave a comment with your email address and I'll bung you an email without publishing it

Java Jones said...

Nuff said bout dose DVDs, but jus so you’ll know, dis time I got ‘On The Waterfront’, ‘Grindhouse’, ‘Madam Butterfly’ and ‘Last Tango In Paris’. I be getting my ‘classics’ collecshun togedder, dig?