“May your life be brimming with milk and honey” is a traditional blessing of prosperity in my birth country; Sri Lanka. For the past 12 years I have lived in New Zealand which is called the “Land of the Long White Cloud” or Aotearoa by the Maori people. This blog is the story of how I am attempting to stay true to my birth roots while building a new life in my adopted country………
If you were to talk to a Sri Lankan about Milk and Honey or Kiri Peni as it is in Sinhala….the milk is not that of the cow and the honey doesn’t come from bees. Kiri can also mean Buffalo Curd (a firm curd made from Buffalo milk with about 8% fat) and the Peni most frequently means Palm Treacle from the Kitul Palm (Caryota urens). And Kiri Peni together is typically eaten after a traditional Sri Lankan meal of Rice and Curry most likely at lunch time (8% fat is not conducive to one’s digestion if eaten too late in the day…). The amalgamation of the creamy sourness of the curd mixed with the sweetness of the treacle is a match made in heaven. In fact the phrase “like Kiri Peni” is sometimes used to describe the state of togetherness of a couple of lovers….
Curd has a special meaning in my life as it was my first product development triumph as a budding young food technologist over 14 years ago….I am proud of that achievement but part of me mourns the death of many thousands of livelihoods that depended on selling the Traditional Buffalo Curd made on the kitchen floor or back porch of many a house especially in Southern Sri Lanka…..My endevours helped commercialise this traditional product so that it could be mass produced in a pristine factory according to the most modern of food hygiene standards from ordinary cow’s milk.
Living in New Zealand, one has no access to Buffalo Curd or even Cows Milk Curd. The closest alternative is unsweetened natural yoghurt or Greek yoghurt. You can however buy Kitul Peni” from one of several Sri Lankan shops in Auckland….even so eating milk and honey in Aotearoa in its most true sense is an impossibility – we can only try to get as close as we can to the ideal with what is at our disposal…….
When you are neither Sri Lankan nor Kiwi – but something in between..life is a constant reevaluation of who you are and where you belong….In early 2007 I took up a role in Singapore on transfer from my then employer in New Zealand. Sometimes on the MRT (underground train system) or on Orchard Road I would hear a Kiwi accent or spot someone in an All Blacks T-shirt and look up expecting a smile of recognition in their eyes. But all I would get is a blank polite look, because to them I am another dark skinned native. And there lies the true meaning of being a “coconut”…white on the inside and dark on the outside….I used to think it mean dark skinned people striving to be white or “Kalu Suddhas” as we say in Sri Lanka (Kalu meaning black and Suddha meaning white person)….But now I think it can also mean someone who identifies with elements of a western culture but are forever stuck in their outer skin – neither one nor the other….