Ambul Thiyal is a traditional gravy-less fish dish made with three key ingredients; Goraka (Garcinia cambogia), Peppercorns and Salt. The dryness of the dish and the combined preserving properties of the salt and Goraka allow the cooked fish to be stored out of the fridge for up to 4 days even in the tropical heat of Sri Lanka. You would typically use a red-fleshed fish like Tuna, but I used Lemon Fish (Mustelus lenticulatus) which worked beautifully. To keep the meal really traditional, I decided to pair it with Sri Lankan Red Rice (unpolished non parboiled rice which is a pinky red colour when cooked). The Coconut Sambol and the Kiri Hodi (coconut milk gravy with turmeric, onion, garlic, curry leaves, pandan leaves (Rampe), cinnamon, salt, green chillie and Maldive fish flakes) are ideal accompaniments with Red Rice and the trio work even without the fish as a breakfast dish.
The sourness of the Goraka, the heat of the peppercorns in the fish combined with the texture of the coconut sambol and the milky flavour of the rice, the Kiri Hodi serving to bind them all together, symbolises what Sri Lankan food is all about. It is about the balance of flavours and each mouthful transports you back home for a moment in time…
Maybe it was the simplicity of the meal but the after dinner conversation turned to the topic of simplicity and what we had each done to make our lives more simpler and stress free. This is a subject I am very passionate about and of course have plenty to say about. Over the course of the last 8 years I have done a lot to simply my life and this has been based on principles such as having just enough house for my needs, paying cash for everything, differentiating between wants and needs and most important of all, spending less than I earn each month. Some of these principles are quite foreign to us Sri Lankans, but others such as putting effort into fixing or repairing something before throwing it out are things we had grown up with and are still very much a part of our lives. My father can practically fix anything, so he is my first port of call in such an instance. My adherence to the principles of simplicity has helped me through some significant events in my life in the recent years which would otherwise have been catastrophic. I continue to evaluate my life with the intention of simplifying it further.
The two topics of fish and simplicity reminded me of this story I had heard long ago. It is attributed to Heinrich Böll and written in 1963. There are many variations of it on the web. But the basic plot remains the same as copied below from Wikipedia.
The story is set in an unnamed harbor on the west coast of Europe. A smartly-dressed enterprising tourist is taking photographs when he notices a shabbily dressed local fisherman taking a nap in his fishing boat. The tourist is disappointed with the fisherman’s apparently lazy attitude towards his work, so he approaches the fisherman and asks him why he is lying around instead of catching fish. The fisherman explains that he went fishing in the morning, and the small catch would be sufficient for the next two days.
The tourist tells him that if he goes out to catch fish multiple times a day, he would be able to buy a motor in less than a year, a second boat in less than two years, and so on. The tourist further explains that one day, the fisherman could even build a small cold storage plant, later a pickling factory, fly around in a helicopter, build a fish restaurant, and export lobster directly to Paris without a middleman.
The nonchalant fisherman asks, “Then what?”
The tourist enthusiastically continues, “Then, without a care in the world, you could sit here in the harbor, doze in the sun, and look at the glorious sea.”
“But I’m already doing that”, says the fisherman.
The story really makes you think why it is we do what we do to keep achieving more and more. Is it going to bring us more happiness and contentment? If all we want to do at the end of it is to return to the simpler times of our youth when we had none of our present cares, don’t we have it back to front?