Life Without Coconut

If you have ever eaten Sri Lankan food, you will know that there are two staples. Rice and coconut. Every meal we cook will invariably include one or both ingredients. Rice will be in the form of boiled rice or a dish made with rice flour such as String Hoppers, Hoppers or Pittu. The coconut could be either freshly grated, squeezed out and added to curries as coconut milk (or for us in these far away lands, out of a can as coconut cream or reconstituted from powdered form). We can now buy grated coconut in frozen form in Auckland and that has proved to be a great convenience.

In its most simplest form, freshly cooked rice with some salt sprinkled over the top tastes wonderful eaten just with some freshly grated coconut. If that was too simple, you can then choose to add some Lunu Miris (condiment made with chilli, onion, salt, Maldive fish flakes and lemon juice) or some Ambul Thiyal (dry fish curry made with pepper, salt and Goraka) and away you go……..

Imagine however, being Sri Lankan and not being able to eat coconut…..My six year old son is allergic to coconut and has not been given any since he was about 18 months old. The reaction is not so strong that it has to be completely eliminated from our house like we have had to with eggs and all kinds of nuts, so I am still able to cook with it in the house, but all food prepared for him has to be coconut free.

So all of this mouth watering food I cook cannot be shared with him. Not even so much as a Kokis (a savoury snack made for special occasions with rice flour and coconut milk).

This is what I typically cook for him at lunch or dinner.

Fried rice and mince. Because his diet has been restricted for so long, he wouldn’t eat a curry even if I cooked it in cow’s milk  or soya milk. But I do want him to get used to the flavours of Sri Lankan food. So I add a bit of turmeric, ginger, garlic, curry leaf and a tiny pinch of pepper to most things I cook for him. My hope is that those flavours will become familiar enough for him that when he does decide to try proper Sri Lankan food one day, it wouldn’t be so foreign to him.

Being a child of two cultures can be a mixed blessing. While you have the advantages of multiculturalism, you can also end up feeling like you don’t belong in either culture. The dilemma as a parent is how do you give your child enough of a flavour of the more distant culture so that he can live among the people of both cultures comfortably. With this view in mind, at birth, I decided he should have a Sinhala middle name which his father agreed with. We decided on his first name; Jacob on the way to the operating theater not knowing if it was going to be a boy or a girl, but the second name; Lakshan was chosen after my mother consulted an astrologer about auspicious letters for his birth time. These are little aspects of Sri Lankan culture that  I hope like the flavours I am trying to introduce into his food will one day serve to make him feel more at home in Sri Lanka……..

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. About the dilemma of being a part of two (or more) cultures, and raising a child of multiple belongings: the US has great literature about these complex issues, since there’s been many decades of dealing with ‘multi-ethnicity’ – it certainly doesn’t mean that everyone in the whole US is all so cool and knowing, just that there are great resources! I just taught a great book by Neela Vaswani – father an Indian who came to the US, mother a 2nd generation Irish-Catholic New Yorker! The author visited my class, and students were thrilled…especially this one young woman who self-identifies as ‘biracial’…who is always annoyed when people ask her to pledge allegiance to one or the other side…and who is also annoyed when people want to touch her hair (one of her parents is African American!). I myself do not feel a particular belonging to any one culture or country – Sri Lanka gave me some foundations to which I returned, but Zambia gave me the excellent, free education and political viewpoints that launched my adult standing. Then, of course, the US gave me a formal academic training that taught me how to speak about my difference, independence, and strengths as a person of multiplicity. Though I spent same years lamenting the lack of one solid place to call home, now it is my saving grace.

  2. I will look up that book, thanks. Glad to hear how being multicultural has been so positive for you. I think countries outside of the US are still catching up on this phenomenon and our generation is becoming more aware of the impact of it on our children. I don’t think when your parents and mine decided to go work in Zambia in the late 70’s they realised what impact it would have on us and our futures.

  3. Nicole says:

    Hihi, I am new in auckland and would really appreciate if U could let me know where can I get some Asian staples like agrated coconut U mentioned and if U happen to know pandan leaves too? 🙂

    1. Hi Nicole and welcome to Auckland. Most Indian shops will have the grated coconut, but you can also try the Sri Lankan shop Serendib on 875 Dominion Road. Good luck!

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