Alluring delights of April | Sunday Observer

Alluring delights of April

For the past few days, just about sunrise I was able to hear a familiar voice. It was the distinct call of the Koha- that beloved bird who joyfully heralds the advent of the New Year. Indeed, April is the month of many delightful memories. It is a month of reflections and future aspirations. My earliest memories of Aluth Avurudhu center around the succulent sweets I had as a child (three decades later they still entice me).

Ah! how I relished every bite of those dainty, yet oily sweets. The konde kavum was the glorious queen who rose high above the other sweets on the plate. Her brown radiant skin was similar to the complexion of an Aztec princess! She was soft to the touch, and mother used to warn me not to eat too many.

The kalu dodol is the grand duke of Sinhala sweets. The dark brown exterior gives way to a warm consistency (like a mix between a soufflé and caramel). I used to be puzzled about the Aasmi- somewhat similar to a hybrid string hopper with a touch of red syrup. The halape was a favourite of my late father. We used to eat this at sunset supplemented by a glass of ginger infused tea.

The other items on the plate were, athiraha and mung kavum- they were like the second runners up, eaten the next day. The kokkis was a class of its own. I used to hold it close to my eyes and try and filter in the rays of sunlight. They remain my mother’s desired Avurudhu special. The kiri bath (milk rice) came in various shapes and types of grain- red rice, samba and now even in the opulent basmati rice. I had a cousin who developed a peculiar habit of eating his milk rice with the fiery katta sambol and honey- this worthy is now a chef!!! The odd member on the avurudhu plate was the banana- like an organic misfit on a plate that reflected generations of culinary tradition. One year I received some red ones from Negombo!

The New Year is not about just eating sweets. It is a wonderful reunion and fellowship of all communities. I personally think we should change the customary label of Sinhala and Tamil New Year, and say instead, the Sri Lankan New Year, as all ethnic communities unite to share this ancient celebration. It is not to be divided on avenues of religion. It is a time to strengthen our national identity as one people.

Reverting back to the food of the Aluth Avurudhu, today, one can witness a change. Of course, change is important as we make progress. Yet, it is sad to see that these timeless traditions, in a culinary sense are being replaced in the Colombo city. Some of the reasons (or excuses) given is that the working women don’t have time to sit and make sweets- this is not the era of the amme at the hearth. It is good that thousands of our women are empowered in the corporate sector and fight against time (rat race- race against time).

The second reason is a practical one, people living in apartment complexes can’t be pounding and deep frying as the neighbours would be disturbed.

This is true and there is no option. While some housewives have got into the practice of buying avurudu sweets from various outlets which will bring out ‘commercially made’ sweets, some other lovely souls (women of course) are using ‘Google’ to find traditional recipes and make them at home. Some have even ventured into altering cooking patterns and create avurudhu fusion food. Some ingredients are a bit expensive- a common element in any celebration.

Thankfully, some of the city-folk still cling onto culinary tradition by purchasing ready made avurudhu kavili from supermarkets and hotels. Some simply look forward to the extended New Year to escape to a beach resort and then attack the awesome buffets laid therein.

Among these is a sub-clan of “sophisticated gourmets” who will complain that the kavum is oily and then proceed to eat two chocolate sundaes garnished with whip cream! These men and women return to office and piously drink green tea and enlist in a weekend yoga class!

The real essence of the avurudhu sweets is not in the eating, it is the joyous fellowship in the kitchen where the sweets are brought to life by hand. It is a 100% manual affair.

It is an awesome sight to still see a woman of the village with her long luscious black hair, pounding the flour to a steady rhythm, attired in a printed cotton dress. Now, that is a moment for a selfie and beautiful narratives of aunts and cousins.

And then, to share the plates of sweets with the neighbours is another joy. As kids we waited anxiously for this time of the year.

May we strive to uphold the heritage filled recipes of our nation; some things in life should never be compromised.