A blend of traditional and modern cuisine: My Sister’s Kitchen | Sunday Observer

A blend of traditional and modern cuisine: My Sister’s Kitchen

Fusion food at J town Festival
Fusion food at J town Festival

Sugar and spice and all that’s nice is combined with talent and loving care to make mouth watering delicacies at ‘My Sister’s Kitchen’ by Thushara Innasithamby, the dynamic, driving spirit behind it. Thushara handles orders even for 350, aided by one helper Devi, who is the rock that the Innasithambys lean on.

Recently, Thushara teamed up with the Sandwich Factory to offer foodies, a range of tempting fusion food – authentic Jaffna delicacies were used as fillings and toppings for sandwiches, pizzas and other modern food specialties. The ‘J Town Food Festival’ as it was called made tremendous waves in the Colombo food scene and helped Jaffna cuisine to leave a firm footprint in the fusion food market.

Banker turned Chef, Thushara started ‘My Sister’s Kitchen’ around 2013 at the urging of younger brother Danu, the media personality who is also the face of ‘My Sister’s Kitchen’. Even while working at Citi Bank Thushara had been catering part time. She decided to bid goodbye to banking as she did not agree with some of the prevalent practices. Subsequently, while she was still doing part time catering Danu suggested she make a career of doing what she loves. Thus, she embarked on a full time Chef’s career with the brand name ‘My Sister’s Kitchen’ coined by Danu who adores ‘akka’s cooking’ and claims to be well fed with a waistline that will not inspire envy – a good advertisement indeed for his sister’s culinary enterprise.

Thushara’s focus is on traditional Jaffna cooking but she also does other varieties of food on request. The wide ranging menu of ‘My Sister’s Kitchen’ includes Jaffna Kool (with fish, prawns, crab and cuttle fish). This is farmers’ dish and is a porridge made out of local vegetables, longbeans, kos ata and kiri kos and any kind of greens. Thampala is the green most often used. The porridge is then left to cook while the farmers are in the fields, so that it cooks for a long time. Mutton poriyal, (mutton dry curry) drumstick white curry, crab curry (sea crab generally)keerai pittu (with 1 kg flour and ½ kg fish) naan, thosai, idly and prawns cooked in many delicious ways are also part of the menu. Sauces are used to make more mouth watering dishes and chicken in lemongrass or date sauce, prawns in spicy butter or cadju sauce are among the sauce flavoured dishes. Black pork curry, beef curry, white brinjal curry and rasam are also on offer. Among other dishes on offer are western style baked dishes and soups as well as some Southern Sri Lankan dishes.

According to Thushara, the basic, traditional Jaffna menu for any occasion will contain yellow rice, rasam, white brinjal curry, fish , murunga, chillie and papadam and prawns galore. Prawns are also used for flavouring. Mutton poriyal and crabs (sea) are for special occasions and Sundays.

To ensure that her northern dishes retain the exact Jaffna flavour Thushara grinds her own spices. Spices play a major role in Jaffna cuisine and cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon, suduru, maduru, dill and mustard contribute to flavour the traditional dishes. Unlike in Southern Sri Lanka where goraka (gamboge) plays a major part in flavouring curries in Jaffna cuisine it is siyambala (tamarind) that is mostly used.

Certain ingredients and cooking utensils that cannot be got in Colombo, Thushara either gets down or brings them herself from Jaffna.

As unique as Jaffna cuisine are the traditional Jaffna cooking utensils which are bequeathed from generation to generation. ‘Kopirichchi’ is a sweet dumpling made out of rice and the ‘Koprichchi pan is made out of brass and set with round hollows. The dumplings are cooked over charcoal.

Like elsewhere in the island rice is a staple in Jaffna and it is measured using square wooden boxes of different sizes. A cone shaped palmyrah basket with a wide mouth known as ‘Neethupetti’ is used for steaming pittu.

An avid cake maker Thushara makes melt-in-the-mouth cakes which include, butter, date, chocolate love, and cup cakes of varied flavours. Wedding cake (rich cake ) is also a ‘My Sister’s Kitchen specialty with Thushara handling everything from the selection of ingredients to artistic wrapping. She enjoys the cutting and chopping of ingredients in to the wee hours of the morning and loves shopping for paper and other materials for the fancy wedding cake wrapping.

Four canine guardian angels keep ‘My Sister’s Kitchen’ safe. Blackie, Twinkle, Sponge and Jelly are four mixed breed dogs brought in from the cold by animal lovers Thushara and Danu. Twinkle was found abused and helpless, by Danu. Jelly was Thushara’s birthday gift to herself and she found him at the Sri Jayewardenepura University complex. These four guardians take their duties very seriously and vociferously warn outsiders that they are on guard. They are banned from the kitchen area and the ban is strictly enforced. So, they come within sight of the kitchen to reassure themselves that their beloved mistress is alright. Subramaniam a dignified, tawny cat also keeps watch over the Innasithamby household.

Thushara’s work area is simple and practical and consists of a pantry, outer area and kitchen all neat and scrupulously clean. Eye catching mugs of all shapes and sizes – large, medium, small, bowl shaped, slender flutes, squat and slim – make splashes of colour on two pantry walls in ‘My Sister’s Kitchen’ . Much loved characters like Mickey Mouse, Woody Woodpecker and Puss in Boots decorate some figures of ducks and ducklings, frogs, hippos and rabbits are moulded onto others. Floral and geometrical designs make others distinctive whatever the size or shape maybe. Some have come from far off places as denoted by their embellishments. There was the Eiffel Tower in a couple of mugs and one from distant Azerbaijan.

The neat, compact house in the rural setting of Gandabuwana, Piliyandala is like Thushara’s food- traditional and modern. Beautiful antique furniture, artifacts, VOC plates combine with modern furniture and furnishings in a pleasing mix. Antique irons stand on the stairway- a unique touch indeed.

Cacti in white pots with the slogan ‘let love grow’ – a typical Thushara Innasithamby touch – for loving and caring comes naturally to Thushara. The house and its setting are ideal for creativity to flourish – in Thushara’s case, creative cuisine.

Born and bred in Sillalai in the Jaffna peninsula Thushara and Danu grew up in an environment steeped with the rich, historical culture of Jaffna in which food plays a large part. Also, the Innasithamby’s were a family of Ayurvedic Physicians of note and therefore very much involved in the life of the community and its culture. So, it was natural that Thushara was drawn to cooking at an early age, in fact, while she was still schooling at Holy Family Convent, Jaffna and discovered hidden talents within herself. Under the watchful guidance of mother Jovitha and grandmother Rita she honed her talents and soon people started praising her culinary efforts.

With the passing away of her father Suhanthan in 1993 the family moved to Colombo and Thushara continued her education at Holy Family Convent, Bambalapitiya. After her secondary education she qualified in banking and when she resigned, at Citi Bank she was heading the Bank’s Trade Unit.

Through all this Thushara’s passion for cooking flourished and she did part time catering. Today, her passion has turned into a full time career which she loves and which brings her great fulfillment.

(Pix: Shan Rambukwella, Danu Innasithamby)