Rasa Kavili : sweet delights of April | Sunday Observer

Rasa Kavili : sweet delights of April

April is the month of delightful memories. The frequent call of the koha which proclaims the season is fading away but the bird still remains the solitary symbol of the April New Year. It is the first term of school holidays for children, who eagerly abandon their books to play. It is a month of new aspiration for members of the Sinhala and Tamil community. For many of us Aluth Avurudu is synonymous with the dainty sweets made by both the Sinhalese and Tamil communities as we celebrate a history laden Sri Lankan festival.

With a growing focus on organic cuisine and a healthy lifestyle, one is subject to a feeling of temporary guilt when indulging in these sweet temptations. Living in crowded cities supplemented by a busy work schedule, do our women have the time and culinary skills to keep this tradition alive? Are the long hours of making these sweets appreciated, or will they be replaced with ‘ready made sweets’ in the future?

The konde kevum is the alluring queen who reigns supreme above the other sweets on the plate. Her konde has a class of its own! She is always soft to the touch, enticing us with her oily charms! The kalu dodol is the grand duke of Sinhala sweets. The dark brown exterior gives way to a warm consistency. The amazing aasmi - somewhat similar to a hybrid string hopper with a touch of red syrup is another vital item on the plate.

The halape remains an all time favourite enjoyed with a glass of ginger infused tea. We yielded to the other culinary temptations as well: athiraha and mung kavum - nutritious sweets. The kokkis has a class of its own with its crunchy bite, interestingly of Dutch origin. Today, it is sold in packets with a chili and salt dusting, giving it a savoury flavour. The kiribath (milk rice) dazzles us in various shapes, reflecting different types of grain- red rice, samba and the opulent basmati. Sri Lankans domiciled overseas also make milk rice, as it is easier to cook in comparison to the other sweets.

Sweets made by Tamil families include laddu, jelibi, paitham paniyaram, sugar coated sippi and spicy murukku. Finding clean banana leaves to place on the plates is another challenge for the denizens of Colombo. I did come across some ceramic plates that were prudently crafted in green to reflect a banana leaf.

The New Year is not about eating sweets. It is a continuous reunion and fellowship of all communities. We must incorporate all communities and celebrate this day as a Sri Lankan festival. It is a time to strengthen our national identity as one people.

The food associated with Aluth Avurudu, is being subject to 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 Colombo and perhaps other major cities. The primary reason is that working women don’t have time to sit and make sweets - which is a fact.

The second reason is a practical one, people living in high rise apartment complexes can’t be pounding and deep frying as the neighbours would be disturbed and the prolonged cooking can present a fire hazard. This too is a reality.

While some housewives have taken to buying avurudu sweets at various outlets selling ‘commercially made’ sweets, some are trying to ‘Google’ and find traditional recipes and make them at home, with their children. A few prudent ones have even ventured into altering cooking patterns creating avurudu fusion food. Some ingredients are expensive- a common factor at any celebration.

Veteran hotelier M. Shanthikumar, President of Colombo City Tourist Hotels Association and Vice President of Sri Lanka Tourist Hotels Association, shared his views: “The period of Aluth Avurudu is a key component of our culture in relation to tourism. It is not only a culinary manifestation of food but also a traditional experience for foreign guests.

As hoteliers, we faithfully sustain the traditional sweets, milk rice and other items. We practise whatever rituals we can, be it in the city hotels or resort hotels. Tourists are always keen to sample the food and wish to know how these items are made. Even elements like lighting the oil lamp are wonderful moments for them and I am sure they take back these happy memories.”

I also spoke to world renowned Master Chef Pabilis Silva, who has made rasa kavili for many decades. He said, “One of the primary reasons contributing to the decline of traditional sweet making is the cost. Ingredients are costly.

The second is rapid urbanization which is now entering the once serene villages. Our food culture is subject to various influences. We must adapt to change, yet maintain our heritage. Look at the aasmi made today, it is too large and therefore people hesitate to eat it wondering if they can finish it. So we have to be practical when deciding portion size. Aasmi must be reduced to a smaller portion, Items like kenda kola to wrap halape will soon be out of supply, we must present the halape in a new form not depending on the leaf.”

It is time we upgraded these sweets in terms of their packaging – making it appealing for those wanting to carry them on overseas flights. Hundreds of Sri Lankans visiting from overseas cherish these sweets as it brings them nostalgic memories.

Thankfully, most Sri Lankans still sustain the culinary traditions at least, even by purchasing ready made avurudu kavili. Many of us, at the end of these blissful days will return to work faithfully drinking green tea in the hope of burning those excess calories.

The glorious essence of the avurudu sweets is not in the eating, it is the joyous fellowship where the sweets are brought to life by hand. The firewood hearth has been replaced by gas cookers.

Yet cooking is a jubilant extension of family time, with cousins and relatives. We foster bridges of love by sharing the plates of sweets with our neighbours. All Sri Lankans must uphold the heritage filled recipes of our nation; some things in life should never be compromised.

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