Growing up, I lived with my mother, father, maternal grandparents, my cousin and his mother, who is my mother’s sister, Diedrie. I could call her my aunt but that would be both too formal and underselling it. I called and still call her “Chuttie” as did/do her siblings which was short for “little sister” in Sinhalese. And despite knowing my mother was my mother, I didn’t distinguish between any of the women in our house. I ran to my whomever was around for comfort, with complaints, in hunger, boredom and caused them an equal share of grief–I guarantee it.
They were all my mothers and to this day my aunt treats me with as much love and consideration as she does her own son, which is not just one of those nice things people say. She once came into some money when I was young and used it all to buy my cousin and I savings bonds in exactly the same amount (without exception, she is the kindest and most selfless person I have ever known. She fed us both at the same time and while she may cook for him more today, she caters to me more. I call her with requests for meals when I’m coming over (See? The kind of bratty-ness you would bestow only onto your mother, I freely bestow onto her), she has created phenomenal recipes to accommodate my diet, and I can’t adequately convey how she has influenced my cooking. There’s the osmosis part that comes from playing by a kitchen table heaped with greens that she was sorting through. A fair number of the recipes on le sauce are hers. And she is the most curious and inventive cook in my life, constantly calling me with an idea to unravel a recipe she saw on TV and rework it in a way that, quite frankly, sounds way better than the original. So I’m finally featuring Chuttie in the le sauce “cook love” series, to introduce you to a very interesting and passionate cook.
What is your favourite thing to eat?
Kiri bath. (Milk Rice)
And the worst? Do you have any food aversions and why? (What foods don’t you like?)
There’s nothing that I don’t like. But I try to keep away from cabbage everything in that family.
What do you try to eat a lot of to make yourself well–prevention or cure?
I like bitter melon. (YS note: Gross. As bitter as it sounds. But yeah, super-health–Google it. Apparently there’s nothing it can’t do.)
I know Nana (my aunt’s mother) cooked–but in a house where you already had hired cooks. So how and when did you actually learn how to cook?
When I was a little I used to go to the kitchen and watch the cooks, how they do (make) the dishes, also I learned a lot from my mum.
from above (edits mine):
- I would like to share a memorable happening when I was about eight years old. My mother had this habit of feeding anybody who was pregnant with special dishes whether she knew the person or not–it didn’t matter to her. There was a neighbour who was pregnant and my mother made yellow rice and all the dishes that go with it for an occasion. (A birthday or New Year. I don’t recollect.) She served a beautiful plate of rice, called this pregnant lady and handed it over the fence saying: I specially made this for you. She laughed and said thank you. Two months after that we moved to the Railway Quarters in the city of Colombo where my father was transferred to. Soon after that the neighbour who was pregnant left her other two-year-old daughter with us when she went to have her baby. The doctor had told her that she had taken care of herself very well, because she gave birth to a healthy baby girl with one tooth already out.
What is the best thing that you think you make?
Did you ever think about cooking professionally?
You never seem to hesitate to invite everyone over for someone’s birthday and host 20 people for a hot dinner that comes out on time all on your own. What are your tricks to staying organized and managing all of that work on your own, in such a small kitchen?
There are some dishes that I can make a day ahead and others I try to do early in the morning to finish faster so that when guest arrive, I can enjoy with them.
Are there any foods from Sri Lanka that you wish you could find in Toronto but still can’t?
Flowers of katuru murunga. (YS note: Totally had to look this up although I’m sure I’ve been served this many times. Apparently the (tree) leaves are available in urban North America but the flowers are hard to come by.)
What are you most looking forward to eating when you visit Sri Lanka next?
Flowers of katuru murunga.
How do you make a beer shandy?
Half a glass of beer, mix with half glass of orange juice. (YS note: A trick question. My mom and aunt don’t make very traditional shandies which favour tart citrus and more carbonation. But I love seeing them make this dead-easy, sweet kind, which they often mix so that half a beer doesn’t “go to their head”.)
Tell me about one of your most memorable meals.
Sinhalese new year. And Christmas lunch with my mum, dad, sister and brothers.
happy birthday, chuttie!