In conversation with Chef Amila, Head Chef of the OTP Hotel
Deep in the old heart of Mumbai lies the bustling neighbourhood of Byculla, the once affluent colonial suburb that crumbled and disintegrated over the decades into the chaotic sprawl that it has become today.
Tucked deep inside the hustle and bustle of Byculla's labyrinthine alleyways lies Magazine Street Kitchen, a smart, high-ceilinged experimental food kitchen that drives Mumbai's innovative food scene forwards with a line up of guest chefs, pop up dining experiences and cooking workshops. Entering this elegant oasis is like a breath of fresh air, which quickly makes you forget about all the drama unfolding on the street just outside.
Earlier this month, Mag St hosted a Sri Lankan cooking extravaganza in partnership with The Owl and the Pussycat Hotel - Sri Lanka’s most talked about boutique hotel located in the enchanting coast of Galle - for which Cocofly had the pleasure of sponsoring the all essential coconut ingredients, drinks and snacks. It was here that I met Chef Amila Shirantha, Head Chef of The OTP Hotel. The Week describes OTP hotel as “an enchanting haven, a whimsical hideaway stunningly located on the edge of the Indian Ocean”, and the head chef of the hotel is like a cherry on the top! Chef Amila is a very focussed, calm and confident guy who excels in his art.
I've always been a fan of native dishes, and wherever I go, I always try to get my hands on the local cuisine. So when I met one of Sri Lanka's leading chefs I sat down with him and discussed at length about Sri Lankan food, and how being an island country affects its culinary traditions. Here are some excerpts from the conversation:
How has the abundance of coconuts influenced Sri Lanka's rich culinary tradition?
With the species like King coconut being native to Sri Lanka, coconut is considered as the main ingredient in Sri Lankan cuisines. Sri Lanka is one of the largest producers of coconut, and we use it in almost every cuisine like Curry, Sauce, Soup, Sambol, and Desserts.
What coconut products do Sri Lankan Chefs typically use?
Traditionally Sri Lankan chefs would start with the raw coconut and make their own fresh ingredients from scratch. However these days there is a need for fresh products in bulk, so most chefs tend to buy packaged alternatives, also to save time. We use products like Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, Coconut Milk, and Desiccated Coconut on a regular basis. Coconut has many health benefits, that’s why we cook using coconut products.
So what are the health benefits of coconut products?
Daily consumption of anything coconut is good for our health. Coconut oil has a high content of healthy saturated fats, which helps in keeping the weight in check and reducing harmful fats in the body. Adding any form of coconut to the diet has positive effects on the body.
Do you associate the coconut just with cooking?
When I was a kid, I used to race between coconut trees with my friends. We also used to jump into the neighbours’ property and pluck King Coconut from their trees. Sometimes, the owners caught us in the act and chased us away from the plantation. It was too much fun! Growing up in Sri Lanka meant that the coconut and coconut trees were just part of our upbringing.
What’s your favourite coconut dish from the hotel menu?
Coconut Sambol, made from freshly grated coconuts (or desiccated coconuts), because it goes well with freshly made Hoppers and Pol Roti – a staple dish in any Sri Lankan meal, especially breakfast.
Are any of the recipes you make passed down through your family?
Kiri Malu (White Fish Curry) is a very common dish in Sri Lanka. It contains two of the most famous food products of Sri Lanka - fish and coconut. There’s no universal recipe for Kiri Malu, because every family adjusts this staple dish to suit their own taste. Our family makes quite a strong, spicy version of the dish that goes really well with hoppers or chapatis alike.
If u want to make chef Amila’s Kiri Malu, check out his recipe here. You can use Cocofly Coconut Milk for cooking.
In Sri Lanka is it common to use coconut products for specific health or medicinal purposes?
Coconut oil is used as a remedy for treating headaches. It is also used to control hair loss. We use coconut oil for cooking because unlike other oils, coconut oil has a very high smoking point, making it a great oil to cook with. Coconut oil also helps in converting harmful fats to good fats in the body. It is also rich in phenolic compounds, that effectively increase the antioxidant capacity of the blood.
We drink coconut water for all kinds of reasons too: it is a great way to hydrate when it is hot and helps to prevent dehydration; sick people recovering from an illness are given coconut water by their doctor, as are pregnant women.* * * * *
The Owl and the Pussycat Hotel is a romantic getaway spot on the magical South Coast of Sri Lanka. Its enchanting ambience makes it a perfect honeymoon destination. For more information about the hotel and bookings, click here.