Home cooking – on the way out?

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By 2017-07-16

By Priyangwada Perera
Ceylon Today Features

"Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are," Jean Antheleme Brillat-Savarin writes in The Physiology of Taste. Ceylon Today was not attempting what Savarin said in what he subtitles as Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy. Our food also reveals many things about us. Even if we are unable to pass judgment on personality, one's choice of food may foretell something of his future wellbeing. A lot has been spoken of our food. Food culture in Sri Lanka is something we have bragged of, for generations.

Such a lot of pain goes into preparing food and also there is plenty to learn in the culinary arts. A couple of generations ago if a woman had no expertise in cooking, it was considered to be a great disadvantage. Cooking at that time was a long, difficult process of age-old traditions, ingredients and methods. Secrets of specific seasoning further powered by clay pots, firewood, hearth and soot added to the task. Things have gotten simpler and easier with food choices and the change of life-style. Yet, we assume Sri Lanka to be a country where people cook their own meals. In contrary to the feeling, one would be blind not to notice the amount of Take-Away food places that have popped up. It started many years ago with the so called "Chinese restaurants." That has extended to all kinds of restaurants and fast food joints. There are more and more people eating out, buying food from outside.

It was interesting to find out the reasons for this. Nipuni Bandara, who works for an advertising firm said that she buys breakfast from outside every day. Her lunch is home cooked and prepared by her mother. "My job requires me to be on the run at times.

There are occasions I miss lunch or have a brief quick lunch or end up being at different places. Lack of a good place to eat nearby my office makes it worse. That makes my lunch habits a bit irregular. But I am trying to be consistent." She said she used to eat a lot of junk food, sandwiches and so on and now concentrates on minimizing such food. "Such food is bad for my body and bad for my pocket too," she smiled, saying how expensive food is if one were to eat out daily. Her main concern was the quality of the food and cleanliness. Nipuni was under the impression that when she eats junk food she feels very full even with less quantity and said that shows how bad such food is.

Nimali de Silva, who works at the Ministry of Home Affairs, cooks daily without fail. With a daughter who is in Grade 3, she tries to give something nutritious to the girl. "I give her grains, especially Kidney Beans which are her favourite. Or else she takes home made rice and curry. To make a difference, I make fried rice for her. But she loves herbal porridge and I make Kola Kenda especially for her and my husband brings various kinds of local rice." She said that she enjoys cooking and even if it is just one curry and rice, home-made food is the best. Commenting on her colleagues, she said most ladies bring food which their mothers prepare at home. Even for her, her mother mostly does the cooking.

Ceylon Today came across Nissanka Ekanayake who is a lawyer by profession. "I usually bring lunch from home and only come out for a snack. When buying food from outside, my concern is cleanliness." He said that he prefers to stick to a place that he is familiar with, when buying food. Ekanayake further commented on how most wives are now doing jobs and if they were to cook they would also have to get up early in the morning and difficulties would arise. "What we buy from outside is making good profit out of cheap things. Preservatives are tasty but not good for health." So, why are more and more people opting to eat from outside, asked Ceylon Today. "The reason is that the present generation cannot cook. Cooking at home is cheaper. Even rice and sambol taste heavenly. People of our generation prefer home cooked food. I was in the US for seven years and they are more into instant food. We are fast moving that way and in 20 years time we will all die due to side effects," Ekanayake concluded.

Who knows the most about eating out and fast food if not for the seller? A shop that is situated next to a leading girls' school in Colombo 7 is always high on sales. Their packets of rice, snacks and cake get sold out in no time. The owner said that 80% of people seem to eat from outside. Apart from the children, they have a lot of customers from offices around Rosmead Place. They take pride in providing best quality, fresh food either prepared by their own chefs or from reputed SLS certified companies. Next to speak to us was the very busy owner of Vinuka Buffet at YMBA, Borella. Manjula Chandimal Jayasinghe or Ranga as he is called could hardly turn his head because customers kept appearing. "How much does it cost someone to eat from outside on a regular basis?" asked Ceylon Today. In reply to our question, Manjula questioned us back. "The answer is the question can you cook or not". Manjula has been in the business from 1989 and they are open on five days a week, except on public holidays. Lunch is their specialty. "There are people who come to Colombo on various work. They are delayed due to many reasons. When we are hungry, our stomach never says 'work is not done.' So, people eat as they can and that is where we fit in." He was quick to say that the younger generation is opting for restaurants all the time. "If the mother-in-law is not there, if Choon Paan (Tune-Bread) is missing, the new generation will starve," he said. Manjula said they do their cooking and hygiene is at its best. They sell an estimated 100 plates every day and he wanted us to ask any of their customers what they have to say about the food.

It would have been incomplete if we did not speak to the ever in demand tuk-tuk uncle with food in front of our office. M. K. Sunil sells packets of rice, manioc, snacks, grains, fresh fruit juice, tea, toast, buns, pieces of cake and many more interesting eatables. He has been selling for the past three and a half years. "I bring 25 fish buns with various fillings, 10 sugar buns, 50 short-eats, bread and so on," he said. He said he buys fruits from supermarkets because if the quality of the fruit is not good, one cannot continue with the business. If the price is very low, the quality has to be tolerated."

Sri Lanka was known for its tantalizing cooking and cuisine. Yet, times have changed. Condemn or embrace it. There are many who buy cooked food for at least one meal per day. It has become exceedingly popular. The difference between eating home cooked food and eating-out and the possible long term side effects needs a separate analysis.

(Pix by Sarath Kumara and Dumindu Wanigasekera)

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