What’s Cooking?

I didn’t expect to have anything interesting to say about school today, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Angela and Prabodie – another of the local teachers – were showing the older classes how to cook some of the traditional Singalese delicacies eaten at New Year: it was good fun. We grated coconut to make coconut milk which was then added to rice to make “milk rice” which was allowed to cool and set wrapped in banana leaves. I spent quite a lot of time, as did others, whittling away at some dried fish from the Maldives. I used my Swiss Army Knife and it was a bit like carving ebony, the fish was so hard. The fish – it should have been grated but a lad forgot to do the necessary over the weekend – was added to onion and chilli to make sambol. (The Guide describes sambol as “often eye-watering” and advises “Treat it with caution” – Angela tells me that what we made was a mild version.) I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed the sambol: true it was hot, but the Maldive fish gave it a flavour rather like anchovies, of which I am very fond.

The third item – Kokkies – were perhaps the most intriguing to look at. Someone made a batter of rice flour and so on, then a pot of oil was brought up to temperature over an open fire. A couple of brass moulds – a bit like pastry cutters on long handles, but much more solid and more intricately shaped – were heated in the oil, dipped in the batter and then returned to the oil. The thin layer of batter that had initially stuck to the hot mould was now shaken off in the oil and allowed to crisp for a minute or so. The result was beautifully delicate flow or butterfly shapes in batter. I have posted a short video on my Facebook page and here are some photos.

batter 1

Kokkie Batter & Moulds

frying 2

Frying the Kokkies






Sydny (sic)

whittling 1

Whittling Fish

Maldive fish 1

Maldive Fish – dried and hard as teak

milk rice 2

Milk Rice cooling on banana leaves

grating 1

Scraping Coconut

coconut grater 1

Coconut Scraper

coconut milk 1

Making Coconut Milk


Guess what we ate at first break!


Tomorrow there’s going to be no electricity from 8am until 5pm, which is a bit of a bummer and certainly knocks out the use of computers in IT. I’m going to resort to the whiteboard and do some “History of English” with Rick’s class and then some Artificial Intelligence stuff with the same group when they appear for IT. Let’s hope my naive enthusiasm for both subjects carries me (and them) along. Tomorrow is an “eating”day, so at 1:30 I’ll be able to go into town and find somewhere cool to lurk until the power comes back on.

Rick has asked me to join him and his wife Kris for something to eat on Friday. I think the plan is to go to the gym / swimming pool after school then move on for eats. I haven’t been to the gym since I came here and have rather missed it as I try to go every second day back home. I just hope the lengthy gap in attendance hasn’t left me a complete wreck!

I’m going to have to ask you to be tolerant of spelling mistakes if you spot any…

I’ve taken to speaking Gaelic to pestiferous tuk-tuk drivers and their like. It seems to be the language – of which I know a few words – that is least likely to lead to a conversation: I can say something possibly totally irrelevant and walk on without the slightest danger of being understood. Of course, I’m limited by having only a smattering of the language but I don’t suppose that matters.

Hello Sir, how are you?

Tha mi guth math tapadh leibh.

Where are you from?

Tha mi Albannach.

At that point, the conversation usually flags, but if pressed I can move on through commenting on the weather and wondering where my glass has got to, eventually reaching pòc ma hon, though that may be Erse (boom, boom!)

I want to finish by plugging JG Farrell again.

I’ve now finished re-reading all three of his “Empire” trilogy. The first, “The Siege of Krishnapur” is truly superb, as are the others, which I read out of sequence this time around. “The Siege…” won the Booker Prize and “The New Statesman” critic said of it: ”For a novel to be witty is one thing, to tell a good story is another, to be serious is yet another, but to be all three is surely enough to make it a masterpiece”

The Kindle editions of all three have obviously been scanned in off paper and there are rather more “typos” in the text than one would like, but mostly they don’t get in the way of the story.

I’m not normally a fan of historical novels or costume drama and if that was just what this is, I wouldn’t be recommending it. But it’s so much more: superb characterisation leading us to empathis at different times with a wide range of characters, the clash of cultures (whether in India, Ireland or Singapore), the role of women (and men!), imperialism, rationalism, religion, by turns tear-jerking, uplifting, thought-provoking, humbling. And don’t forget amusing – not belly-laughs but wry smiles and a chuckle. I’ve just begun “The Hill Station”, which takes up the lives of some of the characters from “The Siege…” and introduces others. Unfortunately, Farrell never got to finish it as he died in a fishing accident in 1979.

Go on give Farrell a go: you’ve only yourself to blame if you don’t try. If you do try him out and don’t like it, at least you can blame me!







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