Hilltop cuisine in harmony with nature

By Sandamalee de Fonseka
This time, our stop was Hotel Hilltop, Kandy. A more appropriately named hotel we’ve not come across, for, it is literally atop a hill in Kandy. So high that, it is not only the panoramic view of the entire town, with the Temple of the Tooth, with its golden roof glittering right into the dinning hall and the majestic Lord Buddha from the Bahirawa Mountains that captures the eye, but also, the day-to-day bustle of the town below. The old train station seems right at the foot of the hill and it is indeed fascinating to watch the people scurrying in and out of trains.

Our host, Chef Vincent, was most hospitable, exuding typical Sri Lankan charm. Chef Vincent’s Sri Lankan food is quite famous. He, a direct descendent of ayurveda practitioners – an ancient holistic lifestyle that promotes life in harmony with nature – claims his success is simply the ayurvedic principles he incorporates into his cooking. Though not an ayurvedic practitioner himself, he has the benefit of his father’s and grandfather’s knowledge, which they shared with him. In fact, he is the only odd one out in his family, by entering the culinary field.

The culinary field, however, he stresses, is a huge part of ayurveda. Both the curry powder and the curry paste he uses are recipes of his grandfather (please log onto www.bojoon.com for the recipes). The curry powder, chef says, really brings out the best in meat curries and a dash from his special curry paste, liven any fish and vegetable curry.
He claims that, his curry paste, a concoction of mustard, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cardamoms, black pepper and turmeric, has all the ayurvedic properties to ensure good, healthy living. This even makes a good curry in a hurry, by just adding couple of tablespoons to a pan with heated oil and then adding any vegetable and tossing until the vegetable is cooked without losing its texture.

According to Chef Vincent, a diet with garlic, ginger and curry is essential to prevent long term diseases such as high blood pressure and coronary related diseases. He points out that, too many of us spend the better part of our lives eating and living unhealthily and it is only in our forties or so, when the first sign of bodily distress shows, that we switch to a healthy diet. However, by this time, he says, the damage is done and is thus difficult to reverse the damage wrought on by years of unhealthy food.

When he took us into his kitchen, we were most captivated. It had all the order of a professional kitchen as a hotel would demand, but it also had all the amenities of a typical Sri Lankan home kitchen – right down to the grinding stone and the motor and pestle. Signs of their daily use are obvious for the grinding stone, after 15 years of non-stop use, has nicely worn down.
Chef Vincent confirmed what we suspected for years – there is no electric grinder yet invented that performs the tasks of these age-old grinding stone and motor and pestle as effectively. Daily, the motor and pestle is used to pound Hilltop’s famous coconut sambol. Indeed, this is one of the rare sambols we have come across, that uses crushed red onions instead of the sliced big onion, where the coconut is well mixed instead of pounded into a pulp and a sambol as perfect as can be.
With this sambol, Chef loves to serve turkey ambul thiyal. Though the more renowned dish is the fish ambul thiyal, ambul thiyal itself is a preservative method quite unique to Sri Lanka, explains Chef. While the southern coast uses this method to preserve its blood fish like tuna, in the old royal days of Kandy, turkey ambul thiyal was a regular royal feast. Here, the key ingredient is gamboge, which has many ayurvedic properties such as containing high blood pressure as well as controlling obesity.

The Hotel is itself under renovation at the moment. Unlike most of the other hotels, Hilltop is not twiddling thumbs for guests to come. The culinary team, personally trained by Chef Vincent, has gained a steady name for its wonderful food and the Hotel is now finding its dinning area inadequate to serve the demand. This confirms something else we have always believed – the dearth of Sri Lankan tourism is not due to terrorism, but due to lack of good products. Hats off to Hilltop for its wonderful food!

Come on foodies! Gossip with us on food! We’d love to know your food experiences – good, bad, humorous… basically anything and everything. Just drop an email to info@bojoon.com and the most interesting experiences would be published here. For more information, do visit www.bojoon.com.

Sandamalee de Fonseka is the founder of www.bojoon.com that is both the organiser of action-packed one-on-one cooking programmes with top chefs of Sri Lanka, and the portal of food in Sri Lanka.


Chef Aree Jit Mann – Royal Thai – Trans Asia

Mann date for authentic Thai

by Shabna Cader
Serving the best Thai food in Colombo, Royal Thai at Trans Asia serves cuisine that caters to the balance of the five fundamental flavours in each and every dish they prepare; that is hot (spicy), sour, sweet, salty and bitter (optional flavour) with all due thanks to their master chef – Chef Aree Jit Mann.

Giving the usual, yet, authentic Thai cuisine her own creative touch, by adding in different ingredients bought, both locally and from abroad, Chef Mann is quirky, bubbly and lively as ever. Her bright wide smile lightens up the room and makes you feel right at home. Born and bred in Thailand, she is proud of the fact that she can bring in a part of her culture to ours and make people enjoy Thai cuisine in a way like no other can.

“Ever since the age of 15, I have had a love for the art of cooking. Everyday on my return home from school, you would find me in the kitchen with my mother. I loved helping her out and it benefited me in a great way” she answered, on querying how cooking became the center of her life. I guess it is safe and truthful to say that women are and will always be the greatest chefs around, even if they don’t make it to the top within the industry. For Chef Mann, her mother and her culture was her inspiration. Hats off to them both!

Creating the most tantalising and mouthwatering dishes such as Tom yam (sweet and sour soup), Khao Pad (fried rice Thai style) which is one of the most common dishes in Thailand, Gai Pad Khing (chicken stir-friend with sliced ginger) and Pad Pak Ruam (stir-fried combination of vegetables) Chef Mann is more than delighted, when customers at Royal Thai compliment her on her dishes and come back for more. “It is always a great pleasure for any chef, when their customers enjoy the meals served for them and compliment them as well. I am always thrilled and it makes me so happy to have people say nice things about my dishes and it is always a pleasure to serve them again and again, when they visit the restaurant” she said.

Chef Mann previously worked at a well-known restaurant in China for four years, before coming to Sri Lanka, and joined Trans Asia in 2003. Her way of expressing her style and art of cooking is “home-styled creative cooking”, which actually makes sense, because sitting down to enjoy one of her cuisines simply feels ‘home-cooked’ in a way!

Chef Clifford at Trans Asia commented on Chef Mann’s hard work and cooking talent, by praising her creativity and activeness in the kitchen. “You can tell by simply watching her, that she is doing her best and cooks authentic Thai cuisine like no other can. She’s lively as ever and a very hard-working woman. ”

Talking of her future plans, Chef Mann flashes one of her bright smiles. “I would like to open a restaurant” she said, “another Royal Thai” she added jokingly! A great chef, big dreams, amasing cuisine and a one-of-a-kind restaurant; seems like too good a combination, but there you have it! Chef Mann – Royal Thai – Trans Asia.