ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 38

Spicing up the US palate

A group of US - based food professionals enjoys ‘Savour Sri Lanka’, a culinary tour, a first for Sri Lanka

By Esther Williams

Sri Lankan cuisine is hardly known in the US. Featured only among the Sri Lankan expatriate community, the average American has no idea of how unique or diverse the food can be. The recent culinary tour of seven US-based food industry professionals in Sri Lanka, enabled them to sample the delights of our cuisine.

Having toured places from Kandalama to the kitchens of Aluvihara for a home cooked meal, to Kandy, Gampola, Nuwara Eliya, Pussellawa and Galle for visits to tea estates in the hill country and cinnamon growing regions, the group comprising chefs, journalists and spice traders took in the food, art and culture of the country. Eating the traditional dishes served on a leaf with their fingers during their week long tour was certainly memorable.

Tasting traditional food in traditional style

“The trip was an eye opener for me,” said former editor of the food and wine section of the Washingtonian, now an independent food and travel writer, Tom Head, amazed at the imaginative use of vegetables and taste that he thinks is much more subtle than Indian food. Being his first trip to the island, he has collected a staggering amount of information that he would carry in his features. “Americans are interested in vegetarian diets and I hope to create a demand for that,” he adds.

“I can understand being a vegetarian,” added the founder of Vann Spices, spice importer and distributor, Ann Wilder. Eating Jak curry which she thought was meaty, she did not feel the need for a steak. She hopes to carry samples of ginger, cinnamon and cloves back and find ways to import them.

For David Rosengarten, cookbook author, travel writer and TV journalist, best known for his TV food/cooking show ‘Taste’, the Chef at Lunuganga, Samantha is a star. “The dry fish preparation and shrimp curry served on red rice was exceptional,” he says. On his return to the US David hopes to feature his Sri Lankan meal in his electronic magazine that has about 500,000 readers apart from featuring Sri Lankan recipes in the prestigious Rosengarten Newsletter.

One of the only 58 certified master chefs of the US, Peter Timmins, the Executive Chef of The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, WV, has picked up many recipes on this tour including the delectable fish and crab curry. He hopes to organise a Sri Lankan luncheon buffet as one of the theme events at the annual chefs meeting held in October each year for chefs from all over US, Canada and Dubai.

Leader of the group, Former CEO of American Spice Trade Association, Peter Furth was highly appreciative of ‘Savour Sri Lanka’ the tour that allowed the team to travel all over the island and sample every possible dish. “We insisted that we wanted to taste the authentic dishes and not the westernised versions,” he said. Having visited spice operation units such as MA’s, the Cinnamon Processing Centre at Kosgoda, oil processing units and participated in tea tasting, he hopes it translates into better export of quality Sri Lankan spices at a higher cost, thereby contributing to the country’s economy.

Notably, the tour combined elements of ‘small island – big trip’ in an effort to attract the niche market of culinary tourism. Chairman of the Spice Council Sarada de Silva and Chairman of the Tourism Cluster Prema Cooray helped design and organise the tour.

The project was one of USAID’s Competitiveness programmes to enable food writers to promote Sri Lankan cuisine. Speaking at a reception for the group, Director, Office of Economic Growth (USAID), Richard Edwards said he hoped they would go back and do their part in promoting the economic growth and development of the country that has been through a lot in recent years.

Culinary tours are popular in places like Italy and Spain, but this is the first time for a developing country - through the efforts of USAID. Said USAID’s Development Outreach and Communications Officer, Richard Zack Taylor, “Culinary tourism is a new but fast-growing niche market that attracts tourists to a ‘featured’ country or region and its unique offerings of authentic local cuisine as well as itsgourmet food products. Culinary tourists tend to travel farther and spend more time than the average tourist on their trips to learn about a country’s food, cooking and eating traditions.”

“Sri Lanka is well positioned to compete with its special offerings,” Zack says.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.