A couple of weeks ago, the students of the TEI Newcastle kitchen were invited to take a vicarious culinary journey to Sri Lanka with Peter Kuruvita as their guide.

Born in 1963 in England to an adventurous Sri Lankan father and an Austrian mother, Kuruvita spent the first four years of his life in England. In 1967, Kuruvita’s family decided to move to his father’s hometown of Colombo, Sri Lanka. While growing up in Sri Lanka, he was introduced to cooking through his grandmother’s preparation of Sri Lankan cuisine. It was this and a strong sense of family that inspired him to pursue food as a career.

In 1974, Kuruvita and his family moved to Sydney, Australia, where he went to school before beginning an apprenticeship as a chef.

In 2011, Peter was able to rediscover his roots in My Sri Lanka, a TV series documenting his culinary journey into his father’s native country.

Apart from being a true feast for the senses, this class offered some wonderful insight into a type of cuisine that isn’t that well known and often assimilated into other South-East Asian types of cuisine.

Interestingly, Sri Lankan cuisine seems to sit somewhere in between South-East Asian and Indian cooking,  using the refreshing flavors of coconut, chillies and seafood combined with the warmth of a great variety of spices. Rather than noodles, starches come from using flat breads and the students also got a glimpse into the untapped world of cooking with tea.

Kuruvita also spoke of the amazing wealth of knowledge developed around each ingredient that features in a Sri Lankan kitchen. While flavor is important, ingredients are also directly associated with what effects they have on our bodies and the ailments they cure: headaches, bowel, even cancer.

Sri Lankan cuisine relies on a wide range of spices and aromatics: fenugreek seeds, turmeric, cinnamon, chili paste, cardamom pods… in combination with Maldive fish (cured tuna fish) and garaka paste: a souring and thickening agent equivalent to tamarind paste.

Coconut is of course a staple ingredient, used for its sweet and refreshing flesh or water. Coconut milk or cream can be used as the base of curries but in this case, the flesh was used to flavor the ‘pol rotis’ (coconut flat breads) as seen below.

For the pork curry, we used a pork shoulder which has a good flavor, isn’t too fatty and stays moist when cooked for a long time. The curry was served with the pol roti and a side of carrot sambol, a spicy grated carrot salad.

As an entree, students also prepared a beautiful dish of prawns: grilled Ceylon tea prawns served with Mulligatawny soup. The prawns were shelled, deveined and skewered before being grilled on a hot plate. The prawn heads and shells were used to make a fish stock to flavor the soup. Once grilled, the prawns were dipped in a lime and chilli mayonnaise and sprinkled with Ceylon tea.

After a couple hours of cooking, the students helped themselves to a delicious lunch of grilled Ceylon tea prawns served with Mulligatawny soup followed by tea country pork curry with pol roti and carrot sambol.

Visit the TEI Newcastle website to find upcoming cooking classes.