Cynthia Shanmugalingam Rambutan Cookbook on Sri Lankan Cuisine

As she opens Sri Lanka’s first restaurant, Rambutan, in London’s Borough Market, Cynthia Shanmugalingam launches her first cookbook, the story of the lost homeland interwoven with her family’s culinary jewels.

As she opens Sri Lanka’s first restaurant, Rambutan, in London’s Borough Market, Cynthia Shanmugalingam launches her first cookbook, the story of the lost homeland interwoven with her family’s culinary jewels.

if you pick up rambutan, the first cookbook by Cynthia Shanmugalingam who hopes to go straight to recipes for delicious Sri Lankan food, will have to pause. There’s no “jump to recipe” button here, and that’s a good thing, too. The recipes, peppered with charming stories and images of family gatherings, dinners and picturesque locations taken from family albums, have been carefully crafted by Cynthia, who is set to open a restaurant in London in October. This, after running a restaurant incubator since 2013 and moving on to cooking through pop-ups at Asma Khan’s Darjeeling Express, Palm Heights in the Cayman Islands and Quo Vadis in London since 2019.

In rambutan, you’ll learn why her mother can’t cook without curry leaves, how Cynthia overcame her fear of breaking coconuts, and reliving her childhood memories of her father, a strict disciplinarian, bringing home a bucket of fried chicken on the last day of the week. summer. exams she will also learn about her father’s journey from him being tortured and brutally beaten as he worked in a shop to Ceylon University and eventually to London, and her mother’s struggles as an immigrant.

An image of the pages of rambutan

island stories

As Nigella Lawson aptly says in her book review, “The stories behind a recipe are actually an integral part of it, and a treasured part of it.” And true to his word, rambutan it’s as much about the recipes as it is about their history.

“It’s hard to unravel the food and the history; they come together,” says Cynthia, of her conscious decision to have a story-driven approach to the cookbook, via Zoom call from her London home. “There are not many Sri Lankan Tamil writers who have been able to tell the story about Sri Lankan food and the country. I wanted to do justice to its history,” he says, adding that food is inherently political and an outsider to the island might give you a tourist idea of ​​Sri Lanka, just beaches and snacks, “but there’s so much more to the island than that. “Food is more than recipes. It’s also about Sri Lankan history, politics, our culture and our families,” adds the 41-year-old chef from Coventry, England.

For the “part memoir, part manual, part travel guide,” as the book describes it, Cynthia traveled to Sri Lanka in 2021 for six months, speaking to everyone from her parents (who returned to the island in the early 2000), to aunts and cousins. “While I had my own memories, I asked them a lot about what happened. I talked to my cousin’s wife, who was injured in the bombing and had shrapnel in her legs at the end of the 2009 war, and her daughters about her memories. I spent a lot of time reflecting on what I could remember from when I was a child.”

A snapshot of rambutan

A snapshot of rambutan

Mastering Sri Lankan cuisine

And then the food. Much of his time on the island was also spent cooking with his mother and his friends. “My mom actually transcribed my grandmother’s recipes in a notebook. She has her classics: kool, a Tamil community seafood gumbo thickened with odiyal flour, her lamb curry, Jaffna crab curry (which she calls the best recipe in the book and on the island), sodhi… My Tamil is not very good so I read them very slowly and tried to understand all the instructions,” says Cynthia, who has also worked on developing her own relationship with the country and started making recipes based on her experiences eating in cafes and street stalls.

Cynthia’s Top 5 rambutan

Dal with Kale

Turmeric Tempered Crispy Potato Chips

Prawn curry with tamarind

Pol sambol fried chicken sandwich

Frozen rambutan and rose falooda

So while most dishes are “pretty true to the originals,” many have their twist. “There is a grilled ambul fish dish in the book, which is a version of an old Sinhalese fish preparation called Ambul Thiyal, which is quite sour and quite strong in taste. I have created a lighter version grilled with yogurt. Even the Watalappan cake was made in a non-traditional way: in an oven and not in a bain-marie. Some dishes taste more fun this way,” Cynthia says of the book with sections devoted to vegetables and fruits, meats, pickled dishes, rotis, and hoppers, among others.

As Cynthia spent most of the COVID-19 lockdown researching and testing recipes, gathering over 80 in the book was no easy task. Her most difficult dish to master was the Lamprais. “It is a sacred dish for Sri Lankan readers, and it is not the traditional recipe, which is why it is called Lampra-ish in the book. Sri Lankans go crazy if you touch it, so I’m playing with fire!” she says, adding that, in its original form, the dish is quite complicated with 12 items including curry and rice. Cynthia only has six items in the book, only some of which are traditional. “Getting all the timings of everything right was a challenge. I recreated it about six times, but I tried the individual elements many more times.”

Lampra-ish with short rib beef curry

Lampra-ish with short rib beef curry

Spice mixes and sambol

While addressing the definitive links between Sri Lankan food with Kerala and Tamil Nadu cuisine, Cynthia is quick to add that “Sri Lankan traditions, food and people are unique.” The mix of spices on the island is also different. “The roasted curry powder we use in Jaffna has a smoky flavor and is quite heavy like coriander. Dishes like black pork curry, pineapple curry and mango curry are unique to the country,” says Cynthia, adding that there is also a Malay and Javanese influence to their food, meaning “we have a lot of sambols, a great staple.” in the country”.

Which brings us to the section on rambutan dedicated to seasoning, from versions with daikon, mint, carrot and rutabaga, to green mango and black sesame. “I didn’t know there were so many! The green mango, for example. I never had it in London because my mother couldn’t find it there, but in Sri Lanka, you get a lot of it. So I discovered those things when I came back,” says the author.

Frozen rambutan and rose falooda

Frozen rambutan and rose falooda

to the city market

Cynthia, curious about the choice of name for the book, and her upcoming restaurant of the same name, says it’s partly due to a childhood memory of Athappa, her father’s younger brother, who introduced her to the fruit on a hot day. Of summer. “I guess the melancholy and sadness that I have from the experience of being a Tamil and losing a homeland and losing so much of our family, losing a connection to Sri Lanka. Also, rambutan is the same word in English, Tamil and Sinhala; it is one of the few common words.”

Excited about her restaurant, in the heart of London’s Borough Market, Cynthia says soft ice creams with Sri Lankan flavors of mango and cashew, brown sugar, watermelon and hibiscus, and coconut and rice are currently being offered as a sneak peek into the busy market. next to London Bridge. “We will be the first South Asian restaurant here, so it will be very exciting to represent the cuisine,” says the chef.

beyond the headlines

Born to immigrant parents from Sri Lanka, Cynthia is candid about her struggles, saying in the book that she has not shied away from the country’s agonizing history of war, oppression and slavery. “These chapters are also part of the history of our food.”

Cynthia with her parents

Cynthia with her parents

In rambutan, writes about how her father was disappointed when she became interested in food and felt it was far from a stable, well-paying career. What do you have to say now? “I think he is proud of the book. He thinks it’s an interesting story, partly because it’s so much about him,” laughs Cynthia. “But I’m sure if I told him she was going to give up food and start being a newsreader for the BBC, he would be delighted.” And her mother, whose hard life as an immigrant has been beautifully detailed, remembers the day she landed the book deal. “My mom just said, ‘Is this a big deal? Cynthia concludes with a laugh.

Posted by Bloomsbury, rambutan it has a price of $1,199 and available in major bookstores

Leave a Comment