Saturday, 28 January 2012

Jaffna's Gastronomy

Table full of Jaffna Foods

Jaffna's cuisine primarily embraces the peninsula's limitations and evolves in glorious isolation from the Indian subcontinent and the rest of Sri Lanka. Accordingly, Jaffna food is very different from the rest of Sri Lanka's and it is unique style of culinary dishes is one of the most important thing which a visitor should not miss when they visit Sri Lanka. Moreover, Jaffna cuisine is above all famous for its use of the fresh seafood that abounds along the coasts.

Likewise, the soup known as “Kool” is among the region’s signature dishes. Thus, it is quite famous among both Jaffna people and foreigners. In fact, its unique flavour results from a slew of mouth-watering ingredients such as Crab, fish, cuttlefish, prawns and crayfish creating  a seafood broth with the addition of long beans, jak seeds, manioc and spinach . Hence, with hints of tamarind, the entire dish is practically thickened with the help of Palmyra root flour.

Jaffna Style Curry
Another famous authentic Jaffna dish is “Jaffna Crab Curry” which is a juicy sweet meat and spicy curry prepared using special Jaffna curry powder and aromatic herbs. Hence, it can be considered as one of the best treat to try on a rainy afternoon. Other curries such as “Fish Sothi” (fragrant coconut milk curry with turmeric) tender and tasty mutton “Paal Poriyal”(mutton cooked in dry gravy with cumin, chilli and curry leaves), and “Brinjol Poriyal” are also some of the notable dishes specially dedicated to Jaffna.

As for the dessert, the “Sweet Apam” is one of the famous dishes which a tourist who visits Jaffna definitely needs to try. It is a unique style of dessert with a soft centre made of sweet coconut milk giving it a mouth-watering smooth texture. Thus, it can also be prepared plain or with brown sugar sprinkled on top upon request.

Dinner Table with Jaffna Foods
One of the most common layouts of meal for lunch is red rice which accompanies a set of curries that appear to conform to the standard rice and curry menu.  A side dish which looks like clear liquid known as “Bone Rasam” is also very famous in Jaffna. It is a light, peppery broth prepared from mutton bones which goes excellently with rice and fried fish and is often drunk plain to clear the nose and the sinuses. Hence, the broth can also be prepared using chicken. In fact, many Jaffna chefs prefer to use boneless chicken to prepare spicy chicken rasam by giving it an aromatic flavour. The consistency often decides the category of the dish. Likewise, a curry is typically thicker than a kulambu, and a kulambu is thicker than a sodhi.

Moreover, a more adventurous gourmands might be drawn to the range of dishes known as “Varai”.It is basically a mix of finely chopped or minced ingredients tossed with coconut, green chillies, mustard seeds, red onions, turmeric powder and curry leaves to create a distinctive dish. For instance, a perfect varai is usually light and flavourful, with each ingredient providing a distinct flavour.

Jaffna Style Meat Dish
Though finely minced the primary meat or vegetable remains firm on the tongue and is never reduced to mush. Shark meat varai uses the tough, distinctive meat in a dry mix, but you can also use prawns, drumsticks, leeks, drumstick leaves and even plantain flowers to create the same dish.

Nonetheless, another dish known as “Pulich Canji” or sour porridge which is a refreshing drink made of mustard seeds, mint leaves, salt and a little of pinch chilli which is quite good for those burdened with a cough or cold.  Apart from this, the “Fried Brinjol” is a favourite among Jaffna schoolchildren which goes quite well with another signature dish called as “Pittu”. 

It is traditionally made with rice flour and scraped coconut through steaming by separating the small flakes and nodules of the rice flour. Unlike the school children, the combination of brinjol and pittu does not seem to be common among Jaffna adults due to its dry combination. Hence, majority of them prefers to eat pittu with curry or perhaps laced with fish as in shark pittu. Pittu can also be made in several variations. For instance, it can be made like a sweet milk pittu. 

Pittu
There are several restaurants in Jaffna where a visitor can taste the traditional cuisines of Jaffna. Here are some places we found for real deal of Jaffna Foods, are Green Grass Hotel and Restaurant( off Hospital Rd),Cosy Restaurant (off Stanley Road),  Thinakkural Rest (Chetty Lane, Nallur) and Hotel Rolex (Hospital Road). Hence, most of the dishes are quite affordable with each dish offering a unique taste unique to Jaffna. For instance, Jaffna style Crab Curry (RS. 200), Kanawa (cuttlefish) Curry (Rs.180), Odiyal Kool (Rs.200) and Thirukkal Pittu (Rs.150) which is made using the flying fish found in Jaffna. Hope you have a great time when you visit Jaffna.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Jaffna: Removing the Scars of War


Jaffna Welcomes You Arch in Navatkulli
Peace is one of the basic preconditions for sustainable development. Sustainable tourism and peace go hand in hand. Peace provides the basis for travel, whereas war and conflict disrupt tourist activity. Very often tourism is used a means to regenerate war-affected areas, or develop conflict resolution processes. Peace is also essential for the preservation of the environment and biodiversity, both of which are casualties of war.

In Jaffna after thirty years of war and conflict the restaurants are reopened for tourists and new hotels are under construction to cope with the influx of tourists. The current Influx of both domestic and foreign tourists to Jaffna has brought about a boom in the hospitality industry last two years. 

A bullet ridden building in Jaffna
The broken roads and bullet ridden buildings are still visible in Jaffna and the people are still uncertain about what happened and their own futures.The only change Jaffna has seen since the war officially ended is a boom in tourism. Hundreds of people from other parts of Sri Lanka and from August 2010 onwards foreigners are also going to Jaffna out of curiosity to see the situation there after three-decades of devastating war. According to media reports nearly 500,000 tourists visited Jaffna last year for various reasons. Whatever the reason be, post-war Jaffna with its large number of guest houses, rest houses and a few star class hotels welcome the world to see Jaffna after the war and its potential for development. 

Palaly Airport
The rapid increase in tourist arrivals to Jaffna, the hoteliers and tourism officials believe that Jaffna requires more hotel rooms offering comfort with an efficient service at a competitive price for travellers. The local and foreign investors are keen in this matter and local investor the Green Grass Hotel management is planning to build a new hotel comprising 27 rooms in Jaffna with an investment of Rs 60 million and another luxury-hotel chain Jetwing, plan to build a new luxury hotel in the north.

Recently renovated Gnanams Hotel in Jaffna Town
Many local residents request to the Tamils around the world is to invest and start businesses in Jaffna and help the war-ravaged region. However the war is over there is still doubt among those well- to-do Tamils in the diaspora to return to Sri Lanka. The authorities must give the assurance that the country is completely free from war and further to attract the investors and businesses in this former conflict zone, the government must quickly build the infrastructure facilities and transport including the domestic airlines to Jaffna.

At present around 500 people have been employed in the hotel and tourism sector in Jaffna and many direct and indirect employment opportunities will be generated if there are more investors arrived to this part of the country. However considering the development and the investments taking in action, very soon Jaffna will be the main Tourist attraction in Sri Lanka. In here Tourism is not just a source of money in this part of Sri Lanka; it will support the peace and stability of the region.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Thai Pongal in Jaffna


People worship & offer their food to the Sun God at sunrise
Thai Pongal is celebrated on the first day of the month Thai of the Tamil calendar. This year Pongal is on 15th of January (Sunday), however it normally falls between 12th and 15th of the month of January in the Christian calendar. Thus, Thai is the first month of the Tamil Almanac, and Pongal is a dish of sweet concoction of rice, moong dal, jaggery and milk. This festival is celebrated by one and all as it is non-relevance to any particular religious faith. The whole Tamil population of the world celebrate it without any differences. Therefore it is widely known as "Tamil Thai Pongal" or the "Festival of the Tamils". In Jaffna it is one of the biggest events in the calendar when all come together and celebrate. There will be fireworks and celebrations all through the day and night. All temples hold special Pongal poojas where people make pongal in front of the temple.

Devotees and priests cook a ritual 'Pongal' at a Temple.
The Tamil festival of Thai Pongal is a thanks giving ceremony in which the farmers celebrate the event to thank the spirits of nature spirit, the Sun and the farm animals for their assistance in providing a successful harvest. The rest of the people celebrate the festival to pay their thanks to the farmers for the production of food. Overall, it is a festival to encourage social cohesiveness and unite people by bringing them together in a common function. There is a famous saying in Tamil-“Thai Piranthaal Vazhi Pirakkum” (தை பிறந்தால் வழி பிறக்கும்) meaning "the commencement of Thai paves the way for new opportunities" is often quoted regarding the Pongal festival.

Pongal offering in front of a supermarket at Jaffna Town.
Customs & Celebrations
Thai Pongal generally includes customs & celebrations that are the expression of jubilation over life's renewal. On Thai Pongal, the family begins the day early. Every member of the family gets up early in the morning, bathes, puts on new clothes and gathers in the front of the garden (muttram) to cook the traditional Pongal (rice pudding). The front garden is pre-prepared for this ceremonious cooking. A flat square pitch is made and decorated with kolam drawings, and it is exposed to the direct sun light. A fire wood hearth will be set up using three bricks. The cooking begins by putting a clay pot with water on the hearth.

A senior member of the family conducts the cooking and the rest of the family dutifully assists him or her or watches the event. When the water has boiled the rice is put into the pot - after a member the family ceremoniously puts three handful of rice in first. The other ingredients of this special dish are chakkarai (brown cane sugar) or katkandu (sugar candy), milk (cow's milk or coconut milk), roasted green gram (payaru), raisins, cashew nuts and few pods of cardamom.

When the meal is ready it is first put on a banana leaf and the family pray for few minutes to thank the nature sprit, the sun and farmers. Then the meal (Pongal) is served with fruits (banana and mango) among the family. Later it will be shared with neighbours, friends and relatives. Although every household makes the food, sharing each other’s 'Pongal' is the one of the important features of the event. The evenings are spent attending cultural events or visiting relatives and friends.

Mattu Pongal day demonstrate our recognition and affection. 
Thanksgiving Day
The next day of the Thai Pongal is devoted to thanksgiving to cattle called “Mattu Pongal” in Tamil. The farmers pay great attention to the animals which have ploughed the fields and drawn the carts throughout the year. To show his gratitude for this invaluable service the animals are bathed, their horns are painted in red, blue, yellow and green. Their foreheads are smeared with turmeric and kumkum. Their necks are adorned with colourful garlands. Pooja is offered to them and Pongal is given in plenty. On the Mattu Pongal day there are Cattle races in several parts of Jaffna.

Bull cart Race in Jaffna to celebrate the Pongal Festival.
Meaning & Significance
Thai Pongal is an occasion for family re-unions and get-together. Old enmities, personal animosities and rivalries are forgotten.The moment of climax is the spill over of the pongal during cooking. The spillover of milk is a propitious symbol of abundance. Sometimes, firecrackers are lit to signify the moment.Estrangements are healed and reconciliation effected. Indeed, Thai Pongal is a festival of freedom, peace, unity and compassion crystallized in the last hymn on unity in the Indian spiritual text the Rig Veda. Thus, love and peace are the central theme of Thai Pongal.

"Wish you all a Very Happy Thai Pongal and Enjoy your Holidays"

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Nallur Festival


Historical Nallur Festival, also known as Nallur Kandaswamy temple annual festival, is the largest Hindu temple festival event in the Jaffna peninsula. The Nallur festival begins on every year August 15 and may last for 25 days. Last year nearly two hundred thousand visitors visited the event and the Jaffna hotels were unable to cope with the influx, warm-hearted residents of Jaffna from all faiths opened their doors to the pilgrims.The Nallur is the major highlight of socio, cultural and religious spirit of Jaffna society, Sri Lanka. 

The historic festival generally draws devotees from around the island as well as overseas particular from United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, India and Australia, most from the Tamil Diasporas who were unable to roam freely in the island during the thirty years of bloody civil war.According to tradition, Nallur Kantha Swamy Temple is said to be one of the few temples in the Peninsula that all the festivals, rites and observances as found in the Tamil Saivasim traditions are practiced and reflected with regularity, splendour and pageantry. It is said to be one of the impressive temples dedicated to Lord Murugan. The presiding Deity is Lord Muruga in the form of the holy Vel.

The annual Nallur Temple festival, which had in Hindus pay homage to Lord Murugan by way of offering flowers, burning incenses and coconuts amidst continuous recital of "Haro Haraa".Nallur festival, lasting for 25 days will conclude with ‘Theertham’ (Water Cutting ceremony) on September 10, followed by the ‘Poonkavanam’ (ceremony of Eternal Bliss) held on the next day. ‘Ther procession’ is to be held on September 9.The Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil or Nallur Murugan Kovil is one of the most significant Hindu temples in the Jaffna District of Northern Province, Sri Lanka. It stands in the town of Nallur and about 03 kms from Jaffna Town.
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