Thursday, October 8, 2015

Old friends in new guises

There was a dream Janet had the other night that I don't want to forget about. She dreamt that she kept running into people who seemed vaguely familiar, and who claimed to know her well, whom she could barely recognize. She kept trying to figure out who they were, get to know them better, but her frustration grew when it became apparent she didn't have the time to even learn their names. Everything seemed rushed and no one she met made any sense to her. Were these strangers? Friends? Why was everything happening so quickly?

This was back in Anuradhapura where we were being served the most gracious, elegant, well balanced, tasty, and digestible meals you can imagine. If you think I'm exaggerating let me say that they were presented to us, one exquisite dish at a time, with names named, by the gracious Mr. Sena, whose ministrations only added to the relaxed delight of each meal. 

Duly served by our gentle host, we launched, or I could say dove into each meal with appreciation and enjoyment. Each dish was an adventure, each mixture a balm, each fingerful a journey. Did I say Mr. Sena served us graciously? He almost spooned the delicacies into our waiting mouths. Thing is, we don't use spoons here. Only fingers, Sri Lankan style. So what about Janet's dream?

We've enjoyed Sri Lankan food before. And most of its elements, the spices, the coconut, the vegetables, are familiar to us. At least in the ways we make them at home. So excluding new vegetables we never knew before like the tree leaf melun, which is chopped into a smoky, sambol-like delicacy or snake gourd, whose rough exterior belies a soft and luscious interior, you could say most of the dishes we sampled were composed of old friends. But in such new guises!

So wonderful were these dishes, and so hungry were we after our long days of working or relaxing (and 12 hours since breakfast!) that we worked our way through these meals in a workmanlike haze, much as I'm sure they're meant to be enjoyed. Not without appreciation we polished off platefuls with gusto, and even taking the time we managed, barely managed to learn the names or composition of our new "friends." I think Janet's dream highlighted a real frustration, the re-acquaintance with known ingredients put together skillfully in a new and puzzling way. As frustrations go it's one to be savored. 

                   Photos by Janet

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