COVID-19 has put a stop to many things across the world. People are expected to stay home, follow safety guidelines to ensure they neither contract nor spread the virus to others. This has not only hampered daily lifestyles and livelihoods, but also religious worshipping and gatherings.
People have been made to re-evaluate, innovate and re-think all that was considered normal before. It is the same with religions. We have perhaps been given an opportunity to re-connect with our beliefs.
The month of May holds a very special place in the hearts of Buddhists across the world as it commemorates three important milestones in the Buddha’s life. It is said that the birth of Prince Siddhartha, the day in which he gained enlightenment as the Buddha and finally his passing away or ‘Parinibbana’ fell on Vesak – the day of the full moon in the month of May.
The Buddha and Buddhism is often associated with the symbol of light as it signifies the light of wisdom people follow through his teachings. It also signifies hope that one day we too will reach nibbana as an end to all suffering.
With over 2500 years since his passing, light is also used to pay homage to the Buddha. Buddhists light lanterns, oil lamps, construct large structures with electric lights depicting jataka stories (stories of Buddha’s previous lives), have competitions to judge the most beautifully crafted lanterns. Vesak is therefore celebrated in two fold. One as amisa Pooja – meaning paying homage by offering material things to people and prathipaththi pooja meaning homage through the practice.
Simply speaking, people take time to study and practice the dhamma – the teachings of the Buddha, to reach the light of wisdom during the day and then pay homage by lighting lamps and lanterns in the evening. The entirety of the country is then lighted, drawing crowds across towns and villages to view the beautiful lights in the cities, a activity known popularly as ‘vesak blanna’ (to see Vesak). So much so, that there is even a popular song called, ‘yaman bando vesak blanna’ (Come on Banda, let’s go see Vesak). It is safe to say that Vesak is now called a festival of light, which has taken precedence over practicing the teachings of the Buddha. The carnival like atmosphere with vendors selling lanterns, toys, rabbit masks and what not, stalls with free food and drinks are offered, sometimes even forcefully, is a far cry from the dhamma.
In fact, traditional Vesak lanterns were made at home and had symbolic meanings. The Ata-pattama (an octagon shaped lantern) symbolises the eightfold path. The Nelum kuduwa (lotus shaped lantern) is another symbol of the Buddha. Making these were a family affair with parents, children and grandparents getting involved. All materials were bio degradable. An oil lamp or candle was placed in the middle and hung on a tree. As the wind blows the lantern will then catch fire and the household will ponder and discuss on the impermanence of life and all material things. In recent years however, lantern making has become a commercialised affair with people buying readymade- lanterns or imported ones. Children no longer know how to make lanterns from scratch and everything is about the end result and not the journey.
On the other side of this is that people are making a living. With so many unable to earn a wage, selling lanterns would be a way to get out of the financial crisis that they are in. This is true especially during COVID-19.
Here are some interesting lantern making ideas we spotted this Vesak.
WHO Sri Lanka.
This one is made using things from the garden.
This too is from WHO Sri Lanka featuring a House of Lohani design. This is an easy way to make these with things at home.
The following lantern is also simple and easy to make at home with your younger children
If you can find these things why not make your own atapattam lantern. Follow a step by step tutorial here.
If you do have the PickMe app and would like to help out people trying to make a living during COVID19, why not order your Vesak lanterns through them. This is an initiative they have partnered with We Build Colombo Together. A project well worth supporting.
If all fails nothing is more simple and beautiful than a small clay oil lamp.
Unlike any other time, we have to reflect upon the choices we have and the decisions we need to take. Now more than ever we need wisdom over rash or easy decision making.
So irrespective of which religion or ethinicity you belong to, light a lamp or a lantern to give us inspiration, hope and direction during these difficult days.
This Vesak, let us use our new found wisdom to be kind, to be resourceful and to be innovative. Let the light show us the path to be better humans, to understand impermanence and what is right for all living beings and the planet that lives and breathes with us.
These are the questions that are echoing around our house these days, as children and parents are in lockdown. No matter where you live in the world and what culture you belong to, new year celebrations bring people together, it is a very tactile social occasion that speaks to all our senses. Every household will make a special effort to bring the best food on to the table, wear beautiful new clothes, buy presents, visit each other, laugh and play. It is a time for social engaging where large groups of people spend time with each other. It is the same with the Sinhala and Hindu New Year.
We would see New Year Games celebrated in a large scale where the whole village is brought to one place. There begins the fun. From running around the village, bicycle races, tug-of-war to the heartiest laugh, scraping coconuts and eating banis (sweet tea buns) there is a game for everybody regardless of age, gender and abilities.
But with the reality of COVID19 upon us, this is not for us. Meatless Monday SL understands that food security is a massive problem with livelihoods and personal finances threatened as the demand and supply for basic food widens. The mental and physical wellbeing of the masses are at risk. Most of all, would be its impact on children. Children need activity and interaction to ensure the development of their mental, physical and social skills. What about their spiritual needs? Have we addressed them?
Do we shield them from the realities or do we tell them as gently as possible about what is going on? Should this be a learning curve for us all to show them that our choices matter, that we should reassemble our priorities, make them understand that we hold a temporary lease on Earth and we need to comply with nature, be kind to one another and all the other beings in this world?
But most of all how do we work around this situation?
No matter what are difficulties are, let us gather them together and tell them real stories. Tell them the need to appreciate the simple things in life. Maybe could use this time to learn and embrace empathy, sympathy, rest and self-reflection.
We might not be able to have the best new year food, clothes and entertainment, but we can tell them that we have each other. Celebrate today as a family and we believe that the new year or avurudu as we say can bring us the hope and much needed mental boost we need.
No matter what you can put on the table, eat with love and laughter. Then, spend time with each other. Have avurudu games at home and give some fun memories to your children and some live entertainment to your neighbours. Who knows we may come up with some brand new avurudu games – social distancing style!
We don’t have many pics but we hope these will bring a smile to your faces!!!
Paan kamey tharagaya (Bread eating contest)
Lokuma bada (largest tummy)
Gedara watey diveema (running around the house)
Lissana gahey nageema (climbing a grease pole)
Aliyata as thabeema (The Sri Lankan version of pin the tail)
Kamba adeema (Tug of war) We had no rope…. So we used our clothes line
Balum pipiraweema (balloon popping game)
Kotta pora (pillow fight)
Lime and spoon race
Loudest laugh –
keep that distance, but all is not lost. Let that indomitable human spirit fly high. Let us give that strength to our children so that they make the right choices that is good for themselves, their community, the environment they live in and to the world.
Remember our visit to Mala Hotpot? Well right next to it is Thai where they serve some scrumptious …well… Thai cuisine. Thadsha was craving for some noodles and we decided to pop across to grab a bite from there as well. Here too, the menu was quite limited, yet it covered some crowd favourites such as rice and noodle dishes, salads and Thai curries. We opted for the veggie noodle and green papaw salad and informed that we did not want any ingredient containing fish, meat or egg. While we cannot assure the noodle is vegan, we can say that this was a good vegetarian option and certainly a win for plant based cuisine. The ordering process was quite simple and straight forward and all we had to do was to chat and wait.
The meal was prepared pretty quick and contained noodles mixed with an array of vegetables in a mild yet flavourful sauce. As much as vegetarian and plant based food is more and more popular in Sri Lanka, you do need to be mindful that there are certain condiments that are often disregarded and overlooked as being vegetarian. Chili paste is one such condiment. We forgot to mention about it and there it was nestled in all its fiery glory in the corner of our dish. Of course they were quick to rectify the matter and tucked in we did.
The noodles were cooked beautifully and the umami flavour was just right. We loved it. Filled with cauliflower florets, carrot, a healthy dose of spring onions and tofu, it was a delight. The green papaw salad containing julienned carrots, green papaw, bean sprouts, tomatoes was crunchy and fresh with a handful of roasted peanuts scattered artfully on the surface. Another win. Yum!
So, if you are looking for a quick meal with a generous serving of vegetables this will suit you well. Affordable, filling and plant based, it certainly gets a thumbs up from us.
Believe it or not, there was a time when there were only a handful of cafes and restaurants let alone sweet shops in Sri Lanka. There was little choice and eating out was not always an option. That is why Bombay Sweets will always have a special place in my heart. A visit to Bombay Sweet House was always a treat, not just for the tummy, but because it was a sheer sensory experience. From mirrored walls, displays that had sweets of every colour with silver and gold glistening on some and the sweet milky scents to the slightly sticky table tops it was every child’s dream land. I used to take a deep breath and just inhale it all in as I stared in wonder.
Well this trip down memory lane was due to a trip Ramesh, Thadsha and I decided to take to Wellawatte. I knew the legendary Bombay Sweet House of Colombo 3 had moved to Wellawatte, but had no idea of the exact location. Google came to my rescue and off we went to the store. I think there are still quite number of loyal customers who come in search of this establishment as the re-location is actually mentioned on its glass windows.
The store is much smaller than I expected and frankly did not evoke the same sort of magic as my memory served. One long table was mounted to the wall on a side with a few chairs to sit and have drinks and while the one in Colombo 3 outlet was not massive, I miss the old school charm.
Bombay Sweet House serves an array North Indian sweets that contain milk, ghee, sugar and at times nuts. Set up since independence, two generations of the Dawood Bhoy family has been running it, with the third generation is mastering the expertise. From Jelebi, to sticky gooey Muscats and Gulab Jamuns, they had it all. What is important is that these sweets do not contain any gelatine or eggs and therefore, suitable for vegetarians who consume milk products.
They also have fried both meat and vegetarian samosas that were warm and incredibly yummy. I especially wanted to have their vegetarian samosa which was unfortunately sold out on the day we visited. (Arghhhhhhh!)
Bombay Sweet House is also famous for its Faluda, which is an experience in itself. Starting off with the sherbet at the bottom then filled with milk, kasa seeds and ice cream it is pure bliss. However, the but we decided to have a plain Sherbet Rose drink with kasa kasa seeds (basil seeds) (Rs 100) and a Nannari – aka Iramusu (Rs 100).
The drinks were served with plastic straws and I opted for my ever present metal one. Sherbet Rose is the base of a Faluda and is a sugary red drink flavoured with rose water. I have never tried the nannari which is locally known as iramusu and is a medicinal plant with properties that can cool the body. Nannari roots are boiled for this drink and I could not wait to try it. So, I took one deep slurp and closed my eyes as the sugary sweetness hit my senses. Cooling or not the sugar content is extremely high in this drink and I could not take anymore. The Sherbert Rose was equally sweet, but it tasted of childhood and therefore was easily forgiven. Oh and remember I mentioned sticky table tops? Those remained the same. While we were well on our way in having a sugar induced coma we also picked a few sweets to taste later.
Ramesh managed to catch me salivating at the drink. What can I say other than some people have absolutely no dignity as far as food is concerned.
Now to the sweets! The White Berfi was milky with hints of rose essence that would have been considered decedent in times of old. The sprinkles on top make them fun and modern and it simply melts in your mouth.
Our next choice was the much loved laddu. Once again cashew nuts, chickpea flour, milk, ghee and raisins are added to these amazing treat. Sweet and crumbly it is once again a taste of the past. It is lovely to know the age old recipes are preserved through the years.
Our final sweet was the sugar dripping whirls of gold a.k.a Jelebi. Made out of flour and ghee, deep fried and then dipped in sugar syrup, this is perhaps my all-time favourite. Crunchy Jelebies hide pockets of sugar syrup that just explode in an unsuspecting mouth releasing all the sugary rose flavoured syrup. An absolute must have.
Bombay Sweet House does not replicate its age old splendour and feels like an old, tired version of its yester-year glory. But the taste and quality of its sweets remain the same and I hope that will be enough to attract an ever changing base of consumers.
After bidding adieu to Bombay Sweet House and walking towards the Bambalapitiya side, we came across the larger than life Bombay Sweet Centre name board with the gigantic disposable drinking cup. I remembered it had almond milk and veggie samosas so I convinced Thadsha to Ramesh to cross the road and have our second snap. (The way we snack, I am starting to think we might be Hobbits)
The Bombay Sweet Centre has gone through a major facelift and looks trendy and modern. The displays contained a fast quantity of sweets both from North Indian origin as well as other sweets such as jujubs and sugar coated almonds.
We trudged upstairs and was hypnotised by the wall paper was in true candy store theme and it looks like they are also on Uber Eats and have Durian Juice! (Suramya faints)
Having no room for any more sweetness we ordered veggie samosas and received them hot and crunchy. They contained potatoes, carrot and leek and were incredibly yummy! The almond milk while was available and is said to be quite yummy, unfortunately containes a percentage of both almonds and milk. (The horror) Therefore, this is a no go for vegans but they do have loads of fresh juices you can choose from.
While we munched on our hot hot samosas, we read the sweet back story of Bombay Sweet Centre displayed on its walls. From humble beginings to its modern establishment Bombay Sweet Centre has certainly come a long way and certainly has its eyes on the future.
Today, Wellawatte has a number of shops serving North Indian sweets. A far cry from how things were, decades ago. However, as far as old timers are concerned, I hope both Bombay Sweet House and Bombay Sweet Centre will continue in their tradition of giving all their patrons a sugar induced coma. I can assure you, it is the best of its kind.
North Indian Sweets are not vegan and only suitable for lacto-vegetarians (vegetarians who do not consume any meat, fish, poultry or eggs but consume dairy products) But they do have some lovely samosas, fruit juices and drinks such as Nannari, Rose Sherbet and Nelli cordial that hits the spot in our tropical weather.
Consuming food from a hotpot is a whole new experience where a divided pot with a heating element is set in the centre of a table with a soup/broth base in one section and a spicy sauce in the other. Different ingredients including various soy products, greens, vegetables, meats, sea food, dumplings and noodles can be added to the broth, cooked and consumed with a serving of sticky rice. It seems a fabulous method for communal eating and it certainly sounds intriguing doesn’t it? While meat can certainly be added to the broth, the broth itself is most often vegetarian. So, essentially hotpots can be easily turned into a plant based dish.
When I was first introduced to the dish in Sri Lanka, the presentation was different and frankly I thought it looked dodgy and wanted nothing to do with it. Many hotpots later, I absolutely love it and convinced Thadsha to try it out on afternoon.
The Mala Hotpot is nestled on the top floor of the Food Studio of the Colombo City Centre. Now for an embarrassing tale. For months I was convinced that this food outlet was named after its proprietor – Mala. Mala being a very common female name in Sri Lanka, I did not for a moment question this thought. Wanting to be friendly and gather more info for the review I asked the staff about Mala the owner of the establishment, only to be told gently that Mala had nothing to do with the owner but is the name of given to a Chinese blended spice containing Sichuan peppers, chilli and other spices. ( Double face palm) I breezed through my embarrassment while Thadsha was laughing away and started the ordering process.
Now this ordering process has a method. Here is a step by step guide.
Pick a tray with tongs
Pick any amount of veggies from the selection
Choose your spice level from mild, medium and High
Weigh your tray and pay accordingly
Take the token you are given and search for a beverage as Mala Hotpot does not provide you with one.
Once the device beeps you are good to go
I think this whole ordering process gives a certain amount of control over what you eat. I picked Pak Choi, Kan Kung, thinly sliced carrots, cauliflower florets, wood car mushrooms, black mushrooms, Tofu, Tofu skin, Bamboo and potato noodles. They did not have seaweed sheets when we went and that broke my heart, because I absolutely love it. Please note that while I love my spices, I do not have a death wish and thought I should take care with my Mala (Not the female, but the spice) and opted for mild.
Now here’s fair warning. Mala Hotpot does not serve the dish on a heating device and what you are served is a fusion that is simply a stir-fry and in a brothy sauce that is accompanied by a sticky rice bowl. You have the choice of using cutlery or opt for chop sticks. The philistine that I was, I used cutlery. I must say, that while you do not get the whole hotpot experience, the flavours that dance in your mouth and the different textures that whirl with it truly compensates. From crunchy to rubbery to smooth it has it all. Despite being mild, this dish is still quite spicy and the sticky rice truly helps in balancing things out. All in all it was a truly nutritious meal that was packed with some awesome flavour. In all we spent Rs 900 and it filled us up.
Mala Hotpot is a go to place for me, especially when I need a mood booster. Try it out and let us know what you feel. Cruelty free, plant based food really is awesome.