Tamil culture has contributed so much to the fabric of Sri Lankan culture as a whole. First it was the Sinhala kings who imported Dravidian princesses from South India, bringing with them Hinduism, the second biggest religion in Sri Lanka, as well as more earthly offerings. Some of my favorite Sri Lankan foods—Hoppers (Appa), String hoppers (Iddyappam), Dosai, Pittu, and Vadai—in fact, find their origin in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. I’m so glad this bloody war is over now so we can realize how much more we have in common than we have apart. Right, machan (the Sri Lankan equivalent for “dude,” which is also of Tamil origin)?
For me, the best entry into another culture is through the stomach. I’m proud to say I’ve eaten my way around the world, and
there’s still a lot more territory to cover. But out of all the times I’ve been to Sri Lanka, I’ve never had the opportunity to visit the northern, city of Jaffna–until now. During the war, this place was off limits, long controlled by the Tamil Tiger terrorist group. For the first time in 30 years, however, the A9 road to Jaffna, a city of lush landscapes, beautiful lagoons, and amazing Hindu Kovils, is open, and Sri Lankans from the south are pouring in to see what they’ve been missing. One thing I’ve been missing is some really, really, spicy hot food, and I’ve heard that Jaffna cuisine is the HOTTEST. So as a true gastronaut, I had to check it out for myself.
Some people told me, ‘Don’t go there, Jaffna it’s not safe. There’s still some Tigers lurking around.’ Others said, ‘Jaffna is perfectly fine, there are soldiers all over the street.’ What I found is that they were both wrong. Jaffna is a very cool town with its own unique charm, and full of people who are just trying to get back to a normal life after 30 years of strife. The marketplaces and restaurants are alive and bustling, and there are more soldiers on the streets of Colombo. So all politics aside, I decided to get down to the really important business of eating.
My first meal in Jaffna was lunch at a popular restaurant called Cosy. My culinary guide Arjuna, my aunt’s neighbor and a Jaffna Tamil himself, suggested the place. Though Cosy advertises North Indian Punjabi, Chinese, and Jaffna foods, we were, of course, there for the latter. We ordered typical Jaffna fare—cuttlefish (squid) curry, mutton curry, mutton pal pooriyal (a dry mutton curry), brinjals (eggplant) and prawn curry. Jaffna’s proximity to the sea has made it a seafood heaven, and the preponderance of goats, which the predominantly Hindu Tamils favor over beef, explains the popularity of that option.
When the food came out, I was not disappointed. The squid was tender not rubbery, and soaking in a tasty complex gravy. So, too was the mutton curry. The prawns, flavored with a hint of tamarind, were even better, but my favorite dish had to be the dry mutton curry. I’ve had plenty of mutton in my time, but none as tender and free of fat and gristle as this dish. The brinjals were great, too, but not so different from the typical Sri Lankan eggplant curry you get anywhere else on the island. I scarfed up my plate expecting at least some lip burn by the end of the meal, but had no such luck. Though this food was extremely tasty, the heat factor was not up to par—especially for the legendary Jaffna cuisine I had heard about. No worries, this was just an introduction to Jaffna. We had several more meals ahead of us.
Cosy Restaurant — 25, off Stanley Road, Jaffna, (tel: 021 222 5899)