Across the street from my Aunt Dora’s flat in central Colombo is a small Buddhist temple nestled beneath the branches of a sacred Bo Tree. During the day, the little temple is a hub of activity as worshippers come to pay their respects. In the evenings, I like to watch as the tree’s magnificent limbs becomes home to a colony of bats. The temple and the tree are fixtures of Park Street, as are the 3 trishaws parked right out in front.
Whenever my Aunt needs to run an errand, and the family van is not around, she hops into any one of the trishaws. When I am around, I always look for Nimal, the youngest of the three trishaw men. Nimal is not much older than myself, and he sports a big toothy grin (Most recently he lost some teeth in an accident, so his generous smile reveals only a single tooth). I like Nimal because his English is fairly decent, he’s full of jokes, and he pushes that trishaw like he’s a stunt driver in the Fast & Furious franchise, weaving in and out of the worst Colombo traffic. I’ve known him since the 90s, and whenever I’m in town he takes me where I want to go. He even gave me his cell number so I can reach him when he’s not out front beneath the Bo tree.
Anyone who saw the Sri Lanka episode of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain will recall Nimal since he was in several scenes. He sat down and ate hoppers with Tony and me, in a very memorable clip in which Tony, still recovering from a bad New York hot dog, does not feel like eating. We also shot a segment at Malay Foods in Rajagirya while leaning against Nimal’s trishaw, but it was never used. When I discovered that Nimal used to cook at the now-defunct Park Street Lodge, I asked him to contribute a recipe to my cookbook. When I’m looking for a new place to eat, I usually ask him. In short, we have become good buddies, so I was very sad to hear that my friend Nimal passed away in December. I was not surprised to find out that a road accident claimed his life, however, because Nimal was always a bit of a daredevil. But, at the same time, I always felt safe riding with him.
I will miss your infectious smile, Nimal, and your good nature, and sense of humor, and the way you used to get me home in no time despite the horrible traffic. We had some close calls, but it was always fun. Thanks for everything, friend, and know that you are fondly remembered.
Nimal’s Devilled Beef/Chicken/Pork
from Rice & Curry: Sri Lankan Home Cooking (Hippocrene Books, 2011)
Devilled or “spiced” meats such as these are considered finger foods in Sri Lanka, and make the perfect hors d’oeuvre accompanied by a cold beer. This preparation, which includes soy sauce, is of Chinese origin, but has truly become an island standard. Although there are infinite variations on the “devilled” theme, this recipe was given to me by Nimal, a former chef at the well-known Park View Lodge in Colombo.
1 lb. (500 g) beef, chicken or pork
salt to taste
black pepper to taste
1-2 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tbsp. soy sauce
3 tbsp. oil
1 onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 in (5 cm) piece ginger, sliced
2 Serrano chilies, sliced
1 tomato, diced
3 tbsp. tomato sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2” (1.25 cm) stick cinnamon
1.) Wash and slice meat into small chunks or strips. Season with salt, pepper, cayenne, soy sauce, and marinate for at least 1 hour.
2.) Heat oil in pan and stir-fry meat until cooked. Remove meat.
3.) Add a little more oil and fry onions, garlic, ginger, chilies and tomato.
4.) Add tomato sauce, sugar, vinegar, and cinnamon.
5.) Add meat back into pan and mix well. Stir-fry for an additional 5 minutes.
Makes 6 servings
Nimal appears in the Sri Lanka episode of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain