Sri Lankan cuisine may not have seen the same recent surge in demand as Korean or Vietnamese, or enjoy the well-established presence in the UK of Indian and Chinese cuisine. But for chefs looking to expand into a new strand of Asian food or tap into a less common street food trend, Weligama is a good place to start.
Weligama is named after the resort on the southern tip of the island, where author and chef Emily Dobbs learned about Sri Lankan food during her regular visits to an uncle who went there on holiday and never came back.
Dobbs swapped fine art at Manchester Metropolitan for four years in London working as a commis chef at Dock Kitchen in Portobello Docks and Ducksoup in Soho, as well as stints at Petersham Nurseries in Richmond and Spring at Somerset House.
She launched a street food stall on Druid Street Market in 2015 devoted to Sri Lankan hoppers – bowl-shaped fermented rice and coconut milk pancakes which are crispy and crumpet-like on the outside, and doughy on the inside.
The book is separated into breakfast, short eats, sweets, a helpful page on ingredient substitutes, and meat, fish and vegetable curries. Most Sri Lankan curries start with spices like mustard and cumin, but the addition of coconut milk, limes and dried anchovies gives them their own flavour profile. There are also fruit curries using green bananas and unripe mangoes.
Weligama ticks a lot of boxes – gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan? Tick. Many of Dobbs’s recipes use rice flour and oats, or coconut milk and buffalo curd. Low waste? Tick. Curries are a great way to use unwanted produce, and Dobbs encourages the use of stalks, stones and bones.
Particularly intriguing recipes were the unusual beetroot curry; roast spiced chicken with brown sugar, limes and coconut milk; and the curry buns filled with sweet potato or black pork. There are also several hopper recipes with ingredient suggestions ranging from ginger and honey butter to white truffle and Parmesan or seaweed, wasabi and cured trout.
If you like this, you may also enjoy these:
• The Locals Cookbook: Sri Lanka by Jon Lewin
• Serendip: My Sri Lankan Kitchen by Peter Kuruvita
• The Complete Asian Cookbook Series: Sri Lanka and the Philippines by Charmaine Solomon
Weligama: Recipes from Sri Lanka by Emily Dobbs (Seven Dials, £25)