The curfew cuisine diaries from Sri Lanka: All about Lamprais
The 'Mericans have turkey on Thanksgiving, Brits have turkey at Christmas, our family has Lamprais on Easter. Tradition. What can you do
Being a tradition, we know when the Lamprais have to be assembled. And we know what goes into them. So ingredients are bought, long before anything is actually made. And to make Lamprias, it takes 7 days. No. That is not a mistake. It takes a week to make Lamprais. But first, a quick history lesson.
The Dutch ruled in Sri Lanka from 1658 to 1796. Well... they controlled the coast line. They didn't conquer the interior. The Brits did that using their usual methods... but I digress. The Dutch were also the dominating force in Indonesia. Both tropical countries. Both countries – as the entire world was – without refrigeration. It took travellers a week to travel 72 miles, because the only mode of travel for large caravans were ox and cart. The Dutch with their experience in Indonesia and Ceylon (as we were called until the early 70s), came up with the Lamprai.
Lamprais are an entire meal, packed in a banana leaf. The important thing is this; not EVERY meal wrapped up in a banana leaf is a Lamprai. (it's pronounced Lump-rye, by the way and the plural is Lump-rye-ees.) The difference between a proper Lamprai and a normal rice packet is this – rice packets (known as Buth packets locally) cannot be kept, unfrozen, indefinitely. Lamprais can.
There are other differences, mostly regarding what actually goes into Lamprais, but these are just down to what was handed down to each family by the older generations. My family, for example, would never let anything fowl – or related to our winged friends – into our Lamprais. Other families might. The underlying requirement is whatever is put in cannot go bad or off, after any period of time. Naturally, this is harder than it may seem.
The big reveal!
Opening a banana leaf to get at the goodness inside reveals... well, a mess. There's no other word to describe it. No pretty plating, just a practical, delicious meal.
And the proper way to eat a Lamprai is even messier. You have to mix EVERYTHING together.
The most delicious mix. Ever.
When we were kids, we used to be able to eat six or seven of these packets of preciousness at a sitting. There was half a saucer of rice boiled in beef stock, a table spoon of mixed curry (which features liver, tongue, beef and pork), a teaspoon of Seenie (Sugar) Sambol, a ball of Blachan (a dried shrimp paste very common in Malaysia), Two beef Frikadelle (balls of beef and spices deep fried), ash Plantain (in a dry white curry), a thick slice of ham (a family tradition), and knob of butter for baking. Everything is prepared earlier, except for the Seenie sambol and the mixed curry, which are generally made on the day the Lamprais are put together. Once they are ready, the magic happens...
To those wondering how I could get these shots in lockdown, I didn't. I've got records of our family making Lamprais since cameras went digital. Sorry for the 'cheat'. Even though, during the lockdown, we were able to get Lamprais made at my parents place over to us. Do NOT ask how.
Anyway, the Lamprais are wrapped and baked. And then they are ready.
If ever you're in our corner of the world and if you're fortunate enough to be around during the Easter break, email me and I'll try hook you up with a proper Burgher (what we of Dutch decent are called in these climes) Family Lamprais.
And if you didn't know its name? Now you do.