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BBC Documentary showcases Sri Lankan Tamil cuisine & Thai Pongal festival in London

Restaurateur Nisha Katona travels around the UK for her new series, meeting passionate home cooks to discover family recipes passed down through generations from across the Indian subcontinent.

In this series of “Recipes That Made Me”, viewers get an insight into cuisine from Punjab, Sri Lanka, Kashmir & Bangladesh.

In episode 2, Nisha is in London to discover more about food from the tropical island of Sri Lanka. The cuisine is rising in popularity, especially in the capital city. She starts her exploration in an unlikely setting: a lakeside cafe in London’s Victoria Park. Here there is a group of Sri Lankan Tamil guys cooking in the kitchen who have started introducing their authentic recipes from home. They serve incredible Sri Lankan breakfasts with a kind of noodle called a string hopper (Idiyappam) that is right at the heart of their cuisine. In the kitchen, Nisha meets Thivian, who shows her how they make these unique string hoppers, as well as rustling up one of their legendary coconut rotis (a kind of flatbread) for her to try.

Keen to explore how Sri Lankans use the wide variety of vegetables that grow on the island, Nisha heads to a Sri Lankan Tamil grocers to meet food blogger Shakya and her mum Dulcie. They talk to her about some of the unusual ingredients they like to use in their cooking, including pandan leaves, which add flavour to their curries, and gotu kola, a green leafy plant a bit like flat leaf parsley. Dulcie teaches Nisha how to make a classic Sri Lankan dish called devilled prawns – known for its fiery flavours – whilst daughter Shakya shows her how gotu kola can be used in a fresh Sri Lankan accompaniment called a sambol.

The growing interest in Sri Lankan food means that it is starting to be found in street markets in London and is proving very popular. Nisha visits the world food market in St Katharine’s Dock to try a much-loved Sri Lankan street food dish called Kothu Roti. This unique dish that seems to have everything thrown at it – veg, eggs and a meat or fish curry – all chopped up on a hot plate and served to hungry customers.

British Sri Lankan Tamil newsreader George Alagiah invites Nisha to a Sri Lankan lunch at his family home. His family continue to cook the recipes passed down by his mother, many of which they have written down. Nisha joins George, his sister Mari and his wife Fran in the kitchen to learn some of their family recipes. Together they make George’s mother’s recipe for roasted curry powder, the basis of Sri Lankan meat curries, which they turn into a delicious chicken and coconut curry. George’s wife Fran, who had no family connection to Sri Lanka until she married George, tells Nisha how her mother-in-law made sure she knew how to make Sri Lankan dishes for her husband to be! She shares a classic coconut and cabbage side dish with Nisha, taught to her by her mother-in-law.

Nisha ends her time learning about Sri Lankan food at a Tamil harvest festival, known as Thai Pongal. Here she meets Vithya and her mum who are keeping the traditions of Sri Lanka alive right in the centre of London. There is some beautiful folk dancing, bonfires and a delicious traditional rice pudding dish cooked on an open fire at the heart of this ceremony. For Nisha, it sums up the respect Sri Lankans have for their food – they know how to make the most of the ingredients that grow in abundance on the island – and can turn them into simple sensational dishes. This is definitely a cuisine worth learning about and cooking at home!

You can watch BBC2’s “Recipes That Made Me – Sri Lanka” on Wed 15 Aug 2018 at 8:30pm