My mum learnt how to cook various ceylonese dishes, observing my grandma. Back then she mostly did the menial work like cutting up and grinding stuff. You could say, she was sous chef to the chef (grandma) and she started when she was as young as six.
Mutton poriyal (fried mutton with potatoes) was one of my favourite dishes too and I often stole the crisp potatoes just hot out of the frying pan. Better than French fries. You know, how somehow food from childhood is always tops.
First, of course, my mum had to get the meat. She usually bought the mutton (sheep meat from Tekka market in Serangoon Road). I recall this myself as I had to hold my nose when walking near the stall. Hated it so much because the stench made me wanna gag. I only looked forward to sweet milk and vadai at Komala Villas for a tea time snack. The scents there were pleasant. And we made weekly outings as a family there, the 4 of us.
She would ask the vendor for the leg part diced up. Often they would throw in the bone portion with the marrow. My mum didn’t care for marrow, but as a child I loved slurping it from the bone. Haven’t had marrow in more than 3 decades and am curious if I will still love it as much.
After my dad passed my mum decided she didn’t really enjoy cooking and was just tired from years of labouring in the kitchen, so she stopped cooking for about the last 2 decades. Food delivery (Deliveroo & Grab) makes it super easy now but of course can’t light a candle to her cuisine.
When we got home from Tekka, she would dice the mutton further and remove the fat. There was alot of fat she said.
Then she washed the meat under the tap and marinated it with pounded ginger and garlic for half an hour to 1 hour. The longer the better she said.
So sometimes she would marinate the meat in the morning and cook it the next day. She added curry powder to the mutton and keep it in the fridge in an aluminium pot. There was so plastic airtight Tupperware then.
Before cooking she would cube the potatoes and rub salt into them. She also sliced tomatoes to be cooked with the dish.
First thing was to fry the sliced potatoes in corn oil. ( vegetable oil is considered unhealthy now)
She drained the fried potatoes of excess oil on paper towels but this is when I would steal as many as I could. Recall that my young mum would protest that there wouldn’t be enough for the curry.
Then she would start frying the mutton with the same oil until it’s very well cooked and charred. She then added the tomatoes and lastly the fries potatoes for a final fry up. The resulting dish would be scooped into a pan. Just this one dish was sufficient and could be eaten with rice or bread. I recall it was lovely with soft white bread.
Often she made another side dish of a vegetable. Usually fried cabbage which I didn’t like back then but love now. First she would dice the cabbage. Then she would fry onions and chilli. Next she would add turmeric powder and stir fry while adding the cabbage and a pinch of salt. Back then we got our vegetables mostly from Malaysia and cabbage was from Cameron Highlands.
I am craving for her home cooking so much so maybe I’ll attempt her recipes one day even though cooking is not something I love to do.
As a kid she always chased me out of the kitchen. They just wanted me to only focus on studying or probably felt she could get things done faster without worrying about children getting hurt by hot oil splashing. But I was keen to help and at least she let me do things like squeeze fresh coconut milk out of freshly grated coconut she bought from the nearby market. I loved doing it, but often I saw her redoing it as my little fingers were not strong enough to fully extract the coconut milk and she didn’t want anything to go to waste.