Sri Lankan Aglio Olio

Sri Lankan Aglio Olio is a celebration of how simple ingredients combined can make a big impact. In Italy, an Aglio Olio comprises of linguine, good extra virgin olive oil, garlic and chilli. Whilst the pasta dish itself sounds oversimplified, it is the quality and complementary characteristics of the ingredients that draws out the flavours. And so here is an adaptation, Sri Lankan style 😊


Linguine/fettucine/spaghetti, garlic, red onion, green chilli, curry leaves, extra virgin olive oil, roasted curry powder (or store bought), shredded coconut, brinjal moju, sea salt, course pepper


Prepare brinjal moju, shred coconut and set aside. Boil your choice of pasta. 5 minutes before the pasta cooks – in a wide pan – add olive oil and tamper diced garlic, onion, chili and curry leaves in medium heat until golden brown. Add more olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and coarse pepper. Turn off heat. Once pasta is cooked, strain and toss into the pan with the rest of the ingredients. Sprinkle on roasted curry powder, sea salt and coarse pepper to taste, more olive oil and then combine with brinjal moju. Serve on an individual’s plate, sprinkle fresh shredded coconut as you would with grated parmigiana. Enjoy!

Pol sambol

A coconut never goes to waste in Sri Lanka. Pol sambol is a side dish oftentimes eaten with stringhoppers, hoppers and curries. It should be eaten fresh, like a salad, so make it right before the meal, to preserve and enjoy the flavours.


Grated coconut (that has been juiced for its milk), diced ripe red tomatoes, diced red onions, slivers of small green chilli, lime. I have also tried a pol sambol in Mirissa with the addition of sliced winged beans – this added crunch adds texture to the pol sambol, if you so desire to have it as a salad.


Starting with the grated coconut, ensure that this is sufficiently dry to prevent it turning into a coconut milk salad. Using a pestle and mortar, combine and pound tomatoes, onions and green chilli until it resembles a paste. Combine the coconut with the paste in large pan, using your hands to squeeze the ingredients together. This allows the juices of the paste to integrate well with the coconut. Once you’ve had your fun, sprinkle with salt and then squeeze in the lime, then combine. Taste and adjust salt and lime as required.

Brinjal moju

Brinjal moju is an unassuming dish but all it takes is one bite…! In Sri Lanka, they call this a pickle and you can kind of see why with the involvement of vinegar and mustard. This is a simple thing to do on a weekday, and easy to pair with the contents of a wrap, salads, or your choice of carbs.


Brinjal, turmeric, roasted curry powder, black or yellow mustard seeds, white vinegar, sprig of curry leaves


Slice brinjal into small strips, sprinkle turmeric over and deep fry in coconut oil (you can reuse this oil for other things too so don’t throw it away) until dark brown. On the side, pound the mustard seeds in a mortar and pestle and then add white vinegar. Once brinjal is cooked, using a tong submerge the sprig of curry leaves in the hot oil for 5 seconds (it cooks quick!). Dust with roasted curry powder, salt, pepper and then pour over the mustard vinegrette and combine. Scatter curry leaves and have a cheeky first taste (or two) before your guests arrive.


A cook in Ella once advised that in our busy lives, we can’t be standing around stirring boiling lentils all day. And hence, soak the lentils in water for about 30 mins before cooking – this way, they will take a shorter time to cook. A dhal curry is easy comfort food. Scoop over rice or stringhoppers on a cold winters night or rainy day.


Orange coloured flat lentils, garlic, red onion, turmeric, chilli powder, coconut milk 2, curry leaves, dried red chilli


On a hot pot, tamper coconut oil with garlic, onion and curry leaves. Once the aromas fill the air and the curry leaves have curled and turned a dark green, add in the soaked lentils (without the water) and then spice with turmeric and chilli powder, combining all ingredients in the pot. Take 1 part water, 1 part coconut milk 2 and add into the pot, cover and cook. This should cook within 10 to 20 mins, depending on the quantity. On the side, pan roast the dried red chilli with some oil until it puffs up. Once dhal is cooked, break each chilli in half, add it in and then salt and pepper to taste! Scoop onto rice or stringhoppers.

Tuk tuk drivers, aunties and monks – An intro into Sri Lankan culture

If Lewis Hamilton was placed beside a tuk tuk on the roads of Sri Lanka, it is not difficult to comprehend that the not so famous “uncle” on his tuk tuk will be the definite winner with a smug on his face. Sri Lankan drivers have a certain trait passed down by generations or perhaps by experience. For one, hearing the horn on the road does not entirely mean that something has gone wrong. It is simply a way of saying “move over Lewis, I’m just about to overtake you”. This act of arrogance confidence happens everywhere, even on a bend in the road where no corner mirrors exist; the kind of confidence that would allow one to squeeze in between two overpowering trucks with just a 5cm gap on both sides. Being on the roads of Sri Lanka kind of reminds me of life. You never know what to expect and yet, if you are confident and experienced enough, you might just be able to wheeze your way through. Just maybe!

Hospitality, from my 2011 experience and therefore biased belief, is the kind that has black coffee knocking at your door at 9am in the morning every single day. Hospitality whom I’m talking about here is Auntie, Dinushee’s dear Mom and my kind host. As if knowing already that I would take a culinary adventure anywhere I go in the world, Aunty had prepared what seemed a feast at three in the morning although we had never met before. I quickly learned that Aunty expected me to be home for dinner each evening and I was very obedient with this curfew.

My experiences back in 2011 and 2015 respectively made it easy to pick Sri Lanka as part of my sabbatical in 2020. The people, culture and cuisine; there was so much to absorb, plenty to be in awe of. So, for the last 3 weeks, I had been travelling, observing, cooking and partaking in the joys of eating; all explored in my next post. Travelling alone has allowed me to also delight in the kindness of human nature. I recall the strangers in the middle of nowhere who helped find my way back to Sen Wellness in Rekawa, the bus conductor who assured me that he would let me know when we were close to Dambulla and the tuk tuk driver who taught me the art of negotiation as we drove up the west coast of Sri Lanka. These experiences have added flavor and light to my adventures, and why I highly encourage travelling alone; to burst our personal bubbles, understand other people’s culture and explore ideas that may cultivate our own.

Fast forward to the present moment. I sit at the airport waiting to board, in what looks like a tense environment as the coronavirus pandemic makes its way worldwide. As my sabbatical comes to abit of a pause in these uncertain times, I can only smile by the chosen background music at the airport – the monks chanting – for the wellbeing of everyone, I am most certain. A comforting, beautiful and positive sendoff, Sri Lankan style.

The 0555 train to Ella

Monks. Chanting in the background; dawn falls upon Colombo.
The fruit stall vendor. Having been there all night, surrenders to a good bargain on his oranges.
Colombo fort train station. A quiet bustle of activity. Locals and tourists yawning to their early morning decisions.
Train to Ella. Proclaiming it’s arrival, fresh and ready to take on the rushing passengers.
Seat no. 36. Aisle seat, although earlier requested for a reserved window seat.
Seat no. 35. Window seat, vacant up till Kandy.

The window. Like television, drama and comedy against the backdrop of the tropics, passing with time and space.
Morning mist. The sun rays hitting on nature, the mist carrying its reflection. Morning has broken.
A rush of tourists at Kandy. Sri Lanka train ride, no more.
The conductor. Doing his job; a strict disposition, demanding passengers to sit where they belong.
Samosas. Soft, mildly spiced potatoes on the inside, crisp on the outside. Perfect snack for a train ride.
A father and his son. Father carries son’s bag to seat number 35. A shift to 36. A look on the father’s face as his boy says goodbye.
A curious passenger. Asking the son where he is off to. 3 stops before Badulla, for an interview with the army, he says.
The son. Looking out the window as the train makes the climb. The tea plantations, the onlookers waving hello, the strength of the mountains. Preparing him for his interview.

A tea picker. Hanging on to her basket with her head. Keeping focused on the 1.4kg daily quota and the resulting wage of LKR 700.
Hot milk tea. Savoring, with the cold climate.
Ella. 9 hours has passed. Hello again and how much you’ve changed. Time for a good stretch!

Meditations on bread

And on the 13th day, “Teaser” was born. Born out of commitment, love and a bread challenge, Teaser and his parents (Paul and me) have taken on the painstaking, time consuming but very satisfying art that is sourdough bread. This art begins with a deep inhalation and then an evolutionary process taking the elements of the earth – water, air and flour – to make a starter. This process, made more complex by the surrounding environment can take between 7 to 13 days before bread can be made. The eternal summer that is Singapore can prove to be challenging for bread making, but by being observant and adapting to our surroundings, “Teaser”, my starter against all odds (hence the name) became possible. Just like a baby, Teaser has its needs – to be fed regularly to maintain its strength and flavor but is fairly flexible. If us parents needed a break or a holiday, into the fridge it goes for hibernation mode 😊

The beauty of bread making progresses once your version of “Teaser” is ready. Good planning combined with activating our sight and smell will have you eating fresh sourdough bread in 2 days, deepening your appreciation for the patience that pays off. I remember waking up just before the break of dawn, unfolding my table, sliding open the windows of our kitchen and hearing the sounds of nature – the birds singing, trees swaying – and the quiet of civilization, as I shaped my bread dough. A sense of happiness and contentment, one with the earth and myself. Bread does this to you, because as time consuming and mind bending the process is, we deepen our awareness of ourselves and the surrounding environment. As Teaser evolved, I had too.

Into the oven – by this time the sun has risen, and the activity around Tiong Bahru picks up. Soft music in the kitchen, a cup of coffee in hand, we wait, as the smell of bread begins to linger around our apartment. The bread is now out of the oven, and with one final stage of patience (30 mins to 1 hour), the protecting crust is broken as we cut through into the moist crumb. The cold butter melting in our mouth, and on the bread, savoring our slice of homemade bread.

-> Tips on bread making

The art of sourdough

Guidance on bread

There are multiple websites online providing precise guidance on starters and bread making. The perfect loaf is a recommended read for it’s comprehensive guidance on the process, tools and recipes. I encourage you to read, do your research on the critical success factors and adapt it to the environment (I cannot stress this enough) that you are in. I am by no means a bread connoisseur or patisserie so I’ll let the experts guide you. I have, however, through several experiments have a few learnings to share (and not a step by step guide).


1) Quality of ingredients – Flour and water. Sounds simple but the type of flour and water will make a big difference to the quality of the bread. The golden rule; as pure as possible i.e. no artificial, no chemicals. The types of flour will vary depending on the bread you intend to make but generally, wheat or rye based flour will produce a denser bread. Nothing wrong with this as it’s high in nutrition and flavour but if you care about the texture and want bread with abit of spring to it, opt for white flour such as all purpose. Water with minimal chlorine is best.

2) Temperature – Controls time and flavor. The hotter it is, the faster the process and the sourness develops so you need to strike a favourable balance. Many bread experts advise that the ideal temperature for starter and bread development is between 26 to 28C. So one might ask how this can be accomplished a constantly hot climate like Asia, whilst being kind to the environment and our electric bills. My top tip is to make use of the residual cold from the air condition that you have used the night before. Turn off the AC, keeping your windows closed, put your bread dough or starter in the room, shut the door and go about your day. If in the northern hemisphere, keep your dough in the oven (turned off) or somewhere near a heating element (but not directly). You will be surprised by how these challenges can turn into innovation.

3) Observation – The rise and fall of the dough is indicative of when it is ready. You’d want to catch the starter and/or bread dough at it’s peak. The peak is the point where the starter or dough has risen to it’s maximum potential. Beyond this point is what we call “overproofed” – practically, this means that you can still eat the bread but it might be quite sour and not rise when baked. So if life gives you overproofed dough, make flatbread with it! Visually, the peak is the point when you see a convex shape start to flatten out. This is easier to see with a starter but with bread dough, you might want to tap the tough with your finger gently, and if it bounces up, it should be ready. Hence, when first starting out, I highly advise using a clear container for keen observation to help you decide your next steps.

4) Create tension on the bread dough – During the stage of shaping, you want to create as much tension on the bread dough to create shape and upward spring during the cooking process.

5) Sharp knife or razor blade – Scoring bread is not just for decorative purposes but is an essential step to allow your bread the space it needs to rise in oven without restrictions. If you don’t score the bread, you will end up with a suppressed, dense bread that is not springy.

6) Dutch oven or think out of the box – Bread requires high temperatures (>240C) and steam in the first half of the cooking process to rise and develop a good crust. If you simply place your bread dough in the oven to bake, the surface will burn quickly before the crumb (inside of the bread) develops and cooks. Many bread connoisseurs swear by their dutch oven which retains high heat and creates steam with its lid (and can be placed in an oven). However, a dutch oven is an investment at a high price of >SGD 400 (thanks to my wonderful friends who gifted us one for our wedding!) so what do we do? We adapt, yet again to our environment. Here are two alternatives that I have toyed with:

a) Claypot – I have baked some of my best breads with a claypot; similar qualities to a dutch oven and costs less than SGD 40 for a big sized pot. I will soon share a recently created pork recipe in a claypot that was simply divine.

b) Oven tray with a round baking tin on top – This method can be tricky as you need to find a round baking tin that fits the size of your dough as it expands sideways and upwards. So, a little more planning and testing is required.

7) Hibernating the baby – A starter is a resilient being. If you need to take a bread break, the fridge is where your starter can hibernate. We’ve left Teaser in the fridge for a whole month and was still able to make good bread (after a couple of feeds) with it. It’s definitely hard to kill once you’ve started 😉


None – Enjoy it, the evolving flavours of the crust as you chew into the crumb, a hint of sweet bitterness hitting at the end.

Salted butter – I like the sensation of cold butter melting in my mouth so if you’re a weirdo like me, go for it. I need to emphasise the use of salted butter to keep a long lasting friendship with my French friends! But on a serious note, the salted butter adds some balancing flavours if you find sourdough plain for your liking.

Ripe avocado with a dash of extra virgin olive oil – Paul’s favourite, and our usual Saturday breakfast.

Rilette – Our friends, Matthieu and Fanny, other than their talents of beer brewing and DIY on anything they can get their hands on, make an addictive pork rillette that can be spread on top of the sourdough bread, bringing salt, acid and fat together for a delightful afternoon or evening appetizer.

Roast chicken


1 whole chicken, lemon, garlic, fresh rosemary, extra virgin olive oil, course seat salt and pepper


Preheat oven to highest for 10 mins. On a baking sheet, sprinkle the squeeze of half a lemon, salt and pepper (S&P). Lay the bird breast side up, squeezing the other lemon half over the skin. Stuff the bird with the leftover lemon, half the bulb of a garlic and a sprig of rosemary. Generously drizzle olive oil to coat skin, sprinkle with S&P, and bake at 200C for 50 minutes.

Top Tips

The key to a good roast chicken is a slow roast at a low temperature (200C) to keep it moist and tender and then turning the heat up to a high in the final 10 minutes to brown and crisp the skin. Stuffing the lemon into the chicken adds extra moisture. To achieve crispy skin, course sea salt should be sprinkled on top, but only after you’ve lathered the bird with lemon and oil. If obsessed with crispy skin, the bird should be cut butterfly style, incised longitudinally down the ribs (thankfully, butchers know what the butterfly is!). I like to crush a few cloves of garlic, skin on to surround the bird. With the process, the garlic becomes incredibly sweet with a hint of bitterness.

All, with a plate full of wonder

Roast chicken is comfort food. Easy, delicious, visual. Skin so crisp you save it for that one last gluttonous bite. And once all is devoured, the carcass transformed, becomes chicken soup. So roast chicken, after a long day or cold winter night, takes it home.

Mama taught me to cook. With abit of tough love, there I was on a stool, stir frying bean sprouts. Roast chicken was a family dish that mama made on special occasions. An Asian twist, she’d stuff the bird with lemongrass and coat the skin with soy sauce. I was always fascinated by how one chicken can bring smiles but also petty arguments for the chicken part one deserves.

We watched a lot of television growing up, especially since the Channel 8 drama series was the best way to learn mandarin (and adulthood). My favourite however was the travel and living channel, where the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Jamie Oliver ignited a thirst for adventure, to “Get out”, be curious and explore the elements of a plate.

And so I did, and the world opened itself up to me;

For the place, that is history, tradition and culture
For the produce, if quality and sustainable, to be cooked simply
For the process, that is creative, dynamic but meditative
For the people, harvesting, cooking and sharing the joys of eating
Where conversations begin, relationships deepen, the ties that bind
All, with a plate full of wonder

-> Roast chicken recipe