As coconut is used loads of ways, the coconut tree is known as ‘the tree of life’ in Sri Lanka and the versatile coconut is said to be good for the intestine and bowel.
Ropes (made from coconut husk) were tightly tied between the tops of the coconut trees and a nimble, barefoot man expertly climbs the trees twice a day – with tools and large round pots tied to his waist – to tap the stems of the flower which encourages the sap the come out, and replace the toddy-filled pots with empty ones.
The sap or ‘toddy’ is collected every morning and night. We got to sample some, strained straight out of the pot – it smelled and tasted fermented and had a slight fizz. A couple of glasses and I reckon you’d be a little bit sozzled.
When distilled, toddy becomes coconut arrack (a spirit) and when heated it turns into treacle (known locally as coconut honey). If heated further it then becomes palm sugar. If the toddy is left for 24hrs it turns into coconut vinegar. So many uses!
During my stay in Sri Lanka I tried a few cocktails with coconut arrack and it has a light and lovely flavour, without being too strong. I bought a bottle of arrack home and made a summery cocktail which I’ll be whipping up whenever the sunshine comes out to play.
Afterwards we visited a friendly family for a cooking demonstration and a huge lunch. When we arrived, outside they were heating up a big pot of coconut honey and in the shed they were spinning coconut husk into rope and twine, on big rickety machines.
We all crammed into the small family kitchen to watch strips of papadums being fried and my favourite experience was watching the lady of the house add measurements by hand as she cooked up a creamy coconut dhal in a thick clay pot.
Our mammoth lunch was spread out on the dining table for us to help ourselves. The ‘rice and curry’ had loads of veg options including the coconut dhal, potato curry, watercress salad, jackfruit curry and a creamy cashew nut curry, along with buffalo curd with honey (coconut treacle) for dessert.
Next stop Dambulla where we enjoy lunch with a local family in the rice fields.
For more on this visit, click on the photo below to see the Flickr album.
Want a dose of vegeTARAian in your inbox?
Click here to subscribe to the weekly newsletter