Numi, the owner and teacher at Cook Sri Lankan, is a remarkable woman. Her sheer warmth, enthusiasm and talent when it comes to food possess her, emitting an energy that is impressively overwhelming from your very first interaction.
Greeting us with the customary ayubowan (I wish you a long and prosperous life) upon entering her home, Numi showered us with stories about her history, where her passion for cooking comes from. Sitting at the kitchen table at her flat in Battersea surrounded by an abundant variety of different flavours and spices, she began to tell us her story. Born and raised in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), her father was a police officer, meaning her family were posted all over the country, allowing Numi to learn about various different vegetables, herbs, and spices.
After a brief career as a Montessori teacher, Numi continued to travel, and later managed restaurants and a family spice factory business, developing recipes and blending spices. Now back in the UK, she’s decided to share her knowledge and passion for Sri Lankan cooking, and she’s clearly an authority on the subject.
Numi first introduced us to an array of tropical spices and ingredients, including nutmeg, mace, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, lemongrass Rampe’, karapincha (curry leaves), and of course chillies. Numi was keen to highlight that Sri Lankan cuisine is a vegetarian’s/vegan’s delight, combining coconut milk with such exotic vegetables as jackfruit (polos and dhel), drumsticks (murunga), snake gourd (pathola), eggplant (vambatu), banana flower (Kehelmuwa), bitter gourd (karawila), and pennywort (gotukola)just to name a few.
Our course on the day was hoppers (appam), a trending dish, and Numi’s star subject. A fermented batter is then cooked in a small wok-shaped pan, forming crispy lacy edges and a spongy centre, perfect for soaking up the juices of the curry. Prepared with or without an egg, Numi explained that hoppers are a Sri Lankan delicacy that can be eaten in any of the three meals in a day.
The cooking lesson itself was creative, easy-going and taught simple cooking in an even simpler way; making a food culture that may otherwise seem impossible to delve into, welcoming and wonderful. Sri Lankan cooking is simple and sophisticated, and Numi guides her students on how to locate the best quality ingredients. Our class saw Numi teaching us a lentil curry (parippu) and a potato coconut curry (ala kirata), which she served with spicy green beans (bonchi theldala). Using ingredients that a lot of her students would already have in their home, her teaching is considered and thoughtful, and step-by-step.
Numi is a charming and friendly teacher and her class covers more than just cooking recipes. Numi shares insights into the blending of spices, the origins of recipes, various Sri Lankan cooking utensils, and teachings passed down across several generations of family cooking.
As the class draws to a close, Numi encourages her students to relax, chat, and enjoy their food, whilst getting to know one another. It’s been a memorable experience and an adventure of new flavours and delicious food, with a knowledgeable and hospitable host.