Sri Lankan Muslims’ Cultural Food Items

The Arabs and their Moor descendants have made a small, yet significant contribution to Sinhalese society in matters of food. The aluva, a class of popular confections, have their origins in the Arabic halwa ‘sweet’ suggesting that it were the Arabs who introduced this sweetmeat. This item has been in existence among the Sinhalese for some time. Robert Knox in his Historical Relation of Ceylon (1681) gives alloways as flat sweetmeats in the fashion of a lozenge showing that they were in existence among the Kandyan Sinhalese of his day. A popular beverage sold in Sinhalese wayside booths to this day is saruvat, which is prepared with the juices of various fruits. This drink has its origins in the Arabic sharbat ‘drink’. Benjamin Clough in his Sinhalese-English Dictionary (1892) gives saruvat as ‘sherbet’ showing that it had been known among the Sinhalese for quite some time and may go back several centuries.

Among Muslim introductions to popular food culture may be mentioned the buriyani, a rich rice dish made of fine-grained basmati rice and a copious quantity of mutton or chicken cooked in ghee. Indeed so popular has this meal become that even the local chain of Kentucky Fried Chicken now offers it as part of its regular menu. The same holds true of the dessert known as Vattilappam which is made of eggs, kitul jaggery and spices, which is fast gaining popularity among other communities, so much so that cups of it are now being produced commercially for local consumption. This delectable pudding is perhaps best described by J.P De Fonseka (A Gourmet’s Guide to Ceylon. Times of Ceylon Christmas Number 1937) who wrote about it nearly eighty years ago as follows: “The Muslim’s is a sweet tooth. He has a pudding (for which Allah be praised) called wattiliappam, a soft, succulent one of jaggery and eggs and all the spices of the earth, which goes down with a demure sweetness like that of the houris in paradise”.

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