When war broke out in Sri Lanka nearly four decades ago, thousands of distraught refugees fled the island-nation on boats. They packed their dreams, memories and remnants of a home into taught packages and arrived on Indian shores, hoping to restart a life that was free from any strife, struggle or pain.
Amongst this large group of refugees who have continued to live in Tamil Nadu in the last four decades, a small group of women brought along with them the knowledge and remnants of a culture they were forced to leave behind. They carried along traditional Sri Lankan recipes and knowledge of a cuisine that was born in the midst of a struggle.
On a rather hot summer evening in a pre-pandemic Chennai, a local NGO supporting Sri Lankan refugees called OfeRR run by actor and filmmaker Poongothai Chandrahasan launched a pop-up cloud kitchen that was entirely run by refugee women from various camps in Tamil Nadu.
What emerged was a delectable menu full of delicacies that are unique to the Sri Lankan-Tamil community. From the signature red rice puttu to a vast array of traditional desserts made from coconut milk, rice and jaggery, these women brought to life the forgotten memories of home through their authentic recipes.
The cloud-kitchen’s instant fame birthed a long-standing brand that today, empowers hundreds of refugee women living in camps spread across Tamil Nadu. Yalpanam takes after the older Tamil name of Jaffna.
Basilica, 70, arrived in India on a boat at the age of 39 back in the year 1990. Having watched her mother dish out traditional Tamil recipes back in the day, Basilica’s knowledge of the cuisine is presently being passed down to her team of home chefs and an enthusiastic group of youngsters who belong to the second generation of refugees that were born in India but wish to reconnect with their home.
This ever-evolving and growing team of home-chefs are on a mission to bring a taste of home and relive their own memory in the process of recreating these recipes. Not only does it empower them financially, it also allows them to retain and rebuild fragments of a heritage that they were forced to leave behind.
Amongst the most popular dishes they have to offer, the Kalu Dhodol takes the cake. This confection is made from slow-stirring roasted red rice along with jaggery and coconut milk over a wooden roast over hours. Yalpanam puts out a new menu every week, covering a range of dishes and meals that represent Sri Lankan Tamil cuisine.
Their deliveries are currently restricted only to Chennai. If you wish to order or would want to support Yalpanam’s cause in any way, click here.
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