Refugee women cook coconut rice, sambol and fish curry at Yalpanam, a Sri Lankan pop up kitchen in Chennai

Yalpanam’s upcoming pop up kitchen options conventional Sri Lankan meals made by women to nourish prospects, in addition to the cooks’ households in refugee camps

Darshini Thangarasa boards the bus with practised ease, balancing a field heavy with dhodol in one hand and a massive stainless-steel container filled with freshly steamed, squiggly idiappams in the opposite.

The younger faculty graduate with an unfailingly shiny smile is acquainted with this journey from the Sri Lankan Tamil refugee camp in Gummidipoondi, to produce mates and well-wishers along with her mom’s signature kalu dhodol, made by patiently stirring roasted, powdered pink rice, jaggery and coconut milk for hours over a wooden fireplace until it thickens into a luxuriously, sticky confection.

Today, she is en path to the house of Poongkothai Chandrahasan, Sri Lankan filmmaker and founding father of Serendip Boutique Social Enterprises, to assist the group put together for Yalpanam’s first official pop up kitchen.

Explaining why they’ve spent the final month engaged on this undertaking, Poongkothai says the main target is to empower women with a livelihood. “When you empower a woman, she uses that money to educate her child,” she says, including “It is also a dignified way for them to earn their own living, which is especially important now, with the pandemic, as many of their husbands have lost their jobs.”

With the assistance of OfERR (Organization for Eelam Refugees’ Rehabilitation), she says, “we identified women with cooking skills, who are also double vaccinated, from the Puzhal and Gummidipondi camps. Over the past couple of weeks we have been working with them, selecting what they make best.”

Refugee women cook coconut rice, sambol and fish curry at Yalpanam, a Sri Lankan pop up kitchen in Chennai

Darshini’s mom’s dhodol as an illustration. “It needs at least three hours of constant stirring,” says Poongkothai. “In the camp, the ladies all stand in nighties and take turns standing over the wood fire,” she provides with a smile, as Darshini follows her into the kitchen, which is aromatic with the scent of a spicy, simmering fish curry.

There aren’t any nighties right this moment — the women are resplendent in neatly pleated saris in shades of blue — however the cheery spirit of camaraderie has all of the comforting familiarity of a household gathering. Reigning over the kitchen is 70-year-old Basilica Dias, stirring rice creamy with coconut milk, earlier than sprinkling it with beneficiant handfuls of cashew nuts crisp with ghee.

Refugee women cook coconut rice, sambol and fish curry at Yalpanam, a Sri Lankan pop up kitchen in Chennai

“I came to India with two of my children, when I was 40 in 1990,” she says, including that she misplaced her husband in the civil warfare. In the sudden transfer, her third youngster was left behind with an aunt in Jaffna, and they have been solely reunited a few years later. “I used to be a nursery school teacher. When I came to the Puzhal camp, I began to take on small cooking jobs for birthdays and weddings. Whatever money I made, I used for my children’s education,” she provides.

Siva Shantini, who cooks with Basilica, nods in settlement. She explains how they specialise in making spicy coconut sambol and wealthy coconut curries. “For the chicken curry today, we roasted and ground the spices ourselves, then brought the powder here,” she says, reeling off the substances, “chilli powder, fennel, pepper, lots of dry roasted curry leaves…”

Refugee women cook coconut rice, sambol and fish curry at Yalpanam, a Sri Lankan pop up kitchen in Chennai

The menu this weekend contains two set meals (₹999 every), one centred round pink rice idiappams — served with stew, sambol and brinjal — whereas the opposite stars kaha bhat, or coconut rice. The women are additionally making fish and hen curry.

“Depending on the response, we hope to eventually run this as a cloud kitchen,” says Poongkothai, confessing that the undertaking remains to be at an experimental stage with the small all-women group cooking, taking orders and packing the meals collectively.

She provides, “The dream is to hire women from more camps: if this is successful, we can set up small cloud kitchens serving Sri Lankan food all over Tamil Nadu.”

The pop up will perform for lunch and dinner on Saturday and Sunday. Follow Yalpanam By Serendip on Instagram or WhatsApp 9840056530 for extra particulars.

2021-10-06 15:41:27

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