Sri Lankan Sojourns: Fishy Tales.

A passion for cooking on open fires in clay pots with local produce has become an obsession.

This series of entries was initially inspired by Peter Kuravita’s book Serendip: My Sri Lankan Kitchen, published in 2009.serendip-cover_hr2-877x1024Serendip, a fabulously produced book gives an account of Peter Kuravita’s life and experience – he’s an acclaimed chef (from Flying Fish in Sydney), a TV presenter and author.  In the book he recounts his own rich and rewarding journey through the traditional cuisine of Sri Lanka.  The recipes are all driven by the country’s culture – of family (Kuravita grew up in Sri Lanka), ritual and ceremony.

But it was Kuravita’s follow up TV programme, My Sri Lanka on SBS – with his use of locally made Sri Lankan clay pots, seasonal produce and tantalizing glimpses of Sri Lanka that finally clinched Brunyfire’s determination to see the island in the flesh in October this year – happy birthday me!!MSL_STILL_EP2_06-1-1Brunyfire researched a self-initiated tour thanks to the God Google, TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet.  Using Paul Van Reyk’s culinary tours with the Art Gallery of New South Wales as a template, Brunyfire created a 10 day tour, with driver, that covered all the cultural high spots as well as some specific culinary side trips.

We landed in Colombo at midnight and caught a taxi to our first hotel, Villa Extra in Negombo, in the Western Province.  Negombo is a major city located on the west coast of the island and at the mouth of the Negombo Lagoon.  P1020844Negombo was chosen as a quieter option to the frenzy of Colombo and is only a 20 minute drive from Bandaranaike International Airport.

Traveling around by tuk-tuk is the best way to get around the city, and we soon fell to the charms of Marvin who insisted on giving us a guided tour – whether we wanted one or not!P1020819After much insistence – we really didn’t want another Catholic church thanks – we headed for the fish markets.

Fish represents a major source of animal protein in the Sri Lankan diet, but is more susceptible to spoilage than other animal food. Salting and sun drying are the main fish preservation methods and dried (sea) fish is very popular, particularly for inland islanders.

Negombo is well known for its busy fish markets – these depend upon the numerous boats that fish the seas………P1020863…………such as these traditional outrigger fishing boats that ply the sea and bring in fresh, but modest catches each day.P1020862P1020856The produce is prepared immediately for auction and sale to the general public.P1020859 Those fresh fish that are damaged or that remain unsold at the end of the day are purchased at bargain prices by people like Bernard…………Slide1……….friend of the the famous (he proudly shows everybody his tattered and faded picture of Rick Stein taken during the filming of BBC’s Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey).   Bernard, a Tamil Mudalaali (fish merchant) is our unsolicited tour guide of the beach (this set us back a cool 20 Aussies dollars – for his English lessons!!) where the production of dried fish is a secondary industry to the main sea faring action – those catches are sold fresh daily in the market.

The process for the salted dried fish are, firstly a wash in the sea…………P1020830………then the fish are split ventrally, the gut and skin are removed completely and the fish washed in the sea. Fish are then salted at a ratio of 1:3 (salt:fish), mixed well and packed into plastic 20 litre bins for about 2-3 days. P1020831After the salted period, the salted fish are again washed in the sea and sun dried on large woven sheets of coir spun rope………P1020824 ……..a Sri Lankan staple material.  The menfolk haul over the fish in wicker baskets…..P1020835……….and hand the task of sorting and spreading the fish in the sun to the women.P1020834Drying fish in this manner, through salting, air and sun drying, is a preservation process through dehydration that is eons old in technique.P1020827The dried fish is re-hydrated and washed thoroughly to remove the salt before being cooked – we were fortunate to taste it ourselves in a delicious meal with a very special Sri Lankan family – but that’s another story……..

In the absence of set rules and regulations with regard to hygiene, unlike other food processing activities carried out inside air conditioned factories –‘dry fish’ is made on sandy shores under  the open skies of Negombo. Drying fish is the day-job of most people, especially women, in fisher folk communities. With availability of resources and required infrastructure however, the industry counts a history of approximately two hundred years. Dry fish, in the very sense of the word, is fish which is salted and preserved through dehydration. In most local households, dry fish is a frequent and favorite dish.

Dry fish business can be recognized as the key sub-industry derived from fishing. Whatever produce that is not sold to consumers at the end of that day, the Mudalaalis (Merchants associated with the fish industry) buy for bargain prices and use as raw material in their industry. This fish, obtained from the fishermen or the sellers, is then washed and split prior to salting.

At this stage, all internal organs of fish, including intestines, are extracted. Heads and tails are chopped and fish are scaled and cut into chunks. These chunks are then salted and sundried. The process takes up to three days to complete and the end product is sold, generally to wholesalers who come to Negombo, from all parts of the country.

“Inclement weather is a dry fish Mudalaali’s arch enemy.” said a laborer, who wished to remain anonymous. Before buying fish however, the businessmen take into account the weather condition on that given day. If the skies are gloomy, they will not lay out the fish for drying, he said. He also noted, “Half dried fish are then stacked in boxes until the next day. In this context, the ‘next day’ can be the immediate next day, or two to three days later, when the sun shows up. This is when we will be called back to work.”

As there is are no legislated wage schemes available, the businessmen have adopted their own ways of remunerating laborers. Whilst some are paid on a daily basis, some are paid according to their individual efficiency and productivity levels.
“The Mudalaali we work for has adopted a ‘per barrel’ scheme; either on our own, or with the assistance of another person. We have to wash, cut and salt, dry and pack the dry fish into boxes. This process takes about three days to complete and each barrel holds roughly 90kg of fish. Once the job is done, we get paid Rs.1,000 in wages. If the job was done by two people, then the sum is divided between the two,” he explained.

In a shocking revelation, on highly confidential grounds, the source revealed that sometimes when the water is not properly evaporated, tiny annelid-like creatures form in fish. At times like this, a tot of petrol or kerosene rubbed on the affected area helps matters,” he said.  A trick of the trade—the youth said it is however not a practice exclusive to Negombo.

Not all fish caught are suitable for drying. Balaya, Kattawa, Pothybariya, mora, hurulla, Saalaya, maduwaand sprats are the varieties that are often used. As at today, Kattawa, the most expensive type is sold at Rs.800 per kilo.
The biggest KarolaWaadiya or platform for drying fish is located in a place called Kaamachchode, adjoining the newly opened fish market facility. For ages, and even to date, only those with membership are allowed to utilize those grounds to dry fish. A person who has the right or a ‘pitch’ often employs laborers and gets the job done. Another dark aspect of the business is that, these Karolawaadi employ children, mostly as full-timers.
Due to the absence of a proper garbage disposal mechanism, whatever bunkum, mainly parts of fish, are dumped back into the sea. Although bio degradable, when thrown into the waters, crows and other birds of the sort scatter the waste all over the place, which pollutes the environment largely. This condition also makes the surroundings appalling to dwell, let alone visit and walk around.Dry fish industry, hence takes a considerable toll on the coastal environment.

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/news-features/item/17519-getting-hooked-on-negombo%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98fishy%E2%80%99-tales.html#sthash.NOJNNCUk.dpuf

In the absence of set rules and regulations with regard to hygiene, unlike other food processing activities carried out inside air conditioned factories –‘dry fish’ is made on sandy shores under  the open skies of Negombo. – See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/news-features/item/17519-getting-hooked-on-negombo%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98fishy%E2%80%99-tales.html#sthash.NOJNNCUk.dpuf

In the absence of set rules and regulations with regard to hygiene, unlike other food processing activities carried out inside air conditioned factories –‘dry fish’ is made on sandy shores under  the open skies of Negombo. Drying fish is the day-job of most people, especially women, in fisher folk communities. With availability of resources and required infrastructure however, the industry counts a history of approximately two hundred years. Dry fish, in the very sense of the word, is fish which is salted and preserved through dehydration. In most local households, dry fish is a frequent and favorite dish.

Dry fish business can be recognized as the key sub-industry derived from fishing. Whatever produce that is not sold to consumers at the end of that day, the Mudalaalis (Merchants associated with the fish industry) buy for bargain prices and use as raw material in their industry. This fish, obtained from the fishermen or the sellers, is then washed and split prior to salting.

At this stage, all internal organs of fish, including intestines, are extracted. Heads and tails are chopped and fish are scaled and cut into chunks. These chunks are then salted and sundried. The process takes up to three days to complete and the end product is sold, generally to wholesalers who come to Negombo, from all parts of the country.

“Inclement weather is a dry fish Mudalaali’s arch enemy.” said a laborer, who wished to remain anonymous. Before buying fish however, the businessmen take into account the weather condition on that given day. If the skies are gloomy, they will not lay out the fish for drying, he said. He also noted, “Half dried fish are then stacked in boxes until the next day. In this context, the ‘next day’ can be the immediate next day, or two to three days later, when the sun shows up. This is when we will be called back to work.”

As there is are no legislated wage schemes available, the businessmen have adopted their own ways of remunerating laborers. Whilst some are paid on a daily basis, some are paid according to their individual efficiency and productivity levels.
“The Mudalaali we work for has adopted a ‘per barrel’ scheme; either on our own, or with the assistance of another person. We have to wash, cut and salt, dry and pack the dry fish into boxes. This process takes about three days to complete and each barrel holds roughly 90kg of fish. Once the job is done, we get paid Rs.1,000 in wages. If the job was done by two people, then the sum is divided between the two,” he explained.

In a shocking revelation, on highly confidential grounds, the source revealed that sometimes when the water is not properly evaporated, tiny annelid-like creatures form in fish. At times like this, a tot of petrol or kerosene rubbed on the affected area helps matters,” he said.  A trick of the trade—the youth said it is however not a practice exclusive to Negombo.

Not all fish caught are suitable for drying. Balaya, Kattawa, Pothybariya, mora, hurulla, Saalaya, maduwaand sprats are the varieties that are often used. As at today, Kattawa, the most expensive type is sold at Rs.800 per kilo.
The biggest KarolaWaadiya or platform for drying fish is located in a place called Kaamachchode, adjoining the newly opened fish market facility. For ages, and even to date, only those with membership are allowed to utilize those grounds to dry fish. A person who has the right or a ‘pitch’ often employs laborers and gets the job done. Another dark aspect of the business is that, these Karolawaadi employ children, mostly as full-timers.
Due to the absence of a proper garbage disposal mechanism, whatever bunkum, mainly parts of fish, are dumped back into the sea. Although bio degradable, when thrown into the waters, crows and other birds of the sort scatter the waste all over the place, which pollutes the environment largely. This condition also makes the surroundings appalling to dwell, let alone visit and walk around.Dry fish industry, hence takes a considerable toll on the coastal environment.

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/news-features/item/17519-getting-hooked-on-negombo%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98fishy%E2%80%99-tales.html#sthash.NOJNNCUk.dpuf

In the absence of set rules and regulations with regard to hygiene, unlike other food processing activities carried out inside air conditioned factories –‘dry fish’ is made on sandy shores under  the open skies of Negombo. Drying fish is the day-job of most people, especially women, in fisher folk communities. With availability of resources and required infrastructure however, the industry counts a history of approximately two hundred years. Dry fish, in the very sense of the word, is fish which is salted and preserved through dehydration. In most local households, dry fish is a frequent and favorite dish.

Dry fish business can be recognized as the key sub-industry derived from fishing. Whatever produce that is not sold to consumers at the end of that day, the Mudalaalis (Merchants associated with the fish industry) buy for bargain prices and use as raw material in their industry. This fish, obtained from the fishermen or the sellers, is then washed and split prior to salting.

At this stage, all internal organs of fish, including intestines, are extracted. Heads and tails are chopped and fish are scaled and cut into chunks. These chunks are then salted and sundried. The process takes up to three days to complete and the end product is sold, generally to wholesalers who come to Negombo, from all parts of the country.

“Inclement weather is a dry fish Mudalaali’s arch enemy.” said a laborer, who wished to remain anonymous. Before buying fish however, the businessmen take into account the weather condition on that given day. If the skies are gloomy, they will not lay out the fish for drying, he said. He also noted, “Half dried fish are then stacked in boxes until the next day. In this context, the ‘next day’ can be the immediate next day, or two to three days later, when the sun shows up. This is when we will be called back to work.”

As there is are no legislated wage schemes available, the businessmen have adopted their own ways of remunerating laborers. Whilst some are paid on a daily basis, some are paid according to their individual efficiency and productivity levels.
“The Mudalaali we work for has adopted a ‘per barrel’ scheme; either on our own, or with the assistance of another person. We have to wash, cut and salt, dry and pack the dry fish into boxes. This process takes about three days to complete and each barrel holds roughly 90kg of fish. Once the job is done, we get paid Rs.1,000 in wages. If the job was done by two people, then the sum is divided between the two,” he explained.

In a shocking revelation, on highly confidential grounds, the source revealed that sometimes when the water is not properly evaporated, tiny annelid-like creatures form in fish. At times like this, a tot of petrol or kerosene rubbed on the affected area helps matters,” he said.  A trick of the trade—the youth said it is however not a practice exclusive to Negombo.

Not all fish caught are suitable for drying. Balaya, Kattawa, Pothybariya, mora, hurulla, Saalaya, maduwaand sprats are the varieties that are often used. As at today, Kattawa, the most expensive type is sold at Rs.800 per kilo.
The biggest KarolaWaadiya or platform for drying fish is located in a place called Kaamachchode, adjoining the newly opened fish market facility. For ages, and even to date, only those with membership are allowed to utilize those grounds to dry fish. A person who has the right or a ‘pitch’ often employs laborers and gets the job done. Another dark aspect of the business is that, these Karolawaadi employ children, mostly as full-timers.
Due to the absence of a proper garbage disposal mechanism, whatever bunkum, mainly parts of fish, are dumped back into the sea. Although bio degradable, when thrown into the waters, crows and other birds of the sort scatter the waste all over the place, which pollutes the environment largely. This condition also makes the surroundings appalling to dwell, let alone visit and walk around.Dry fish industry, hence takes a considerable toll on the coastal environment.

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/news-features/item/17519-getting-hooked-on-negombo%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98fishy%E2%80%99-tales.html#sthash.NOJNNCUk.dpuf

In the absence of set rules and regulations with regard to hygiene, unlike other food processing activities carried out inside air conditioned factories –‘dry fish’ is made on sandy shores under  the open skies of Negombo. Drying fish is the day-job of most people, especially women, in fisher folk communities. With availability of resources and required infrastructure however, the industry counts a history of approximately two hundred years. Dry fish, in the very sense of the word, is fish which is salted and preserved through dehydration. In most local households, dry fish is a frequent and favorite dish.

Dry fish business can be recognized as the key sub-industry derived from fishing. Whatever produce that is not sold to consumers at the end of that day, the Mudalaalis (Merchants associated with the fish industry) buy for bargain prices and use as raw material in their industry. This fish, obtained from the fishermen or the sellers, is then washed and split prior to salting.

At this stage, all internal organs of fish, including intestines, are extracted. Heads and tails are chopped and fish are scaled and cut into chunks. These chunks are then salted and sundried. The process takes up to three days to complete and the end product is sold, generally to wholesalers who come to Negombo, from all parts of the country.

“Inclement weather is a dry fish Mudalaali’s arch enemy.” said a laborer, who wished to remain anonymous. Before buying fish however, the businessmen take into account the weather condition on that given day. If the skies are gloomy, they will not lay out the fish for drying, he said. He also noted, “Half dried fish are then stacked in boxes until the next day. In this context, the ‘next day’ can be the immediate next day, or two to three days later, when the sun shows up. This is when we will be called back to work.”

As there is are no legislated wage schemes available, the businessmen have adopted their own ways of remunerating laborers. Whilst some are paid on a daily basis, some are paid according to their individual efficiency and productivity levels.
“The Mudalaali we work for has adopted a ‘per barrel’ scheme; either on our own, or with the assistance of another person. We have to wash, cut and salt, dry and pack the dry fish into boxes. This process takes about three days to complete and each barrel holds roughly 90kg of fish. Once the job is done, we get paid Rs.1,000 in wages. If the job was done by two people, then the sum is divided between the two,” he explained.

In a shocking revelation, on highly confidential grounds, the source revealed that sometimes when the water is not properly evaporated, tiny annelid-like creatures form in fish. At times like this, a tot of petrol or kerosene rubbed on the affected area helps matters,” he said.  A trick of the trade—the youth said it is however not a practice exclusive to Negombo.

Not all fish caught are suitable for drying. Balaya, Kattawa, Pothybariya, mora, hurulla, Saalaya, maduwaand sprats are the varieties that are often used. As at today, Kattawa, the most expensive type is sold at Rs.800 per kilo.
The biggest KarolaWaadiya or platform for drying fish is located in a place called Kaamachchode, adjoining the newly opened fish market facility. For ages, and even to date, only those with membership are allowed to utilize those grounds to dry fish. A person who has the right or a ‘pitch’ often employs laborers and gets the job done. Another dark aspect of the business is that, these Karolawaadi employ children, mostly as full-timers.
Due to the absence of a proper garbage disposal mechanism, whatever bunkum, mainly parts of fish, are dumped back into the sea. Although bio degradable, when thrown into the waters, crows and other birds of the sort scatter the waste all over the place, which pollutes the environment largely. This condition also makes the surroundings appalling to dwell, let alone visit and walk around.Dry fish industry, hence takes a considerable toll on the coastal environment.

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/news-features/item/17519-getting-hooked-on-negombo%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98fishy%E2%80%99-tales.html#sthash.NOJNNCUk.dpuf

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One Response to “Sri Lankan Sojourns: Fishy Tales.”

  1. giving me itchy feet…

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