N. Maheswari Devi has published several recipe books and has also appeared on local TV. One of her books, “Rice Recipes”, was selected as one of the best published books in Singapore. Her recipes have also been published in local and overseas newspapers and magazines.
She worked as a culinary consultant in a manufacturing company which produced canned curries and herbal soups. She had also participated in numerous trade missions to Tokyo, Paris, Bonn and London organised by the Singapore Trade Development Board to promote the products overseas.
This latest addition to her publications is a long cherished dream of hers that is dear to her heart. She had always marvelled at her late mother’s skill in cooking delightful non-vegetarian dishes to perfection for her family in spite being a vegetarian. Inspired by her mother, and passionate about preserving the Jaffna cuisine that she grew up with, she wanted to compile and publish a recipe book.
For more than twenty years, she travelled around Jaffna and further to the North and East sourcing for original recipes from relatives, friends, neighbours and people from the various castes in the different regions. Her interactions with the toddy tappers and fishermen, as well as her visits to the various communities in the region has allowed her to learn much about the ingredients and cooking procedures of Jaffna cuisine.
These people shared their recipes with her wholeheartedly and unconditionally. Their dishes which are handed down from generation to generation, have distinctive characteristics and flavours, and are often prepared without any written recipes or measurements. Using only their hands to add a dash of salt, their eyes to see whether the food is cooked, their noses to smell the aroma of the spices and their ears to hear the popping of mustard seeds, these dishes have come to take on unique flavours.
She has also spent considerable time scouring ancient texts for these treasured recipes, some of which were written on Palmyra leaves, in the Jaffna Library, before it was burned down. Some of the more unusual recipes are included in this book.
This collection of recipes is a product of painstaking research carried out over twenty years. It is with much patience, perseverance and experimentation that she managed to convert the traditional cooking methods to concise recipes which use specific measurements, so as to make it simpler for the modern cook. The recipes here reflect the culture, values, traditions and environment of the Malabaris, Portuguese and Dutch and were also influenced by Ayurvedic philosophy. The availability of fresh produce, the abundance of seafood in the coastal regions and lagoons, and the use of aromatic herbs and spices all contribute to the production of these varied and unique dishes.
More than just a collection of recipes, this book represents the food heritage of Jaffna, and preserves it for future generations. For the non-native reader, may it spark a passion for the cuisine of Jaffna. Some recipes in this book are marked as favourites of family members and friends, and these markers add a personal touch. As always, the preparation of food never fails to bond family, friends and the community together.