Every Sinhala Tamil New Year, every birthday, or any other special occasion at home, I’m reminded of one special meal – good old milk rice and some extra spicy lunu miris with an herbal twist, not just anyone’s but my aunt’s.
It was around 2009 when I first tasted this simple yet gorgeous dish (Well, I strongly feel I have tasted it at least once before, but 2009 is the furthest my memory runs). During one of my vacations to my mother’s old house in Kandy, we visited my Loku Amma in Kegalle. My mother and all her sisters called her Ukkun akka– the childhood pet name turned into a lifelong name. Back then, she used to be in her late 40’s I guess and she was one of the best cooks I’ve ever met. It also happened to be the place where my favourite cousin lived. So yeah, going to Ukkun Loku Amma’s place was my dream vacation.
If we ever visited her place for breakfast, we would find two big plates of milk rice with bowls of lunu miris, seeni sambal, and jaggery. It may be a perk of cooking on a firewood hearth or simply ‘Ukkun akkage athgune’ (as my mother calls it), but the milk rice would always have a unique smoky taste that you wouldn’t find in any other milk rice. I was a little late to understand that milk rice can be cooked using all kinds of milk, so now that I think about it, there is a high chance of her secret lying in the type of milk she uses.
Well, the lunu miris she made was also out of the ordinary. It is definitely not just the spiciness but the slight sourness that comes with it and hits you with a blast of flavours that I fail to put into words. Apparently, she uses an unusually large number of herbs in it. If we were really early at her place, we would see her putting all her strength into a grinding stone to mix the ‘lunu miris.’ It used to be one of the funniest things to watch as a child.
I have so many memories of sitting around at a table with my family and my cousins, trying the rice with each and every sweet and spicy side dish. With a hot cup of coffee or ginger tea, the milk rice breakfast at Ukkun Loku Amma’s place was absolutely to die for!
As much as I would like to share the recipe or, better yet, recreate this signature milk rice and side dishes, I have failed to do so. I haven’t tasted this gorgeous meal in about seven years now, and I don’t see myself enjoying it in the future as well. Ukkun Loku Amma unexpectedly passed away in early 2016, and her milk rice and lunu miris recipe became an eternal mystery.
Yet, whenever I see milk rice, I can always close my eyes and channel the 9-year-old me tasting Ukkun Loku Amma’s special milk rice meal. I think that’s the power of a good meal; a meal that embraces you like a warm hug on a cold afternoon and touches your heart. Sometimes good food is not about the extravagant garnish or the fancy ingredients but the love, warmth, and care that comes with it. An impact that will last a lifetime so that when you look back, even after seven years, you will smile feeling loved and cherished.
Rtr. Dinithi Athulathmudali
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