Sri Lanka | Travel Stories

Coconut milk is extremely popular here in The Netherlands. We use the flesh of the coconut for all kinds of purposes. In our curries and soups, to make smoothies with, or as an alternative for whipped cream. You name it. Coconuts are also very healthy: they contain lots of vitamins, minerals and anti oxidants.

In December '14 I made a trip through Sri Lanka as some of you know. Together with Fairtrade Netherlands and a few other food bloggers we visited tea plantations and coconut farmers. Ever since, I value the products they make or process so much more. It is astounding to see people on the other side of the world, putting so much love into the products I eat or drink everyday.

As you can imagine, I only buy fair coconut milk. Especially because I know now how much a fairtrade certificate benefits these farmers. Take Sriyana for example. She lives in the south of Sri Lanka, near Tangalle, where she runs a coconut farm with 340 trees, on her own.

Sriyana is a 50-year old woman who lost her husband a couple of year ago. He knew all about cultivating palm trees, making sure their trees grew the best coconuts possible. But when he died, it was up to Sriyana to take over the business. She didn't know anything about the work, though. "My husband was responsible for everything." Fairtrade International helped her get up on her feet again. Her farm is part of the Fairtrade-program and therefore she receives a premium. The five year program Sriyana had to developed will help her increase her business and hence she'll earn a better living too.

We visited Sriyana on a sunny Friday afternoon in december. She lives in a colorful house surrounded by hundreds of palm trees. Fairtrade helps her with a number of things. For example, they taught her how to plant new trees, by showing her how to put a coconut correctly into the soil.

This way, in ten years there will be more than 300 new trees on her premises. They also installed an irrigation system, to set aside water for when there is a drought and built a fence to keep out wild animals and uninvited guests. Because of these measures, the quality and quantity of Sryiana's coconut harvest will increase. And with the help of Fairtrade, she is no longer alone.

Did you know that it can take up to one year before a coconut is ripe enough to be plucked? For one can of (400ml) coconut milk you need one coconut. Once every two months a plucker comes to gather the ripe coconuts at Sriyani's farm. And lucky us, he also came by on the day we were visiting Sriyana! After we drank our fresh coco water, we said goodbye and got in the car to drive to Samaraneyka and his family.

Samaraneyka is just like Sriyana a coconut farmer, but he's also a coconut collector. He drives past all the farmers in the area, collects the harvest, and brings the coconuts to the factory. Samaraneyka's wife and mother-in-law were in the kitchen during our visit and preparing a feast for us. And, a dream for every food blogger, we were allowed to help too. First, we grated the coconut flesh, after this we sieved it by using a cloth and ended up with a fresh batch of coconut milk.

The whole time I made notes. Writing, listening, paying attention like I never did before. Our entire trip we ate the most delicous dishes and I want to recreate all of them at home.

Dahl, pol sambol, curry. I tried to absorb the smell and flavour of it with all of my senses. We were not the only ones enjoying the moment. The entire family watched us taking notes and pictures. We ended the day sharing the most amazing homecooked meals. A precious experience.

Earlier that week, we were in a cooking class in Colombo, at the quiant deli of Ma's Food, a coconut manufacturer in Sri Lanka. There we learned to make Wattalapan, a Sri Lankan dessert. I'd like to share the recipe with you.

Foto's Sri Lanka: Ernie Enkelaar

Sri Lankan Watalappan

|serves 4 persons|

You need:

4 eggs
200 grams palm sugar
200 ml coconut milk
1/8 tsp nut meg, ground
1/8 tsp cinnamon, ground
1/8 tsp vanilla, seeds scraped
1/4 tl cardamom, ground
Cashew nuts, coarsley chopped
Desiccated coconut
Edible flowers (optional)

How to make it:

Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F.

Add all the ingredients to a large bowl. Whisk by hand or with a stand mixer.

Pour the mixture into four ramekins or heat proof bowls/jars.

Put them in a oven dish and fill it with water halfway. Place the dish in the oven.

Bake the custard au bain-marie ready in approximately 30 minutes, or until they are set.

Remove from oven. Leave to cool for 15-20 minutes on room temperature before serving.

Garnish with cashew nuts, desiccated coconut and if you have them, edible flowers. Enjoy!