Food: The Sri Lankan Love Cake Gave Us History and Politics with Every Bite

Article excerpt

The midwinter festivals began in early December when a Sri Lankan friend arrived with a 1950s enamelled tin, cream with a red stripe around the lid, containing tiny parcels wrapped in greaseproof paper tied with thin string. He dished these out and we opened them. What is this? Love cake. What is love cake? Eat it, Asitha said, and find out. Delicious: honey-coloured, mealy, both spicy and sweet. Asitha was not sure of the cake's ritual function, but thought it went with weddings. He showed us his recipe taken from the Ceylon Daily News Cookery Book by Hilda Deutrom, translated from the first edition published in Sri Lanka in 1929. The recipes draw on "dishes known to generations of Sinhalese and Tamils", plus "eastern delicacies introduced by Arabs, Malays and Moors". Also mixed in are tastes of the Portuguese, Dutch and British occupations, and a dash of French cooking style.

So the love cake gave us history and politics with every bite; a light way to learn heaviness. You mix half a pound of rulang (semolina) with a pound of soft sugar, a quarter-pound of butter, a hundred cadju (cashew) nuts, ten egg yolks, half a wineglass each of rosewater and honey, some grated nutmeg, lemon rind and cinnamon. Some people like to add egg whites and chopped lime rind. Then you bake it. The result is sticky and dense like gingerbread, but less sweet and much nicer.

Arriving in France just in time for the solstice, I listened to accounts by Julie, a schoolteacher, of ordinary lycee lunches for the end of term: boudin blanc (white sausage), kangaroo, a silver paper "duck" containing fish with a julienne of vegetables. …