Running in the Family – A Sinhalese meal

We are having a formal dinner. String hoppers, meat curry, egg rulang, papadams, potato curry. Alice’s date chutney, seeni sambol, mallung and brinjals and iced water. All the dishes are on the table and a good part of the meal is spent passing them around to each other. It is my favorite meal – anything that has string hoppers and egg rulang I eat with a lascivious hunger. For dessert there is buffalo curd and jaggery sauce – a sweet honey made from coconut, like maple syrup but with a smokey taste. – Ondaatje

For my last Running in the Family post, I wanted to explore Sinhalese food since I truthfully didn’t recognize half the foods in the above passage.

While hoppers are like thin, crispy pancakes of rice flour and coconut milk made in a bowl-shape (which look really incredibly delicious), string hoppers or idyyappam are steamed and springy in texture. Their name is fairly evident once you’ve compared the two types of hoppers.


Egg rulang is a scramble of eggs and sliced onions. Papadums I have actually had before but never learned the name of! They are thin and disc-shaped, typically made from a black gram flour or a variety of other materials like lentil, chickpea, or rice flours. A typical variety I’ve had include ground black pepper and garlic.

Now, I’m not sure what Alice’s date chutney is like, but this chutney recipe is sweet and tangy with ginger and red chili spices.


Seeni sambol is a sweet caramelized onion relish that, like what I’ve been learning about Sri Lankan food, comes with a punch of spices.

Mallung, also called mallum, is a dry dish of cooked chopped greens and coconut. One version with kale is shown below. Brinjals are what we know as eggplants!

Finally for dessert, a buffalo curd with jaggery sauce is like a yogurt and honey mix.

Here is an excellent introductory article to Sri Lankan food. More egg hoppers! They look so good.

Running in the Family – Resthouses

Resthouses are an old tradition in Ceylon. The roads are so dangerous that there is one every fifteen miles. You can drive in to relax, have a drink or lunch or get a room for the night. – Ondaatje

Ondaatje is wonderful at creating rich scenes with few sentences. For me, the passage about the resthouses his father visited evoked images of rattan chairs, beautiful fabrics, broad dark green plants all around, and mixed indoor/outdoor spaces.

Here is the design board I put together for my Ceylon resthouse!

The living room used to belong to David Bowie while the bedroom on the bottom row is from one of Calvin Klein’s houses. Find the outdoor shower along with others here, one bedroom along with more tropical ideas here, the table settings are here. The foyer is part of a pretty cool house in Mexico, and the space with the reflection pool is from a Moroccan house. I think they were pretty fun links to browse through, and I hope you will think so too 🙂

Running in the Family – Lalla’s Flowers

She was full of the “passions,” whether drunk or not. She had always loved flowers but in her last decade couldn’t be bothered to grow them. Still, whenever she arrived on a visit she would be carrying an armful of flowers and announce, “Darling, I’ve just been to church and I’ve stolen some flowers for you. These are Mrs. Abeysekare’s, the lilies are from Mrs. Ratnayake’s, the agapanthus is from Violet Meedeniya, and the rest are from your garden.”  – Ondaatje, Running in the Family

Michael’s grandmother, Lalla, brings energy, mischief, and flowers wherever she goes. In reading and reviewing the Flower Workshop, I thought of Lalla while browsing the wild, organic, and wonderful arrangements of Ariella Chezar‘s. I’ve included a photo and the recipe for one arrangement that I think Lalla would really enjoy.


“Dutch masters”
12 white miniature rose canes
5 green viburnum branches
5 purple parrot tulips
5 peach parrot tulips
5 orange parrot tulips
5 white peony tulips with red edging
5 purple fringed tulips
6 green picotee ranunculus with plum edges
6 orange-peach ranunculus
5 plum-toned chrysanthemums
10 checkered lilies
6 purple fritillaria persica
6 white fritillaria persica
6 fritillaria uva-vulpis
5 green hellebores

Movie Review: Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter


Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is about Kumiko, a girl in Japan who discovers a VHS of Fargo buried under a rock in a cave. She is convinced that a scene of Steve Buschemi burying a suitcase full of money is real, so she sets out to recover the buried treasure. Kumiko constructs a treasure map by measuring the dimensions of her television screen, and then she flies to Minnesota in the middle of winter and tries to find her way to Fargo with nothing but her red jacket.kumiko

Rinko Kikuchi is absolutely flawless to me. She plays Kumiko with the perfect combination of stubbornness, aloofness, and empathy that is required to convey the kind of person who would leave everything behind and set out on an impossible journey halfway across the world. One of my favorite scenes is when Kikuchi yells “Not fake, real!” with a desperate conviction that underlies the entire movie. The soundtrack, by The Octopus Project, is also beautiful and perfect for the endless snowscapes of Minnesota. (Is snowscape a word? I might have just made that up.)


The script was written by two brothers, David and Nathan Zellner, and directed by David. The script was inspired by a bizarre set of real events, which I wouldn’t read about before watching the movie! The dialogue in the movie is sparse, and we spend a good chunk of the time watching Kumiko on her own. I am always impressed with movies with little to no dialogue and a limited cast of characters. (Other examples: Locke, All is Lost, Amour) The dialogue that happens alternates between laugh-out-loud funny or relaying a heart-searingly kind of loneliness and disconnect.

kumiko (1)

As funny and quirky as the premise of the film may be, it’s anything but a comedy. We have more in common with Kumiko than we may realize or want to acknowledge. Kumiko reminded me of Michael Ondaatje’s not-prose-and-not-poem piece, Elimination Dance. An elimination dance is a kind of dance or competition where a speaker will read a set of criteria out loud one at at time, and if you meet the criteria you are out of the running. Ondaatje’s starts off silly enough, those who are allergic to the sea, any person who has lost a urine sample in the mail. You begin to feel comfortable and think, “Oh I’m safe, I’m not like any of these weirdos”, until Ondaatje dives deeper in his last line, “Anyone with pain,” and with that, you’re eliminated as well. That’s exactly how I felt while watching Kumiko.

Recommendation: Definitely Go See


Watch the Trailer 
Listen to the Soundtrack
Elimination Dance, Michael Ondaatje