Dish It Out - Surani Mackeen

Jul 29 2021. views 128

How do our food experts cook and eat? Major foodie and the person behind food and recipe blog @thewhimsicalchef, Surani answers our Q&A!

What got you into cooking?
I come from a family of foodies and my parents always allowed us to experiment in the kitchen since we were young so I have fond memories of making cakes (which sometimes turned out to be more cookie-like and vice versa) and our family favourite chocolate biscuit pudding! But my foray to cooking full-fledged Lankan meals only happened after I started studying in Singapore and was desperately craving flavours of home – definitely a case of distance makes the heart grow fonder! 
What is the most useless and useful item in your kitchen right now?
Useful – it’s a tie between my pressure cooker and the air fryer.
Useless – The electric knife I asked my sister to get for me - which is still sitting untouched and unboxed in the drawer since Feb 2020! In my defence, I need to buy a voltage adapter to even try and use it, and I have been procrastinating on that. This was a super impulsive request on my part and I really can’t recall why I even requested for it now. Oops!
What Sri Lankan ingredient do you miss that you don’t have access to abroad?
I am really blessed to be living in Singapore, where I can very easily find ingredients used in Lankan cuisine. And thankfully there’s also a Lankan grocery shop that brings in fresh fruit and veg from Lanka every week. So honestly, nothing much. 
What was your favourite childhood meal?
I’m a very nostalgic foodie, so Christmas brunch at home is one of my favourite childhood meals that never fails to make my heart feel so full. Our Christmas brunch always had - sausages, bacon, eggs, cheese, crackers, baked beans, bread, log cake, breudher and Christmas cake which we finished off with black coffee. It really wasn’t just about the food, but the festive spirit and the warmth of family, but it’s through food that I relive most of these fond memories. 
If I give you Rs.  50,000 to eat anything in the world – where and what food will you spend it on?
Lankan cuisine is my fav – so, probably a crab feast at Ministry of Crabs. Till then, I will enjoy my own crab curry with some parata and crusty bread.
You mainly make Sri Lankan food – what’s the most complex thing about making Sri Lankan?
Technique actually! I can’t seem to master the art of making hoppers no matter how many pans I tried making them with! 
Easiest meal to impress someone?
Joint effort biriyani my husband and I make and serve with lamb chops or a roast chicken, cashew curry, raita, malay pickle, maldive fish sambol, mint chutney, egg and pineapple. 
What’s the most weird food you’ve eaten?
Don’t judge me for this, but I love the brain cutlets ammi used to make for us. She poaches the cow brain with a bit of salt, pepper, turmeric, and lime and then crumb coat and deep fry them like cutlets. It’s one of the most sinful but delicious delicacies I’ve eaten, but I understand it has an acquired taste and texture can turns off a lot of people. But I love it!! 
Your favourite odd food pairing?
My tastebuds are traditional and a bit conservative. Does eating fried rice straight out of the fridge count?
If you could dis-invent a food, what would it be?
Bubble tea! I really don’t get the hype!!
What’s a dish you’d love to relive for the first time?
Thaththi’s prawn cocktail. If I am to relive this dish for the first time, it will also mean that I get to meet thaththi again to say a proper goodbye. 
You love to cook but you also have an eye for presentation – so, eat with your eyes or think with your stomach?
Definitely the latter! I do love food styling, but the food definitely needs to be balanced in terms of flavours, textures and nutrients before anything else. And if you can balance the flavours, the textures and the colours of your meal well, I would think that’s already half the battle of food styling won!
Follow the recipe or make it your own?
Make it my own – 100%! Where’s the joy and creativity in constraining yourself to follow a recipe to a T? Having said so,  this is probably why I am not too big a fan of baking because  precision is key for bakes and that’s not my jam!
What are your favourite leftovers?
A stash of Lankan canapes sitting in the freezer! 
What’s your fool-proof recipe?
Probably my red lentil aka parippu curry that I can even cook in my sleep (figuratively of course!). It’s a combination of techniques and flavours from two cultures that I learnt from my ammi and my mama-in-law, so it’s also close to my heart.
When I’m back in Sri Lanka, the first thing I want to eat is ______?
Kos, pol sambol, jaadi thel daala and elephant house sausages! 


Panchali Illankoon

Law Graduate, food and travel enthusiast and full time dog mom..


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