Archive for June, 2012


Saturday, June 30th, 2012



Greetings to readers around the world to this latest tropical topics report.


Made in Sri Lanka

Coconut milk is an essential ingredient in a lot of Sri Lankan recipes and is traditionally made from the scrapings of coconut soaked in water. Mercifully for the harassed cook, “instant” coconut milk is available as a powder manufactured in Sri Lanka by Renuka Agri Foods (, a company that has its roots in The Cargo Despatch Company founded in Ceylon in 1866.

On the packet there is this note: “Renuka is a truly Sri Lankan brand…when you purchase this ‘Renuka’ product you demonstrate your true patriotism. ‘Renuka’ helps create employment, save foreign exchange and cut down on wastage of coconuts.” The ingredients are listed as “coconut kernel extract, maize based maltodextrin, milk based sodium caseinate, tri sodium, phosphate.” In spite of those chemical words, it smells delicious when mixed with water and adds an essential creamy body to fragrant curries.

This 300g packet cost Rs255 [£ 1.24; US$ 1.96) and came with a bonus packet of local red rice together with a recipe for Kiribath (milk rice) served for breakfast and on auspicious occasions. To make it you need a third (100g) of the packet of coconut milk, 450g of red or white raw rice, a litre of warm water and salt to taste.

The recipe on the packet, courtesy of Renuka, reads: “Wash, drain and add rice to a cooking vessel. Dissolve 30g of Renuka coconut milk powder in 700ml of lukewarm water (for thin coconut milk) with a pinch of salt and add to rice. Cook for 15 minutes until the rice turns soft. Mix well and add another 50g of Renuka coconut milk powder dissolved in 100ml of lukewarm water (for thick milk) to already boiled rice. Cook in [sic] low fire for 10 minutes and sprinkle 20g of Renuka coconut milk powder and mix well. Transfer kiribath to a plate. Cut and serve while it’s warm.”

You’ll probably need a siesta after eating this, as it’s very filling!



What can be seen, serendipitously of course, while driving through the countryside of Sri Lanka, is another reason why living here never fails to be amazing. In the village of Tumbatenna in the hill country between the 160 and 170km posts on the A4 linking Colombo with the east coast, I gasped at the sight of this Austin A35 parked outside a village house.

It’s proud owner assured me it is still in running condition. This four door saloon, still painted 1950s grey, is one if the few remaining anywhere of 129,245 made in Britain between 1956 and 1959 by the Austin Motor Company. Although it is similar in appearance to its predecessor, the A30, it has a larger rear window than that popular car.

Also from the 1950s, and spotted in the neighbouring village of Haldumulla, was this version of the traditional pillar-box, made in the Government Foundry. It bears the George VI cipher and is still in use, having escaped being replaced by one of those modern metal boxes resembling rubbish bins.

Sea Line

On a recent trip south, I popped into Sea Line on the esplanade at Galle, with a view of the bay. I’ve no idea if the curious name is a misspelling of Sea Lion but the restaurant is worth a visit for its comfortable combination of eating spaces (dine inside by the cash counter with locals, on the veranda with a sea view, or in the shady garden for more exclusivity).

Servers in white shirts and black trousers are jolly, if in the right mood, and quickly bring drinks that are low priced in today’s Sri Lanka (a bottle of Chilean wine cost Rs1,700 [£ 8.29; $ 13.07] while local Lemon Gin cost Rs 300 [£ 1.46; $ 2.30] for two! Vegetable fried rice was worth it at Rs280 [£1.36; $ 2.15] but I splurged on fiery and devilled boneless Australian mutton (shown here) for Rs1,320 [£ 6.43; $ 10.15]. Actually that seems a bit expensive (and was it really Australian?) as did the chicken curry at Rs420 a portion. All prices include government taxes with 10 per cent added as service charge.


Author’s Note

My apologies to readers who don’t always receive this newsletter at the same time every weekend. I compile notes for the newsletter during the week, write it on Friday and then send it to Andrew ( to design. He submits it to the distributor ( on Saturday so whether you receive it on time is beyond my control. BTW, in case you’re wondering, any product or place I mention in this newsletter is here because it appeals to me, not because I have been paid to advertise it.



From a Canario friend of mine when I lived in Las Palmas, Canary Islands, (1963-1966), now known as Tino (we used to call him “Beethoven”), comes this message:


Hi Royston,


Don’t know if you’ll take this as a compliment or what. Who knows how King Tut feels about being a collectable classic…    but how about you?

Follow this link and you’ll see what I mean:


Actually I have just noticed the farewell signature at the end of Tropical Topics: “Beat regards”. Once a beatnik always a beatnik, init?


Well the new version of that book is much cheaper than the original now on sale at  £ 55.99, but just as collectable. Click on:

Until next week,

Beat regards

Royston Ellis