December 2010


The Cream Of The Island: Mee-kiri
December 2010




Milk on the boil on a scorching clay stove

The smell of fresh buffalo milk on the boil, in cauldrons, over blazing hearths, the ripples of richness against giant stirring spoons as the maker keeps the precious fluid from over-heating and the long anticipated chunks of cream curd or mee-kiri, which would then be bathed in golden treacle,
is definitely worth the mouthwatering wait.

Words: Sonali Kadurugamuwa | Photography: Mahesh Prasantha

Mee-kiri country on the outskirts of Tissamaharama, kept us on track of where we were headed - in search of a certain curd-maker's home. Makeshift stalls with their distinctive selling points rose on each side of the street. Walls built of empty clay pots, whitewashed clay tubs indicating 'kiri' for sale hung off the stalls and tightly contained vessels of curd fastened on rope carriers were ready for a quick takeaway. We wound our way through uneven inroads banked by paddy terrains.
Amidst asking for directions, several times on end, as finding the maker's home was not an easy task, we concluded our journey beside a homestead that greeted our unfamiliar faces (to them), with smiles to last us a lifetime. Here, we could tell that the tradition and expertise for making authentically delicious mee-kiri came from the humblest of homes and also the place where we were about to see the satisfaction behind creating a favourite dessert unfold.

Simply delightful

A true Sri Lankan delicacy, mee-kiri, originates from the south of the country. As our travel and experience accounts into watching this special curd being made, from scratch, entails an art in the making and a precision requiring procedure, which transforms into one of the most simplest and wholesome of dishes enjoyed, from heart to soul, the country over. What makes mee-kiri so appealing to the taste buds is the combination of itself and the accompaniment of its best friends; dense honey like sap of the kitul tree or coconut palm, even bees honey, and its creamy indulgence is also pleasured with light shaves of brown jaggery.

Key and only ingrediënt Milk

Buffalo milk is used in the preparation of curd for its creamier consistency than that of a cow's and also because it can be naturally preserved for a longer period of time, so pure buffalo milk is all it is.

Milk is brought in large metal jugs, from village farms to the maker's home, where her custom made kitchen quietly awaits the hustle and bustle of mee-kiri production, to break the silence. With clanking sounding the exchange of milk, from metal containers into generous wide cauldron like pots, which are immediately placed over open, fiery clay stoves fuelled by firewood, the maker calls on the collaborative support of her whole family.

A family affair

The joy of kiri making brings the family together to lend a hand. Once the pots of milk come to a boil, they are vigorously stirred, with large wooden spoons, to prevent the milk from burning. Since this process needs constant nurturing, the entire family of adults pitch in to keep a close eye on what is also their bread and butter.

Experience, teamwork, communication, and even some
old-fashioned tender loving care goes into getting the kiri recipe just right, which, I believe, is why it comes from the heart of the Paradise Isle and hence cherished by its people.

Curd curdling

After the milk has reached the precise consistency, it's off the fire and ready to be dished out into small clay moulds/pots, laid out in large numbers, to receive a gush of boiling milk each. The clay, the maker explains, helps in cooling down steaming milk, which are one step before the final room-temperature cool down process. Once the milk has moderately cooled, a few spoonfuls of curd culture, is mixed in to inoculate the milk and covered to kick-start the process of fermentation. This will ultimately set the mixture within a six hour time period and also give it its typical curd flavour.

A tradition that resonates beyond just taste; mee-kiri is a feast of culture and a union amongst the many pleasures that Sri Lanka has to share with the rest of the world.
Tissamaharama, has staked claim to associating the place itself with its produce, even as far as the city of Colombo. Anywhere one sees a signboard that reads "Tissamaharama," on the roadside within the commercial capital, one is bound to find the fruit of the region's main produce and also the core of its simple passion-mee-kiri.

 

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    Distinctive clay tubs and signboards indicating buffalo milk curd for sale

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    The final product: creamy curd or mee-kiri

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    Silhouette of buffaloes: making their way back home, after grazing, before nightfall

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    Transfering the milk from the pitcher to the large cauldron

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    Hot milk poured into clay moulds to cool and ultimately set

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    Much creative thinking goes into selling Tissamaharama’s curd.

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