Spicing things up for the second in the series of gastronomy dinners paving the way to MIGF2018 was Aliyaa Island Restaurant & Bar, an award-winning Sri Lankan eatery that has remained a staunch favourite among those who love this colourful cuisine. This year Aliyaa celebrates a decade on the scene, and to mark the milestone, the restaurant pulled out all the stops with a Jaffna Food Festival that took guests on a culinary trip around the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.
Helming the kitchen throughout the four-day festival was the individual who stands as the inspiration behind Aliyaa and the primary reason owner Abethan Kanthasamy founded the restaurant – his mother and the mastermind of Aliyaa’s menus, Parvathy Kanthasamy. A linguistics professor by profession, Parvathy is also a renowned social activist in Canada where she resides, and the founder of a Tamil wellness centre in Toronto which offers psychiatric counselling.
A woman of seemingly endless talent, food has always played a central part in her life, having learnt the foundations of her skill from her own mother at a young age. “I’ve never seen cooking as a task or a burden of any sort, it’s just a part of who I am,” she says.
She puts her heart and soul into each dish, a fact made clear by the spread of 50 dishes that appeared on the buffet that evening – a heady blend of authentic Jaffna cuisine that tasted every bit as good as it looked. Prepared with Executive Chef Sivarajan Suppiah and his team, it was one of Aliyaa’s finest feasts to date.
Before guests tucked into this explosion of flavour, however, they warmed up downstairs with traditional Jaffna Nuts, a gin-based cocktail topped with lemon juice, and toddy – a drink made from the sap of palm trees.
MIGF Organising Chairman Dato’ Steve Day, Datin Su Wai Fun and Abethan welcomed guests including MIGF Royal Patron Tunku Naquiyuddin ibni Tuanku Ja’afar; High Commissioner of Sri Lanka A.J.M Muzammil, Independent Non-Executive Director of RHB Bank Tan Sri Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, Bakhache Luxuries (M) Sdn Bhd Managing Director Antoine Bakhache, Aramis Group President and Founder Jean-Bernard Guillemin and illustrious artist Yusof Ghani.
Ghani, who is the creator of Aliyaa’s famed elephant logo, was present also to launch his new children’s book, the brightly coloured pages of which cover the walls of Aliyaa.
Following this, guests made their way up stairs and to the rear of the restaurant where a room dedicated to the buffet was located. The aromas drifting out from this chamber were enough to make mouths water and send taste buds reeling. Guests took their seats but soon left them again, eager to try Paravathy’s menu.
Inside the buffet room they were greeted with ‘train stations’, each of which contained a different category of foods typical to Jaffna cuisine. Guests began their trip at the Nelliday Railway Station, where traditional koli pungal rice, spicy oat soup and fluffy rice set them up for the meal.
Next they pulled in at Kankesanthurai Railway Station which contained some of Jaffna’s steamed rice flour staples of Jaffna including red string hoppers and a variety of puttu. These emblematic dishes are eaten at any time of the day, either with sweet or savoury side dishes, sauces and chutneys, and have become famous worldwide.
On to the Mallakan Railway Station which was flush with sambals (a Malay word adopted by the Ceylonese), one of the cornerstones of Sri Lankan cuisine. Coconut, carrot, bitter gourd, eggplant, banana blossom, vaalakkai (plantain) and mango were among these spice-laden condiments that are made by grinding together ingredients such as garlic, shallots, palm sugar, lime juice, rice vinegar, ginger and fish sauce until they become a flavourful paste.
A banquet of meats and seafood awaited guests at the Jaffna Fort Railway Station. Favourites here included the fleshy Jaffna crab curry, which the High Commissioner went straight for – skipping most of the other options – and the mutton paal poriyal, a classic dish of tender lamb cubes in devilled aromatic spices that packs a spicy kick.
On to the vast selection of vegetarian dishes, an area that Parvathy excels at. This was the Chunnakam Railway Station and it contained delights such as brinjal moju – pickled eggplant in a sticky sauce that is equal parts sweet, savoury and spicy, a creamy pumpkin curry, sothi – a mild yellow coconut curry, and mint thuvial – a thick chutney that lends a nice counterpoint to spicier dishes.
The final stop on the journey was Chunnakam Railway Station, which featured Parvathy’s sweet treats. These included a velvety milk pudding with crunchy peanut topping, payasam with pineapple – a type of rice pudding that includes jaggery and coconut milk, numerous sesame sweets, and a curd and treacle concoction that coated the mouth in a silky film.
As guests enjoyed the desserts from the buffet, the live appam station also fired up as the chef tapped and twirled silver pans, churning the delicious crispy crepes one after the other. Aliyaa has become famous for appams, drawing foodies from far who come for this dish alone. It was no surprise that all guests enjoyed multiple helpings of the iconic dessert.
“The appams were as usual fantastic and the puttu is my favourite here – the spread has been extremely good today,” said Mr Bakhache, echoing the sentiments of the group.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner was full of praise for the experience and the restaurant as whole: “Today Aliyaa celebrates its tenth year and I’m very happy that they have been able to establish and market Sri Lankan food in Malaysia. I’m very proud of them. The food today, prepared by Parvathy Kanthasamy, has been outstanding.”
Rounding out the evening was Festival Royal Patron Tunku Naquiyuddin, a man famous for his eloquent closing words. “We have to thank the mother of all mothers,” he said, standing beside Paravathy.
“You have prepared everything to wondrous proportions – thank you very much on behalf of everybody.”
Aliyaa Island Restaurant & Bar
WHERE: 48, Plaza damansara, Medan Setia 2, Bukit Damansara, 50490 Kuala Lumpur
OPEN: 12pm to 11pm
TEL: 03-2092 5378