I selected my Sri Lankan cookery book for several reasons. Firstly that it is written in English; secondly that it proudly states on the cover that it is written by an accountant and an immigration attorney; and thirdly that it is not the other book I considered, written by a formidable lady who urges vehemently against the washing of mud, stones and so on from ingredients, on the basis that this leaves food bereft of flavour and nutritional value.
It turned out that I had chosen a book that calls frequently for the use of a clay pot – a traditional Sri Lankan cooking vessel. Keen to escape from my kitchen’s shiny metal pans, which ping violently when heated and burn anything cooked in them to a shrivelled carcass, I bought said pot for about 85 pence. It looks, in fact, very much like a cheap, unstable and not very clean flowerpot. I fully – and very unfairly, it turned out – expected it to explode in a haze of blinding pottery shards when placed on the heat.
Before use the pot must be oiled, warmed slowly to the highest possible heat, cooled, submerged overnight in clean water, and then lovingly dried, before a cup each of oil and water is boiled in it and then discarded. Then – and only then – can food actually be cooked in the clay pot.