Welcome to Chef Niza, the new culinary expert and ambassador for Sri Lankan cuisine on 196 flavors. Chef Niza is the chef at Apey Kade, a restaurant that is becoming an institution for Sri Lankans and curious foodies alike in Los Angeles.
Can you tell us more about yourself?
My Name is Niza and I was born and raised in Sri Lanka. I have loved cooking since I was a child and I’m a self taught chef now. I loved hanging out in my mother’s kitchen and watch my grandmother, my aunts and my mother cook.
Tell us more about your knowledge and experience when it comes to Sri Lankan cuisine.
Sri Lankan cooking is very labor intensive. The doors to our restaurant Apey Kade opened on December 1st, 2011 and I have been the main chef since. I do not use any measuring tools; it is mostly by sight and tasting that I prepare my dishes.
What makes Sri Lankan cuisine unique? What differentiates it from other Asian cuisines?
Many other Asian cuisines have a bit of sweet and spicy taste while ours is mostly spicy. Our food is quite similar to Indian cuisine – rice being our main dish at any event. We use a lot of coconut in the form of oil, milk and shredded which has been very beneficial to our vegetarian customers.
What is your favorite Sri Lankan recipe or the most unusual dish of the country?
I do not have one favorite recipe; I enjoy many of our dishes. One of the most unusual dishes from our country, I would say, are hoppers. They are bowl shaped thin crepes made out of rice flour, coconut milk and yeast and require a special pan to cook in.
What other cuisines do you like or influence your cuisine?
Mainly, it is Indian cuisine that influences our cuisine the most. Specially, many dishes from Kerala, India have found their way into our kitchens. We also have a bit of a Dutch influence due to the Dutch colonization. Lamprais (a packet of rice with curries wrapped in a banana leaf) being one of the most loved and popular sought after Dutch dishes.
Which place would you recommend to visit in Sri Lanka?
I personally love Kandy since I grew up there. The weather is much cooler than in the city of Colombo. It is about a 3-hour journey from Colombo, which is our capital.
Beside your mother or grandmother, what Sri Lankan chef is a reference for you?
Chef Publis Silva is on the top of my list. He too is a self taught chef like me. He has been very influential in training chefs and producing many recipes.
What are the main difficulties in Sri Lankan cuisine?
Making our own curry powder! We use so many different spices and, it is not only time consuming but labor intensive too.
What would you suggest if you had to prepare a complete Sri Lankan menu: starter, main course, dessert?
I would have the following:
Appetizers: Cutlets, patties and Chinese rolls
Main Course: Biriyani rice, fried chicken, eggplant moju, mint sambol, boiled and fried egg
Dessert: Wattallappam (a flan made with eggs, coconut milk and palm sugar) and finally, top it off with the good cup of Ceylon tea.