TURKEY didn’t make it onto the Christmas table in the Pillai household until Doris Pillai was a teenager. The family Christmas feast would comprise typical Sri Lankan fare – both chicken and mutton curries (dry and wet curries, mind you), cutlets, Korma curry, a wide spread of vegetables and rice.
“It was something special! We never had so many varieties of curries and all types of meat on the table at the same time except on Christmas.
We never had turkey until after my brother started working. He used to rear turkeys, and come Christmas we’d have it slaughtered and roasted. That’s how turkey ended up on the table!” recalls Pillai, 86, who grew up in Malacca.
Theirs wasn’t the “traditional” roast turkey that we’ve come to know as a Christmas staple though.
“Our turkey was roasted the Chinese-style (like char siew, seasoned with a mixture of honey, five-spice powder, red fermented bean curd, dark soya sauce, hoisin sauce and red food colouring). It was sweetish and it wasn’t stuffed,” recalls Pillai.
This went on for years, even after she got married and started her own family.
For Pillai and her brood, the feast began after the family returned from midnight mass.
“We’d cut the Christmas cake and open presents and have a bite to eat,” she says, adding that the Christmas cake is always homemade.
“My mother was very good at making the fruit cake and so we all learnt how to do it. I start making it in early November.”
These days, with many of her children and grandchildren living abroad, the Christmas “feast” is a little more modest and the roast turkey is store-bought or pre-ordered. – S. Indramalar
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