• How living between countries shaped Sai Yoganathan's evolution in the kitchen. (Sai Yoganathan/Instagram)Source: Sai Yoganathan/Instagram
A Kitchen Well-Travelled is a love letter to Sai Yoganathan's Sri Lankan upbringing and making a new home with her family in New Zealand.
By
Sai Yoganathan, Presented by
Neha Kale

27 Aug 2020 - 1:21 PM  UPDATED 27 Aug 2020 - 1:21 PM

Growing up in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, food was always a talking point with my mum and her sisters. We had a lot of interest in food, even when we were little. When my mum was baking cakes she would give me a tin and some of her cake batter. A favourite family dish was my grandmother's goat curry – the spices, the texture! These are some of my most vivid memories. I forget what I have to do tomorrow sometimes, but certain food memories from my childhood are still very fresh.  

In 1987 we left Sri Lanka to Nigeria. My son was six and my daughter was two. It was challenging but because my family and sister were in Nigeria, it made it easier. I learned from the girls who worked in my house how to make jollof rice and okra, using flavours Nigerians use.

After Nigeria, my husband got a job in Zimbabwe and we lived there for three years. Then we moved to New Zealand because my children wanted to be close to their cousins, who lived in Australia.

In '93, there weren't any shops that sold spices and we struggled to find curry powder and coriander seeds. No one sold curry leaves at all, so my brother-in-law used to send them from Auckland via overnight courier. An Indian shop opened up in Dunedin maybe six years before we left. 

"A favourite family dish was my grandmother's goat curry – the spices, the texture!"

In New Zealand, I started using my home cooking experience, trialling modern recipes and making them healthy. My son was doing a medical degree and he advised cutting down on carbs. In New Zealand, I had the most beautiful leg of lamb and made dishes like grilled groper fish with cauliflower puree. I would visit the farmers' market in Dunedin every Saturday to get all my vegetables. They have the biggest cherries and there's always a queue! That's something I can't forget.

New Zealand is my home. Although I love Jaffna, I've only been back to Sri Lanka twice since I left in 1987. 

When we were in New Zealand, my daughter said that when she moves away, she wants my recipes. In 2014, I started writing the recipes, took some pictures and thought it would be brilliant to share my creativity, travel memories and experiences. I sent my manuscript to a few publishers. 

A gentleman my publicist introduced me to put me in touch with my publisher. Soon the wheels were in motion for a book that I could share with the world.

The book includes recipes such as New Zealand rock lobster in a curry format. It also includes my mum's layer cakes and butter cakes, most of the curries she taught me. I wanted my mother's autograph for my book as I felt she was a large part of its creation. Sadly, she passed in August 2019, and I never got the final copy in her hands.

But each recipe has threads of her wisdom and advice, and that's her autograph. It makes me proud that a part of her will live on whenever my children cook these recipes. In April this year, A Kitchen Well-Travelled was named a Spring Harvest Winner in the Gourmand Cookbook Awards. 

My father passed away from a brain tumour. His condition went undiagnosed despite him consulting with the best neurosurgeons in the country.

Finally, when he got an accurate diagnosis after an angiogram, it was too late. Watching him struggle and suffer during my wedding was heartbreaking. I wanted to do something to honour him and help brain tumour research advance. So I have donated my royalties from this book to The New Zealand Brain Tumour Trust (NZBTT).

The NZBTT conducts world-class research and makes a positive difference to the lives of people of all ages diagnosed with a brain tumour.

My dad loved culture and the arts. He would have been so proud of this book.

A Kitchen Well-Travelled is published by Five Dogs Books.

Cook the book
Grandma's lamb curry

This curry recipe was passed down from my grandmother to my mum and it is utterly delightful. 

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