Rice and Curry: An Interview With S.H. Fernando Jr.

by Elizabeth Kelsey Bradley /
Elizabeth Kelsey Bradley's picture
Jun 10, 2011 / 0 comments


I am a hard core foodie, lusting after photos of delicacies the world over. When I watched Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations Sri Lanka, I was yearning to get on a plane and begin my gastronomical adventure. Bourdain toured Sri Lanka with S.H. Fernando Jr., a Sri Lankan American who's as in love with food and travel as I am. Skiz has a wonderful cookbook that will be coming out this October, and I had a chance to ask him a few questions about life, travel, and food.


KB: Tell us about yourself, and how you became passionate about Sri Lankan cooking.

SHF: As a second-generation Sri Lankan-American, food has been my one connection to the culture and homeland of my parents. Growing up, we used to eat “rice and curry” as Sri Lankan’s call their national cuisine, maybe twice a week. I didn’t think much of it until I went away to college. Then I craved this food, because I realized how good it was compared to the institutional food I was eating. It also reminded me of home. Around that time, my older brother was learning how to cook chicken curry and he taught me. Since then, my mother has taught me how to make a lot of this food. As a bachelor, who loves to eat, being able to cook is an indispensable skill, so in an effort to expand my repetoire and really master Sri Lankan cooking I went there for a year and studied this food and how to make it. When I returned I put all my newfound knowledge into this cookbook, Rice & Curry: Sri Lankan Home Cooking, which I self-published on Blurb.com. 



KB: Where do you feel more at home: in the US or Sri Lanka?

SHF: To tell you the truth, I don’t really feel at home in either place. I know the culture of both places intimately, but I consider myself neither completely Sri Lankan nor completely American. Also, if given the choice, I would be somewhere completely new and different. I think this comes as a result of doing a lot of traveling in my life. I tend to think of myself as a citizen of the world more than anything else, and one of the great pleasures of life for me is getting to know another people and their culture and being able to learn from the experience.



KB: Tell us about your cookbook!!!

SHF: Rice & Curry: Sri Lankan Home Cooking is really a labor of love. I left for Sri Lanka in 2006 with the idea for the book, but without a publishing deal. I wanted to be completely focused on the creative side of the project and worry about shopping it later. I had published a book on hip-hop culture (The New Beats: Exploring The Music, Culture & Attitudes of Hip-Hop, Anchor/Doubleday 1994) just out of journalism school, so I figured getting a deal would be no problem. Boy, was I wrong. Not only had the whole publishing industry changed, but my agent basically told me that if I was not a celebrity chef, a cookbook was out of the question. I still tried on my own to shop the book, and meanwhile I self-published it on the blurb.com site. But I never gave up the idea of mass-publishing the book with a real company. When a friend turned me on to Hippocrene Books, I finally found an outlet. Though a small company, Hippocrene has an amazing catalog of cookbooks from all over the world, so it was a perfect fit for me. They didn’t pay me a big advance and I’m going to have to deal with most of the publicity as well, but the fact that you can walk into any Barnes and Noble and find Rice & Curry is going to be an amazing feeling for me, since it was only previously available online.

Now I also feel like an ambassador for Sri Lankan food, since not too many people are familiar with it. But with over 100 recipes; amazing color photos for each dish, and a lot of cultural information (including a whole section on traveling to Sri Lanka), I hope to “put Sri Lankan food on the map” as it were. In conjunction with the book, I also have a Rice & Curry blog; I’m marketing my own curry powder called “Skiz’s Original,” and I also have a cooking show on Youtube called “Pan Asian.”



KB: I write to families who travel worldwide on my blog; can you give any advice to families who want to travel to Sri Lanka? Can you recommend any hotels, regions, and restaurants? 

SHF: There will be whole “Travelling to Sri Lanka” Section in the cookbook, so I don’t want to give too much away, but many carriers now fly there and my favorite hotel in Colombo, the capitol, is the colonial-era Galle Face Hotel, located right on the Indian Ocean. If you venture further into the interior of the island, be sure to visit a place called Dambulla, known for its caves, which hold an ancient Buddhist temple. Probably the best hotel in the world, The Kandalama, built by famous Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa is located here as well. If you are just going to Sri Lanka for the amazing beaches, you are in for a treat because you are going to stumble upon so much more than you can ever imagine. It really is a magical place, and the people are amazing.


KB: Where can people buy your book?

SHB: Rice & Curry: Sri Lankan Home Cooking comes out in October 2011 on Hippocrene Books, and you should be able to find it at any good bookstore (Barnes & Noble) or online. 


Make sure to follow Skiz's wonderful blog,  http://www.riceandcurry.wordpress.com