Appetizing kenda to titillate Royalists’ tastebuds


By Randima Attygalle

"An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea."- Dhammapada

‘Arogya parama laba’ or health is the greatest gift, said Lord Buddha. The timeless truth of the Buddha’s words is evident when one sees a crowd of young Royalists having cups of medicinal herbal kenda during the school interval - a gladdening sight which makes one realize that traditional Sri Lankan rice varieties such as pachchamerumal, madathawalu, kahawanu, and kalu heenati grown without chemical fertilizers together will thebu leaves, pol pala, heenbowitiya and mix of spices and herbs, rich in medicinal and nutritional value are still valued by a cross section of adolescents in a society where junk food has marked its territory as a way of life and a sub-culture.

Fertilizer-free preparation

Brainchild of Royal Principal Upali Gunasekera, a committed agriculturist and a conservationist who has walked the talk, the herbal porridge project recently launched is something to be adopted by all state and private institutions, especially schools. At a time where an instant snack is preferred both by young children and working mothers, the medicinal kenda hygienically prepared by the College support-staff and reasonably priced at Rs. 15 a cup is indeed a luxury. In a country where there is excessive fertilizer consumption and organically produced rice, vegetables and fruit are rare, the efforts of Royal College urging schoolboys to tread the ‘healthy path’, thereby giving youthful leadership to fight ‘fertilizer terrorism’ is exemplary. It is also a symbol of taking pride in ‘home-grown’ solutions and revisiting a hallowed tradition unusual in a society where the majority boards the bandwagon.

"Fertilizer abuse is a national issue today and in years to come non-communicable diseases will multiply with today’s youth being the victims. If we take an area like Padaviya, there is hardly a household where at least one life has not been lost due to fertilizer. The issue is not confined to the agricultural hubs, but affects every Lankan who consumes agrarian products. Today fertilizer has emerged a silent killer and what I aspire through this venture is to clear a way forward to arrest this tragic situation even in a small way," explained Gunasekera. Prepared according to recipes and ingredients offered by Hela Suwaya, all fertilizer-free, the medicinal herbal porridge comes in three different flavors prepared on alternate days in the school premises.

A buffer to disease

The recipe used the day we visited Royal was a rice-based preparation of pachchaperumal, kahawanu, madathawalu and kalu heenati (the base for all three recipes), coconut milk, garlic, onions, pepper, rampe, karapincha, suduru, ulu haal, aba (mustard) koththamalli, pumpkin and turnip which added a spicy flavor. The steaming cup I was offered had a spicy aroma promising an appetizing flavor. I was right. The taste buds are stimulated and if you taste it once, you will yearn for a cup every day!

The fertilizer-free rice used in the preparation acts as a buffer against a host of diseases such as diabetes, gastritis, kidney disease which are common even among young children. Kalu heenati which is a suppressor of poisonous substances, stimulates the insulin hormonal process in the body. It is a variety of rice especially recommended for diabetics and heart patients. Kalu heenati also fights cancerous cells. Madathawalu, which enhances immunity, help maintain the ideal body temperature and prevents genetic disorders. Kahawanu which too has cancer-preventing properties helps in digestion and controls the glucose absorption process. Pachchaperumal which enhances natural immunity is ideal for healthy kidneys preventing renal diseases.

Dhammika Ranasinghe, Nutritionist and Visiting Lecturer, Open University of Sri Lanka, who is also a parent of a son at Royal College endorsed the project. "These fertilizer-free rice varieties have a high mineral content and a lower glycemic index meaning they maintain lower blood sugar levels. This property reduces the chances of developing diabetes and the oil which is present in them reduces cholesterol levels." As she further explains, they are also a rich source of vitamins including Vitamin B1, B3 and B6. "These varieties also contain high fibre levels which controls the quantity of food intake. Especially in the wake of juvenile diabetes and obesity, it is important to encourage children to consume this type of nutritional food."

A rewarding labor

Several middle and upper school boys had queued up for a cup of kenda as I approached two Grade 10 students who were already sipping theirs. "We have a cup every other day which we find very filling. On the days we have this kenda, we do not have any other snack during school time. Although it’s medicinal, the taste is appetizing." Endorsing the words of his schoolmates, Ashan, a prefect from the commerce stream added, "I think our principal has set an example for all other schools. There is a very good response to the beverage by students."

The commitment which goes into the process deserves praise. The support staff assigned the job of preparing the porridge begins work at the crack of the dawn to have it ready by 6.45 a.m. It is available to anyone at school before classes commence and during the interval, giving students, a teachers and other school employees the choice of a breakfast cup or an ideal mid-day meal. As means of popularizing fertilizer-free rice, food items such as cutlets and roti made from them are also available on certain days along with the porridge. For those who would want to enjoy the porridge over the weekends with their families, ingredients are available in packets with preparation instructions obtained from Hela Suwaya.

As Ms. C.A.P. Damayanthi and Ms. M.R. Ranasinghe, the logistic and administrative coordinators of the project assert, all efforts behind it are very rewarding as they promote good dietary habits among a large school population. A pilot organic-vegetable garden in the school premises, initiated by Mr. Upali Gunasekera, has been set up. Green chillies, brinjals and bandakka, although still at an early growing stage, point to a bountiful harvest. As Ms. Ranasinghe said, the chemical fertilizer-free vegetable garden is compost manured.

Several members of the tutorial staff whom I met during their mid-day break, enjoying a cup of kenda, shared their positive feedback. For Ms. Nilmini Tennakoon, a teacher from the middle school, the porridge is a ‘must.’ "It’s an excellent remedy for gastritis and many other ailments and I take packets of kenda to be prepared at home over weekends." As she points out, many youngsters who are reluctant to take even kola kenda at home are tempted to taste this since it’s a school venture. Ms. Marasinghe, a teacher of science and a wife of an ayurvedic physician, finds the porridge a wholesome midday meal. "Since it is served in three flavours alternately, it’s not boring, especially for students. It is an appetizer as well and through some of my science lessons, I attempt to promote the nutritional and health value of this preparation, especially since adolescent obesity and diabetes is on the rise."

M. Riyaz, an upper school teacher ‘never misses’ his cup and a healthy and a rich beverage so economically priced is a luxury, he observes. "I’m a diabetic and have been taking western medicine for the last eight years. Ever since I started taking this kenda, numbness in my legs and all other side effects of my diabetes drugs have been mitigated. Not only I, but all my family enjoy it."

As Dayaratne and Sunanda, support staffers of the school who travel by train from Veyangoda say, the porridge is an ideal breakfast for them as they leave their homes at the crack of the dawn. Their words, ‘pin sidda wena wedak" (a deed evoking merit and blessings) seem to resonate the essence of this labor, reminding us once more of the Buddha’s teaching, ‘if you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path…’

(Pix by Dharmasena Welipitiya)

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