Talk about Sri Lankan food and pretty quickly you’re talking about hoppers – bowl-shaped lacy pancakes originally from south India but now so entrenched in Sri Lankan life they are emblematic of the culture. I am, however, rather daunted by the author’s admission that they are fiddly to make and hard to perfect, so I jump straight to the curries and start with the familiar-sounding dishes of pumpkin, potato or chicken, through to more intriguing garlic curry, cucumber curry and a luxurious cashew nut curry. You will have to invest a bit of time to get yourself started by making your own curry powders, but mix up a big batch and get going. Don’t stop there though – dishes range from simple through intriguing (beef smore, a coconutty, spicy type of pot roast) to the full-day preparation of lamprais, a labour- intensive Burgher-influenced dish comprising seven different elements wrapped in a banana-leaf packet. Step-by-step photos demonstrate the more complicated processes and a handy ‘what goes with what’ guide helps you put it all together. Nowhere is the cultural mix more apparent than in the desserts section where there’s Euro-influenced milk toffee and a fudgy-textured Christmas cake inspired by the wonderfully named Aunty Sweetie, wattalappam (a rich, spiced custard flavoured with jaggery) and faluda, a rose and basil seed-flavoured milkshake with slippery rice noodles and tapioca for texture. A beguiling mix of Sinhalese, Tamil, Malay, Burgher (descendants of Portuguese and Dutch immigrants), the recipes are backed with just the right amount of history and cultural references and luscious photos show them in all their glory. TRACY WHITMEY