About this Guide



From the hunter gatherer diets of paleolithic peoples, through Aryan and Dravidian migrations, the interaction through trade between the Mediterranean and Arab worlds on the one hand and China and South East Asia on the other, and finally under three successive waves of invasion by European great-powers-of-their-day (Portuguese, Dutch, British), there has been a constant evolving of how foods have been produced, how cooked and how eaten.

Research into and documentation of Sri Lankan foodways is not anywhere as developed as that into the foodways of India. Most of what I have found that is incorporated in this Guide is from Sri Lankan archaeological scholarship, still in its infancy in Sri Lanka and beset by large gaps in the records to date.

The other sources used to compile this Guide are:
  • The Pali chronicles of the Sinhalese - the Mahavamsa and the Culuvamsa both in English translation, I not being up on my Pali.
  • Other Sinahla and Tamil sources - poems, epics, folk tales, histories - also translation and sometimes from secondary sources ie. citations in other sources.
  • Material from Chinese and Arabic sources, in translation and via secondary sources.
  • Material from the Portuguese and Dutch periods  - yes, yes, translations or secondary sources.
  • A plethora of material from the British period, including travel writing and early English archaeological scholarship.
  • Recent Sri Lankan texts across a number of academic disciplines  - archaeology, anthropology, sociology and post-colonial studies among them - and non-cookbook, non-academic food texts.
  • Cookbooks on Sri Lankan food, both those written in Sri Lanka for Sri Lankans and those written outside of Sri Lanka for a wider audience.
  • English language fiction and poetry written about Sri Lanka by non-resident, non Burgher/Sinhala/Tamil.
  • English language fiction and poetry written by Burghers, Sinhalese and Tamils, both resident and expatriate.
  • My inspiration for this project and source for foodways scholarship on India, the marvellous K.T.Achaya and his Indian Food. A Historical Companion,. for the inspiration to produce it.
  • Texts on food of South Asia generally, including cookbooks written in South Asia for South Asian residents and recent scholarship across a number of disciplines addressing South Asian foodways.
You can have a look at the full Bibliography.

I am also vastly endebted to my long-suffering academic accessoristas Craig Johnston, Julie Price and David van Reyk.

It is a work in progress - which is no surprise - so will look both incomplete and also will have content changes in individual entries as I find more information or need to correct what's there. I hope also to be forgiven if along the way I fall into one of the three common biases of researchers: anchoring - where a researcher over evaluates the first data they encounter; availability - where recent and dramatic cases quickly come to mind and colour judgement about the situation at hand; and attribution - where stereotypes can prejudice the researcher into drawing conclusions on the basis of preconceptions and not on the basis of data (Groopman 2009).To help with this, I welcome any and all comments, contributions, corrections, cautions, and culinary insights.

Oh, and why is it called Gama Bojun? A Gama is a village, a Bojun is a Feast. For me, the essence of Sri Lankan foodways is the continuing within them of practices of what is in another places called a 'peasant cuisine', not used derogatively but clelebratory of all that is seen as lost in urban Western foodways.

Paul van Reyk


Groopm,an, J 'Diagnosis: What Doctors are Missing' The New York Review of Books, November 5th, 2009 p26