YK celebrates Sri Lankan festival by raising funds for women's centre

Residents gathered to celebrate Sinhalese and Tamil New Year – a major festival for both ethnic communities in Sri Lanka. For the YK International Culinary Club, established in January last year, this was the club's first dinner gathering and a chance to familiarize attendees with Sinhalese food and culture.

Janaki Balakrishnan, a Yellowknife resident of 12 years and one of the event's organizers, said the club so far has 10 volunteers.

"It's not that we are experts in culinary, but some of us are very keen on tasting different varieties of cuisine," Balakrishnan said.

"People come to us and they enjoy our food, but we can't afford to invite them at home all the time."

Instead, the club creates a shared environment to try different dishes.

Balakrishnan had purchased around 100 thalis – steel platters that set out a variety of dishes – from India, in hopes of putting them to use one day. The group previously hosted smaller tea parties in the presence of fewer people. An event last year generated around $600, for example, some of which went to the NWT Literacy Council.

This time, the group raised $2,360 in ticket sales and $455 through a small auction of South Asian sweets and savoury snacks. A portion of the profits will go to the Yellowknife Women's Centre.

Dulari Nisansala and her family spent at least two days prepping and cooking both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes – yellow rice; papadam; a curry with cashew nuts, carrots and green peas; lentil curry and chicken curry. Dessert included a colourful rainbow jelly and milk toffee that required a lot of stirring.

Finding vegetables for a salad that goes alongside the main meal was a task. However, Nisansala was able to find substitutes for spices while using cucumbers, peppers and yogurt that aren't quite the same as the ingredients used for a traditional Sri Lankan meal.

"Food brings people together, right? I hope people enjoy their meal. It will be a celebratory event for us. I hope they feel the atmosphere, like the food, and make a happy moment out of it," Nisansala told Cabin Radio ahead of the dinner.

"Getting together and meeting people – I mean, it's a small town, most of us know each other, but there could be newcomers in the town. We get to meet new people by cooking with friends, and share our culture and food."

"When I came to know about this celebration, I immediately rushed to book it. Since we are missing that in India, here we have seen an opportunity to come together and celebrate it," said Sudalaimuthu Davidson, who attended the event with his wife.

"We are so happy about that. It reminds us how families get together in our native place.

"Diversity exists everywhere. We are people of different ethnicity, language and various countries ... our heart really opens up to accept everyone, accept their language ... you don't need to know the language, but just a smile will open the conversation. That's beautiful, isn't it?"

Aastha Sethi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio