By Suwani – My memories of tasting bibikkan for the first time is from an alms-giving, long years ago, after having waited patiently for the Buddhist monks to finish their chanting, bless the dead and the alive, tie blessed white thread on everyone’s wrists and eat their food offerings while instructing the obliging servers to give some more of a certain food to the next priest to indicate they wanted some more themselves! Finally the non-ordained get served, often children first because they are not shy about showing impatience. I remember eating the main meal in a hurry to get to the desserts, which always reminded me of a story of Andare, the ancient king’s jester.
Andare was eating at the king’s court one day and had eyed the desserts during his main course and decided they seemed far more appetising than the mains. He had quickly finished his main course and refused to have any more of it despite the king’s insistence, saying he was full to the brim. When it was time for dessert, however, Andare served himself a considerably large portion. The king wondered where he had the space to eat this. Andare said to the king: ‘Imagine, my king, that you squeezed as many people as possible into a small room, until there was no space to put one more person. Then you made an announcement that the king is coming, make way! The people would make way for the king. It is like that, my king, that my stomach makes space for the dessert.’
‘Well, Andare, I can’t argue with that’!
So there I was, waiting to make space for the desserts, and stumbled upon bibikkan one day, a cake that looked moist but dark and not even that attractive. I had a small mouthful, then another, got so hooked on it and so it carried on. ‘Amma, what is this?’ I remember asking in sheer glee. ‘It is bibikkan’. ‘Do you know how to make it?’ ‘Yes putha but it takes longer than a normal cake and we only make it for special occasions like this’. I remember waiting for special occasions ever since, waiting for a glimpse of a bibikkan and never losing sight of it until I had had my mouth – wateringly satisfying share.
In my older age, the taste of a bibikkan reminds me of a mixture of a christmas cake and a wedding cake with the divine flavours of coconut, dates, sultanas, cashew, treacle, vanilla, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon seeping through every nibble. It could be the ultimate quencher of a sweet tooth any day.
It is a shame that I’m no cook and I have never attempted to make bibikkan. But one of these days my lust for this cake may prove to be too much and I may have to venture to make it, in the cold gloom of London, if waiting for the next trip to Sri Lanka proves too long. Just in case, this maybe my recipe:
1 lb Semolina
1/4 lb Raisins
4 cups Honey
1/4 lb flour
25 Cashew nuts
2 cups Scraped Coconut
2 ozs Butter
rind of Lime
1/4 lb Sugar
2 tsps Vanilla
1 tsp Rose water
1/2 tsp Cardamom
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
Dates, Ginger preserves, Sultanas, Chow-Chow and any other fruit you like
METHOD: Add sugar and honey to scraped coconut and cook over slow flame until coconut is cooked. Add all fruits and cool over night. Next day add butter, semolina and flour to the mixture. Then add vanilla, rose water, cinnamon and cardamom. Bake in moderate heat.
But for now, I will devour the bibikkan brought back to London from a Cargill’s supermarket in Colombo.