Growing up I never developed a taste for what was generally sold as ham in Colombo but bacon was another story entirely. On occasion my father would bring home the bacon literally; purchased frozen usually at the pharmacy on Bonjean Street around the corner from our house or from Forvil House up the road. The pharmacy sold medicines and cough syrups but also had fancy goods and in its fridge and freezer – bacon, ice cream, butter, etc.
The words “ham bacon” implied people with means. Luxury foods given they were far more expensive than regular meat or other proteins such as daal. Also their western origins added to the fancy provenance. Reference to ham or bacon was usually a strange “ham bacon” always said together. Perhaps I never was drawn to Colombo ham because my father never brought it home. Guess he too never liked it. Although bacon was not an every day occurrence at home whenever it appeared it was always a welcome treat; sometimes with eggs. Eggs; the other Colombo luxury. I remember when eggs were still fifteen cents each in Colombo. Then they went up to twenty-five cents and last I recollect was thirty-five cents and may be then I left the country. Now the cost of an egg is in rupees and probably around Rs.20 per egg.
Even at twenty-five cents Sri Lankan eggs were a luxury; but never failed to comfort. And when friends who farmed gave us trays laden with eggs when we visited them and if it was still not yet the end of the month when money was tight bacon appeared. Made me think “aah, daddy’s rich” long before I had ever come across the song. And off came the flimsy dented aluminum pan from its nail on the kitchen wall; for the eggs and bacon to be fried; and good bakery bread with butter. In those days we simply sliced bread and there was no toast. Toast was only for when you were sick and then it was made on the stove top on the same flimsy aluminum fry pan.
Bread, bacon and eggs. Sunny luxuries. Bacon from Goldi or Elephant house was standard in those days long before today’s newer brands were ever dreamed of. Today from where I am bacon is easily affordable but it does not taste like the Goldi or Elephant House bacon from the days when an egg cost twenty-five cents in Colombo or even fifteen. My father never bought ham. Not the raw ham of raw pork we today refer to as raw ham but I refer to the cooked pink ham that was the ham of yore in Colombo; and not like the charcuterie that I am fortunate to have access to in the West from prosciutto to Parma ham to Serrano ham. The main dish for breakfast was come to think of it – bread. Butter was the vehicle that made anything that went with it even better. There was Globe butter which was Australian if I remember right. Always tasted better than the Milk Board butter that came along later. This is long before Anchor butter was heard of and then god forbid; Astra margarine. And bread came fresh and wonderful from the bakery up the road long before the hard times of the Sirimavo days when bread was rationed to a quarter pound per person; and the weevils were free.
My secret treat was tomato sandwiches. Bread lots of butter and a nice tomato sambal which then got thrown between slices of bread – and I could not stop eating them. I’d take half a loaf for lunch to school and tomatoes were also a somewhat expensive item come to think of it. But somehow not as expensive as eggs or bacon.
When there was nothing to make sandwiches with I sometimes simply filled the sandwich with amma’s pumpkin chutney which she made when short eats like Chinese rolls or cutlets were made. Though it was just a chutney its tang and sweetness went well with bread and butter and it was immensely satisfying. Of course I had never heard of bread and butter pickles then but when I came across them after I moved to the west decades later I immediately thought of amma’s pumpkin chutney and how I used to come home from school and look for food; and then find some bread, butter and if Amma’s pumpkin chutney was around simply slathered some on between two slices of buttered fresh bread; to while away my mid-afternoons after school on hot Colombo days.
So to get back to ham bacon and bread; forget bacon forget ham all you need need is some of amma’s pumpkin chutney and here is the recipe written in her fair hand.