Comfort food

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Suni Ferreira is expanding her food sales beyond the Lunenburg Farmers&#8217; market to include a take-out service on the town&#8217;s Lincoln Street.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Selling a mixture of Sri Lankan and Canadian foods, Suni Ferreira says she loves the sense of community at the Lunenburg Farmers&#8217; Market.</p>
  • <p>Lamprai & Spice foods are all about flavour, with some featuring as many as 30 different spices, according to owner Suni Ferreira.</p>
  • <p>Take away foods from Lamprai & Spice won&#8217;t just be available at the Lunenburg Farmers&#8217; Market. Starting April 4, enthusiasts can also seek out the meals at a spot on Lincoln Street.</p>

If variety is the spice of life, Suni Ferreira has certainly had her share.

But given her life experiences, the increasing success of her business - Lamprai & Spice - makes her good fortune all the more sweet.

A hit at the Lunenburg Farmer's Market with her stall there, on April 4 Ferreira will open a take-away shop selling her cross-cultural cuisine on Lincoln Street.

It's an achievement for the soft-spoken Ferreira who spent a good portion of her life so far devoted to struggling children, as well as her own child, and who readily admits she's not a business woman.

"I'm self-taught. I'm not a chef. Just a mom who can cook," she says modestly.

A Canadian who grew up in Sri Lanka, Ferreira was in the South Asia country during the time of the horrific tsunami on Boxing Day, 2004, which killed more than 30,000 people there.

Trained at the former Nova Scotia Teachers College in Truro, she was in Sri Lanka at the time working for Global Care Australia, tasked with going into remote villages to help children who experienced sexual and other types of abuse.

As the civil war progressed, and following the tsunami, her focus was directed toward helping traumatized children as a whole.

"I tried to give them hope. One of the things I live by is 'what we go through we can grow through'," she told LighthouseNow.

In the course of her work, she often found herself in the tiny homes with the village women, trying to bridge the language barrier.

So she would say, "'Take me to your kitchen,'" she recalls with a small laugh.

"The kitchen is the heart of the home, so take me to your heart," is what she really meant, she says.

"They loved to do that. Because Sri Lankans are very hospitable and very giving. So they would take me in, and I would chop with them and cut with them. And we'd laugh, and they'd teach me little things.

She reflects back on those particular moments as being wonderful, and while she was there to offer the village women guidance, she says, "I didn't realize at the time that they were giving me something for my life."

The experience instilled a passion for cooking that she carried over to Canada in 2009, when the family left following the Sri Lankan government's ousting of humanitarian agencies from certain areas.

After 16 years in Sri Lanka as aid workers, she and her husband, a Sri Lankan-Canadian, had accumulated few possessions.

She recalls arriving in Canada "with a six-year-old, six suitcases and $200. And one suitcase was full of curry powder," she adds with a laugh.

Ferreira , her husband and son settled in Mahone Bay, where they had friends and had reached an agreement with a local businessman for accommodation in an apartment in exchange for working as caretakers.

They moved to Bridgewater a year later.

"Because I needed more people."

Ferreira's husband started his own floor refinishing business, while she worked in daycare and began dabbling more and more with Sri Lankan food recipes in her kitchen.

But she found working with children was no longer the passion it used to be.

"Something shifted in my heart. I mean, I completely love children, but I think that I was just so burnt out.

"When you're in a war situation, and working every day, you don't really think about yourself too much. You're just moving, and you're just giving because you're needed," Ferreira explained.

"When I came to Canada, I actually had time to think. The different experiences I had been through, I needed some healing time."

Meanwhile, she had been cooking for friends to great reviews and increasing demand.

When friends began offering payment, she would agree to only take enough money to cover the cost of the ingredients.

Then in 2013, the Lunenburg Farmers' Market came to her attention.

"I remember when I went my heart was beating so fast. I thought, 'I could do this,'" Ferreira said.

"It was such a nice, beautiful atmosphere, and it was something that I was used to."

But it would take the next two years of perfecting her recipes and processes for consistency before she became an occasional vendor selling her "Sri Lankan food with a slight Canadian side."

Preparing in commercial kitchen space at a local church, Ferreira produces and sells chicken, beef and vegetarian Biriyani, or marinated rice dishes, chickpea and lentil curries, beef samosas and a variety of soups and desserts.

The recipes are her own creations and draw from both her Sri Lankan and Canadian experience. However, she notes that Sri Lankan culture is a fusion of Asian, British, Dutch and Portuguese influences.

"They brought their flavours into ours, so it's like this huge big melting pot."

At the market on March 15, for example, among her offerings were pieces of chocolate layer cake, hailing back to the British colonial tradition of High Tea in Sri Lanka.

There was also a coconut broccoli soup.

Ferreira is proud of the flavours underpinning her creations.

"In one dish alone, I use layers of spices, sometimes 15 to 30 different spices."

As the foods gained in popularity, customers began telling her, "'Suni, we'd love to eat your food every day.'"

At the same time, Ferreira started perfecting her techniques to create a volume of food consistently and quickly.

She learned to prep and freeze what she could, then defrost and assemble. She would cook curries and other dishes before leaving for the market.

"So now I feel like I'm ready to take another step."

She built a commercial kitchen on her own property, and rented the small commercial space next to the Dots and Loops store, where she will begin offering a food take-away service April 4.

However, while she's been training herself to get up at 4 a.m. to make the take-away shop work, customers can expect the it to remain closed on Thursdays.

Having spent so much of her time in rural Sri Lankan villages, Ferreira has no intention of giving up the market atmosphere that first drew her into the food-service business.

"I still really like to connect with the community," she says.

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