Alden Boon

Quenching Thirst with the Sri Lankan King Coconut (Thembili)

30/07/2018

Along Sri Lanka’s roadsides, there stand erect many rustic stalls where locals hawk snacks, drinks and sweets. Drawing the attention of drivers are bunches of coconuts, hanging freely, a bold hue they have, glinting in the sunlight. They are the king coconuts, or thembili, endemic to Sri Lanka. Tree stumps have been repurposed as chopping boards, against which hollowed-out shells form a heap.

The matronly boss of the stall got up from her seat seemingly fashioned out of recycled materials, and flashed a wide smile. I noticed how her top matched the colour of the king coconut, and wondered if her sartorial choice was deliberate (if so, how many similar outfits does she have in her wardrobe?). She brandished her machete, and then with dexterity and zero hesitation (as I would have handling such a dangerous weapon), began hewing the drupe and carving an opening large enough for a straw. I sipped a few mouthfuls, thankful for the respite from the unbearable heat. A sweet note and an invigorating quality it had. The water of the king coconut has long been used in the Indian Ayurveda, one of the world’s most ancient medical and wellness systems. It has a copious amount of electrolytes, making this the perfect hydration we need.

After I had emptied the liquid content, I passed the fruit back to her. With an effort, she again hewed the shell, as I took up various positions to photograph her every move. Her shy smile gave away her surprise and consternation at the newfound fame, perhaps amazed that her livelihood, something so normal, routine even, to her, would be a tourist’s subject of fascination. Finally, she broke asunder the coconut, and passed the splayed-open fruit back to me. I used the spoon, fashioned out of the shell’s remnants, to scoop up the flesh. It did not come off easily, not like ice cream out of a tub (for I was juggling many things in my hands), and for my first few attempts I was only scraping off the shell. The delicate scraps were crunchy, more invigorating than the liquid.

King coconuts are ubiquitous in the country, and you can get them in restaurants or hotels, though the water comes served in bottles or zombie glasses, the flesh titivated with some other unnecessary ingredients. For a true-blue Sri Lankan experience, you have got to make a pit stop at one of the roadside stalls, and interact with the locals preparing your wholesome treat.

King Coconut Thembili Sri Lanka
King Coconut Thembili Sri Lanka
King Coconut Thembili Sri Lanka
King Coconut Thembili Sri Lanka
King Coconut Thembili Sri Lanka
King Coconut Thembili Sri Lanka
King Coconut Thembili Sri Lanka
King Coconut Thembili Sri Lanka

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.

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