here are waves of mise-en-place at the ready. Flat pieces of cinnamon bark, soaked and drained rice, curry leaves, and tiny halved onions. There is freshly grated coconut, a rainbow of ground spices, whole cardamom pods, a glistening slab of skin-on tuna, stalks of lemongrass, and slices of ginger and garlic waiting in a mortar. Sri Lankan dishes come together quickly, once the pan is hot. But the final assembly is preceded by a great deal of soaking, roasting, grating, and pounding. It’s 8 a.m. Though I’ve yet to taste the blistering fish curry that will be my first Sri Lankan cooking lesson (and breakfast), I’m in a full running sweat—more or less my constant state for the next several days, from heat both ambient and on the plate. I’m in Colombo, at the start of monsoon season, in the steamy home kitchen of Seema Ahmed, a distant relative of mine by marriage, and the first of four mothers who will teach me the fundamentals of Sri Lankan cooking. The door is open to Seema’s kitchen garden, from which green, yellow, and red chiles, curry leaves, and a gigantic form of oregano can be easily plucked and pulled; the blasting heat and humidity roll into the house, barely pushed back by the ceiling fan, which Seema soon switches off anyway, so as to let the gas range work up to its potential.