Sumptuous Sri Lanka
If you have ever been to Sri Lanka, you’re sure to have been enchanted by this amazing country and you wouldn’t be alone; it was recently hailed one of the top 10 coolest places to visit in the world in 2015 by Forbes. What’s the allure? Endless beaches, friendly natives, cheap prices and abundant wildlife are just some of its endless qualities. However, Sri Lanka is by far one of the most delicious nations we have ever come across, with influences from the Dutch, Portuguese, English, Arab, Malay and Indian immigrants and colonisers who left their mark along the way. But how often do you hear about authentic Sri Lankan cuisine? If you have no idea what a hopper, lumprais or wattalappam is, read on…
Rice and Curry
While this is the national dish and features on every menu and street corner, this is not a bog standard two-piece meal, nor does it resemble the flavours you expect of the classic curries of North India. Typical Sri Lankan curry sauces (known as kiri hodhi, or ‘milk gravy’) are made from coconut milk infused with chillies and various other spices – much more like a Thai green or red curry. The simple label of the dish actually belies a personal banquet of small spiced dishes of meat (chicken predominantly), vegetables like okra, marinated snake beans, okra, curried beetroot, jackfruit and banana blossom, and sides of velvety daal and poppadums. This is usually served with a helping of sambol, designed to be mixed into your food to give it a bit of extra kick. Sambols come in various forms, the most common being pol sambol (coconut sambol), an often eye-watering combination of chilli powder, chopped onions, salt and grated coconut. You might also come across the slightly less overpowering lunu miris, consisting of chilli powder, onions, Maldive fish and salt; and the sweet and sour seeni sambol (sugar sambol). Sri Lankans say that you can’t properly enjoy the flavours and textures of food unless you eat with your fingers, although tourists are almost always provided with cutlery by default. As elsewhere in Asia, you’re meant to eat with your right hand, although this taboo isn’t really strictly observed – if you’d really prefer to eat with your left hand, you’re unlikely to turn heads.
The Gallery Café
A café cum art gallery showcasing the works of local artists and designers, which serves up authentic Sri Lankan fare, topped off with fusion elements, and using only the freshest local ingredients. Try the lemon grass and ginger chicken and prawn curry with sautéed kankun.
INFO: The Gallery Café, 2 Alfred House Road, Colombo 00300, Sri Lanka, +94 11 2582162
Japanese cuisine is moderately popular and this restaurant, named the 38th best restaurant in Asia by San Pellegrino, is sure to boost ratings in the capital. Its décor evokes the Zen-like calm of a Japanese garden, with gently bubbling fountains and its menu is a simple yet meticulously executed affair of charcoal grilled meats and hotpot dishes which accompany their signature sashimi and sushi.
INFO: Galle Face Terrace, Colombo, Sri Lanka, +94 112 323847
Offering a master class in South Indian cuisine, this is where vegetarians as well as non-vegetarians can revel in delight at the amount of dishes on offer. Including dishes from all of the four primary states of southern India, this is where to indulge in prawn masala, dosas and cashew nut and onion raga.
INFO: Chutneys, 77, Galle Road, Colombo 03, Sri Lanka, +94 11 249 7372
The Mango Tree
This popular haunt serves fabulous Indian food. Try the classic tandoori murg chicken tikka and spicy prawn sunehari jhinga, washed down with a cold sweet lassi.
INFO: 82 Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo, Sri Lanka +94 11 537 9790
A trifecta of bar, café and restaurant, ensconced in a magnificent glass chamber, Zaza’s ever evolving-menu makes it hard to recommend any particular dish. During the day, here is where you will find the best of Ceylon tea, combining the age old flavours of Sri Lanka’s tea culture with some modern fusion twists and tea mocktails. At night, Zaza transforms into a hip tapas restaurant, with an extensive range of local and international dishes, acclaimed as one of the best Columbo has to offer.
INFO: 231, Galle Road, Bambalapitiya, Colombo 4, Sri Lanka,+94 114520130
This is regarded as one of Columbo’s most exclusive restaurants, taking traditional dishes like string hoppers, hoppers, pittu and kottu rotti, which are transformed into refined pieces of classical gastronomy from their open kitchen.
INFO: Sir Chittampalam A Gardiner Mawatha, Fort, Colombo, Sri Lanka, +94 11 249 2492
Sri Lanka’s only Swiss restaurant is a favourite amongst expatriates, with fondue, bourguignonne and an extensive grill selection on the menu. It’s a complete antithesis in Sri Lanka’s balmy climate, but somehow it works to offer a completely unique experience.
INFO: Chesa Swiss, 3 Deal Place A, Colombo 03, Colombo, Sri Lanka, +94 11 2 57343
Expect to find tourists in droves who come for come for the delicious homemade pies and quiches. It’s a great place to relax and unwind: the wall space surrounding the courtyard often serves as an exhibition space for local artists, and a jazz quartet plays on most Sunday afternoons.
INFO: 706 Galle Road, Colombo, Sri Lanka (00 94 11 258 0114)
1 fresh coconut
½ red onion finely diced
The juice of 1 ½ limes
1 tbsp of chili powder
1 Crack the coconut in half and pour the juice into a glass.
2 Shave both halves of the coconut into a bowl.
3 Add the onions, chilli powder and lime juice.
4 Mix to combine and serve.
1 ½ cups rice flour
¼ tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1 cup coconut milk
Coconut oil or vegetable oil, for frying
10 to 12 eggs, at room temperature
1 In a large bowl, stir the rice flour, yeast, sugar, salt, coconut milk and 6 tablespoons of water. Cover and chill for at least 8 hours.
2 Stir the batter. It should have the consistency of paint. If needed, add water to thin it.
3 Place a 20cm wok or a crepe pan over a medium-high heat. Using paper towels or a brush, carefully and lightly swab the surface of the pan with oil to create a very thin film.
4 Using a ladle, pour about 3 tablespoons of batter in the centre of the pan, and then quickly tilt and turn the pan so the batter spreads across the surface and up the sides of the pan.
5 The hopper should be as thin as paper on the edges and no thicker than cardboard in the centre.
6 Crack an egg in the centre, cover the pan and cook until the white of the egg is just cooked through andthe hopper is crisp and browned on the bottom, about 4 minutes.
7 Loosen the hopper using a knife and slide onto a platter. Repeat with the remaining batter (hoppers may also be made without the egg).
8 Serve with curry and sambol.
Unsurprisingly, given its location in the middle of the Indian Ocean, seafood plays a major part in the Sri Lankan diet, with fish often taking the place of meat. Common fish include tuna, seer (a firm-bodied white fish), mullet and the delicious melt-in-the-mouth butterfish, as well as pomfret, bonito and shark. You’ll also find lobster, plentiful crab, prawns and cuttlefish (calamari). The Negombo lagoon, just north of Colombo, is a particularly prized source of seafood, including gargantuan jumbo prawns the size of a well-fed crab. These are usually prepared in a fairly simple manner, fried in breadcrumbs or grilled and served with a twist of lemon or in a mild garlic sauce. There are however, some fiery fish curries, and dishes such as chilli crab is particularly popular.
For the freshest catch of the day, head to Seafood Cove, located in a rustic setting, where chefs tailor the wide range of fish and shellfish to taste and a live Calypso band plays.
INFO: 100 Hotel Rd, Mt Lavinia, Colombo, Sri Lanka, +94 011 271 52217
A Colombo beachfront institution which has attracted many famous patrons including the British royal family to its dining tables. Here is where you will find an authentic take on quality Sri Lankan classics in a no-frills but vibrant setting.
INFO: Marine Dr, Colombo, Sri Lanka, +94 11 2 588568
Ministry of Crab
Love crab? Here is where you can try every variety known to man; curried or infused with spices like chillies, garlic and ginger, or more sedate versions of steamed and buttered dishes. Choose to go small or gargantuan with the ‘crabzilla’, a whopping 2kg and upwards dish that isn’t for the faint-hearted!
INFO: Old Dutch Hospital, Colombo, Sri Lanka,+94 11 234 2722