Living in a tropical paradise, Sri Lanka is blessed with vegetation that is enough for our day to day lives. Cultivation of spices, herbs, tea, rubber and coconut has been a staple part of the cuisine. Food in Sri Lanka can be hot or mild and unique; just like the culture. Sri Lankan cuisine plays a vital role in the islanders’ life; the curries come in many verities of colours and flavours blended in Sri Lankan spices which have a great ayurvedic value when used in curries. When thinking of a traditional Sri Lankan food experience the options that come to our mind are very few. That is when Culinary Ceylon came into the scene; walking down Hospital Street Fort you will be able to spot a small petti kade. Be warned it’s not your typical roadside tuck-shop but the doorway to an experience that you will remember for a long time.
The traditional culinary arts of Ceylon bring together historic recipes and methods of preparation. Culinary Ceylon offers home-cooked authentic family recipes, which have been passed down from the proprietor’s and ancestors. You can also learn about the fine culinary arts of Ceylon as you experience the journey of food and spices. It’s an exploration of local culture and cuisine, curate with an explanation of the origin of each dish and along with a legendary tale from the past. Lunch and dinner sittings are available and can accommodate about 24 people comfortably at one sitting. Culinary Ceylon aims to showcase the true culture and history of Sri Lanka through the cuisine.
The moment you walk in you are welcomed by warm smiles and greetings. You meet your host which is perhaps the most interest part of the experience. Our host was Glen Jalendra; he makes the visit palatable with his stories. The place is small yet well utilized. They have an attractive red wall art on the roof and pictures of ancient Sri Lankan hung on the walls. The ceiling lighting is overlaid by tiles made of repurposed batik and gunny bags, which gives a dark and moody effect to the place.
We began by cleansing our fingers with rose water and cinnamon infused wet towels; it is known to be antibiotic and smelled wonders. Then each guest had to introduce ourselves with our favourite dish that describes us.
The seven course menu comprised of miniature portions of well-presented diverse preparations from the regions of Lanka. They take us on a flavour profile through; North, South, East and West. We started with a very spicy Crab Rasam; it was presented in a little cup. Spiced with pepper and tamarind base, with a hint of coriander; it was the perfect appetiser. It had a very strong taste and left a burn in your throat in a good way, making it the ideal way to start a meal.
Next we tried Isso wade, hot butter cuttlefish, ulundu vadai and cold grilled sweet potato topped with eggplant salad. The isso wade is a famous beachside snack; here it was shaped into a ball with a prawn in the middle. It was very crispy and the flavour of the lentils was brought out by the sambol. The hot butter cuttlefish was cooked right and crunchy. It was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, and the cuttlefish was fresh, chewy, and flavourful. The ulundu wade had a nice spicy taste and was complemented by the dish of grilled sweet potato topped with eggplant salad that lent a refreshing balance to the fried foods.
I personally loved the fact that they inquired if I don’t have pork and especially prepared chicken curry stuffed with pol roti for me instead of Black pork curry, stuffed pol roti with lunu miris/seeni sambol. It was an instant favourite and was packed with flavours. The seeni sambol had a pleasantly sweet and spicy flavour. The lunu miris was seasoned with chilli and pepper; this was spicy but the perfect blend of everything. It went ideally with the pol roti. The pol roti was soft and tasted of fresh coconut.
Then came the cute little Chicken Lamprais in a woven basket. The lamprais contained rice cooked in broth, chicken curry, eggplant and ash plantain curry, fish cutlet, and seeni sambol. Served in a little box made with cane and a wrapped in a banana leaf, the lamprais was a winner. The rice was rich with the flavours of the five curries mixed together.
Sri Lankan cuisine could not be complete without kottu or string hoppers. We indulged in a good string hopper kottu with roasted chicken wings and chilli parata with tangy tamarind sauce. The chicken wing was deep-fried and crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside. It went perfectly with the sauces.
Though we were really full but could not resist the Thosai. It was straight off the pan, so it was hot and crispy. It had a pleasant cumin and buttery taste as you bit into it. The coriander chutney was coconutty and smooth. The tomato chutney was sweet and spicy with a hint of cardamom.
For dessert we tried out the Pol pani pancake and Buffalo curd. This was the perfect way to end a wonderful meal. The curd and pancake were served side-by-side and looked heavenly. The curd was nice, soft, creamy, milky, and sweet at the same time. Mixed with a few spoons of treacle, it just melts in your mouth. The pancake was soft and fluffy and was perfect with the stuffed coconut cooked in treacle. Then to our surprise a BombaiMotai man walked in ringing a bell carrying his container and the ‘nice’. BombaiMotai is something close to candy floss but quite different. This was such a pleasant surprise and memorable. We ended our culinary journey with some plain tea and Sri Lankan class baila songs played to us by Glen.
All in all it was a wonderful experience through the culinary journey of Lanka. Everything came in miniature portions otherwise we would not have been able to taste all these delectable items from the menu. It was such an enjoyable experience. However the price point is on the higher ended and is heavy on your wallet but it’s undoubtedly worth it! It’s a great way to get to know more about our culture with some lip smacking dishes. I would definitely recommend experiencing it!
By Fathima Musheen