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Archive for the ‘restaurants’ Category

La Canta Rana -- currently undergoing renovations

When traveling, it is sometimes advisable to go by the guidebook and follow other peoples’ recommendations, while at other times, it is best to throw the book out the window, and follow your own instincts. I much prefer the latter because it gives you a sense of discovery and makes you feel like a true traveler as opposed to just a tourist. And believe me, there’s a great chasm between the two. A tourist goes places to take pictures of himself/herself in front of the popular sites; buy souvenirs; and get a tan, generally playing it pretty safe, and not straying to far from the herd of other tourists.  A gastronaut like myself, however, is always open to try something new; prefers street food over fine dining; and loves to go off the eaten path in search of his next meal.

Lima is a great city to explore, and after spending a couple of days getting oriented in the ritzy neighborhood of Miraflores, I decided to try out the more liveable, downtempo area known as Barranco. It reminded me Brooklyn, my home for 11 years, and I decided that if I ever moved to Lima, this would be the place. An eclectic mix of casual eateries, mom and pop shops, and run-down casonas (mansions),the neighborhood had a decidedly laid-back appeal, and a plethora of street art. I knew some good eating lay around the way.

Street art in Barranco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since the Lonely Planet Guide only listed 3 restaurants for Barranco–2 of which were on the pricey side–we decided to go for the cheap option, La Canta Rana. “An unpretentious place that packs in the locals…” was all the description I needed, as the book said to look out for the green walls. Unfortunately, when we rolled up to the spot and peeked inside, the dust and scaffolding told us that the place was clearly not open for business. Luckily a man inside said that their sister restaurant was open just a few blocks away. He gestured this way and that, and we vaguely set off in the direction to which he had pointed. We soon stumbled into a small covered mercado with various little stalls, some serving food.  There was some nice chicken and rice going on at one spot, but the place that hooked me was serving huge plates of ceviche. I was almost going to suggest we give up our search and eat here as I reflexively took a seat and snagged a menu. When I saw the words, “La Canta Ranita,” however, I knew we had arrived.

a seafood broth (with a little surprise at the bottom) for starters

No sooner had we sat down, when a kid brought us a complimentary mug of soup–a basic, but delicious seafood broth, with a mussel tucked away at the bottom. I checked out the menu of some 20 offerings–mostly seafood, of course–and ordered the grilled pulpo (octopus). My friend Sue ordered something called Causa de Pescado arrebozado, which the table next door was having.  Despite our humble surroundings, what we got was worthy of a fine-dining establishment.

causa de pescado arrebozado

The Causa was actually pieces of fried fish atop a “pillow” of mashed sweet potato and avocado, all topped with a mayonnaise and tomato relish. Super good! And I loved the vertical presentation. Then, my octopus arrived–three long tentacles smothered in an aji (chili) sauce. Wow! This dish is tailor-made for me, I was thinking as I carved off a bite of tender tentacle, smoky from the grill.

pulpo a la parrilla

washed down with a cold one!

the kitchen at La Canta Ranita

Later that night, we decided to try another one of the book’s picks–this one a more upscale place called Chala. On an interesting ‘street’ (if  you could call it that), Bajada  de Banos, Chala served novoandina cusine, the nouvelle cuisine of Peru, and its prices reflected that. Luckily we arrived some 45 minutes before the restaurant opened, so we had the opportunity to check out the surrounding area, which we soon learned was chock full of interesting eateries. There seemed to be a lot of competition for customers, too, as restaurant hosts, approached us, menues in hand, trying to get us to have a seat inside their place. One place in particular caught my eye because of their colorful, mouth-watering menu, and the low prices of the food. They also offered us a free pisco sour as a pre-dinner cocktail, so who was I to argue? We took a seat overlooking the ocean at the homey Toto’s Restaurant.

Toto's restaurant, Barranco

There was one item on the menu that seemed to good to be true–especially at the low low price of 20 soles (about US $8)– so I had to ask them again about it, and this was the Specialty of the House, a seafood stew featuring crab, fish, octopus, squid, mussels, scallops,  and shrimp. It was indeed available, and though I expected it to look nothing like the picture on the menu, I ordered it anyway. When it arrived, to my surprise, it looked even better.

The Specialty of the House at Toto's ....before....

...and after

All of the seafood I mentioned before arrived swimming in a broth made of tomato and clam juice, and topped with chopped cilantro. There were even a couple long slices of yuca for good measure. I had just eaten a dish very similar in San Francisco, the famous cioppino, but Toto’s special blew it away on all counts.  The fact that I had practically stumbled into this place made it all the more satisfying because it really felt like a discovery worth telling others about.

return to La Canta Ranita

Just to make sure the whole day wasn’t a dream, we revisited La Canta Ranita and Toto’s the next day as well.  For lunch, my friend Susan had the Arroz con mariscos, a kind of Peruvian seafood paella, topped with a healthy dose of parmesano cheese.  I went for the Pescado frito con langostinos al ajillo, fried fish topped with shrimp in a chili sauce. Both dishes were fantastic and under 20 soles each.

Arroz con mariscos

pescado frito con langostinos al ajillo

For dinner that night at Toto’s we both went for traditional dishes. Susan had the Aji de Galina, chicken cooked in a thick walnut and cream sauce. I ate the Seco de cabrito con frijoles, stewed baby goat with white beans and rice.  While it would have been tough to top my previous nights’ meal, the baby goat was super tender and not gamey in the least, and the beans sang with a hint of cumin. Susan’s chicken was very rich, but tasty as well. All in all, second time around, we could not go wrong, and we didn’t

Aji de Galina

Seco de cabrito con frijoles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I love walking down some dingy alley and stumbling into a hole in the wall like Yarl Hotel. This is the real deal folks, not something you’ll find in a guidebook. You won’t find Foodies here either, but real people looking for real food to fill them up for a day of hard work. My cousin Sam and his son took me here because they know I like Jaffna food, the spicier Tamil cuisine found on the north of the island (“Yarl” is the Tamil name for Jaffna). Wellawatta, a suburb of Colombo, is about 99% Tamil, so this is the place to find some serious Jaffna food. And in Jaffna, they love their seafood–fish, prawns, crab, and squid. They also love their chilies, and so do I!

 

Yarl Hotel

46/1 Station Road

Wellawatte, Colombo

011-259-3905

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Whoa! Slow down. Wait a minute! Who forgot to tell me about Burmese food? I did, after all, date a girl from Myanmar once, and I have eaten at at least one Burmese restaurant in New York, but nothing I have experienced up to now could prepare me for my first real Burmese meal at Burma Superstar, Oakland. As an Asian food freak, who has tried practically every cuisine of the continent and subcontinent, I can now say that Burmese ranks up there as some of the best. It’s not quite like Chinese and it’s certainly  not like Indian, but somewhere in the middle–as reflected in the geography of the country of Myanmar itself–there lies the perfect fusion, which is Burmese food.

I  first heard about Burma Superstar through my friends Bill & Gigi. Bill having dined at their San Francisco location only had great things to report. Gigi’s sister Tiyo, managed the place, so when I was looking for places in the Bay Area to have my book party, it was a no brainer. You already heard about how well that event went, but I have a secret confession to make: one reason I wanted to have my book party at Burma Superstar was so that I could try their food. In fact, I had to purposefully abstain from eating the Sri Lankan food that I had prepared for the party in order to have room for a full dinner at the restaurant–a small sacrifice which was well rewarded!

out front at Burma Superstar Oakland

Joining me for dinner were 9 friends from the Bay Area (I didn’t know I even had that many friends in the Bay Area), who were all veterans of Burma Superstar. While  we perused the menu deciding what to have, Tiyo just started sending dishes out to us from the kitchen.  First came the salads–the legendary tea leaf and rainbow salads–both of which were featured on Food Network. I had more than one recommendation to try the tea leaf salad, especially since it was dressed with a unique paste of fermented tea leaves. How do I describe the flavor of this special ingredient other than to say it was…singular…and most delicious! The salad comes with all of it’s individual ingredients–including fried garlic, peanuts,  sunflower seeds, tomatoes, romain lettuce, and dried shrimp–unmixed and the waitperson tosses them together at the table, which also adds a nice touch. The rainbow salad came with a similar presentation, helpful in identifying all 22 ingredients it is composed of, before being quickly devoured.

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The dishes kept coming in such quick succession that all of us were kept very busy, spooning delicious tidbits onto our plates and making room at the table for everything. “Ooohs” and “Aaahs” replaced regular speech as we voiced our collective foodgasm over the great dishes we were tasting. So greedy was I that I forgot to take notes about individual plates, but much of my recollection of that evening is imprinted on my tongue. The curry pork with potatoes was incredibly moist and tender; the fiery tofu with vegetables, spicy/sweet; the sesame beef had a tanginess from the added tamarind; and the tender strips of chili lamb had a serious kick. The mango shrimp, a dish I had seen prepared in the kitchen also had the spicy/sweet combination, which I have come to associate with Burmese food.  No where was there any coconut milk or curry leaves like Sri Lankan food, or kaffir lime leaves and galangal, like Thai. Simply Burmese cuisine in all its glory!

After such a feeding frenzy, I don’t think anyone at the table was in any shape for dessert, but we had to go for it anyway. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen 10 stuffed people share one dessert, the sticky black rice with coconut ice cream, which was, of course, another victory. Eating at Burma made us all feel like superstars.

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Beneath the awning of Old Mandarin Islamic

 

I had not been to San Francisco since the first annual FoodBuzz convention in November 2009, and I was ready to get my grub on. Thanks to all the food TV these days, I had in my mind an image of a place that seemed eerily familiar–an Asian restaurant, off the beaten path, with some very spicy and delicious dishes. Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern or one of those TV hosts had eaten there, and it looked to be right up my alley. My friend Gabe and his Chinese-American wife Kelly had already chosen a spot for our dinner that night, and as we rolled up to it from dark, nearly deserted surroundings, I could see that this was the place I had pictured in my mind’s eye: “Islamic Old Mandarin,” as its lighted sign proclaimed in English sandwiched between Mandarin and Arabic characters. If there was any place I wanted to eat at tonight, this was the one. I just smiled at my hosts and said, “Great minds think alike.”

Inside the well-lit interior, there were only a few tables. At a large round one, a group of elderly Chinese men shared a Beijing Style hot pot–one similar to what I had just had in Sri Lanka at Juchunyaun Restaurant. Thinly sliced meats and plates of veggies and noodles, which were meant to be cooked in soup broth in the punch-bowl shaped object in the center of the table, gave their meal the air of a real feast.  A couple of Chinese girls picked at some stir-fry dishes at another table. The smells were, of course, tremendous, and my  mouth was already watering before I even opened the menu.

 

I must say, I have never seen so much lamb on a Chinese menu, and this must have been the Islamic influence. We ended up getting the stir fried lamb with scallion as well as the boiled lamb with preserved vegetables in a warm pot. We also ordered  an onion pancake, the egg plant in spicy garlic sauce, and one of the chef’s specials, a dish that definitely had my interest piqued, the “extremely hot pepper.”

 

for starters: a scallion pancake and boiled lamb w/ preserved vegetables in warm pot

 

stir-fried lamb with scallion

Chef's Special: "Extremely Hot Peppers"

Eggplant in spicy garlic sauce

 

I have not eaten such tasty and flavorful Chinese food in a long time. From the first bite into the layered pancake, which was crunchy 0n the outside and moist within, this was a meal to savor and remember. The lamb warm pot was rich and soothing, and the preserved vegetables gave it a nice sour flavor–almost like sauerkraut. The tender slices of lamb in the lamb with scallions dish practically melted in my mouth, as did the eggplant. And the extremely hot pepper, a dish of different kinds of chilies, chopped up and stir-fried with pieces of egg and slivers of chicken, certainly lived up to its name. As spicy as it was, however, it had a depth of flavor that you do not find in dishes that are meant to scorch your mouth. I think it was the addition of the sichuan peppercorns, which slowly numb your mouth to the capsiacin (i.e. active ingredient) in the peppers, and which also allows you to eat more of the dish. Washed down with a cold Tsing Tao beer, this was a perfect first meal for San Francisco.

 

the aftermath

Gabe checks out the next table

Gabe and Kelly, who live in the predominantly Asian enclave of Innersunset, pointed out a lot of great places to eat as we drove to Old Mandarin. But Old Mandarin itself has a pretty extensive menu as well, so there will be plenty of new dishes to try the next time around. And there definitely will be a next time!

 

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The author with Tiyo, manager of Burma Superstar Oakland

While California grows much of the produce we consume in the U.S., the Bay Area (i.e. Oakland, San Francisco) in particular is a food mecca. What might be considered trendy elsewhere–terms like, ‘organic,’ ‘sustainable,’ and ‘seasonal’–is really taken to heart here because people take their eating very seriously. Due to a dearth of Sri Lankan restaurants on the left coast, I knew I had to represent fully–especially in the Bay–so I planned two events here, a book party and a Sri Lankan supper club.

The book party was held at my new favorite restaurant in Oakland–Burma Superstar. I would never have heard of the place if not for my friend Gigi in New York, whose sister Tiyo is manager of the Superstar franchise. I believe they have 3 locations in SF proper, one in Oakland and, one in Alameda. When I was discussing plans for my book party with Tiyo, she advised me to have it at the Oakland location, their flagship restaurant. No problems there, for as many times as I’ve been out to SF, I never made it across the Bay Bridge to Oakland. At long last, here was my chance. After all, the way people in the Bay area explain it, Oakland is to SF as Brooklyn is to Manhattan. Being a long-time Brooklyn resident, I looked forward to checking out her sister city, long known for Raiders and Panthers. I was ready to leave my own mark on Oaktown with a little rice and curry.

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I did not make anything fancy for the book party–simply a selection of Sri Lankan “short-eats” or small bites including fish cutlets, turkey patties, and devilled pork. For one, I did not have much time to cook, and secondly, I did not want to eat too much of my food, so that I would be able to try some Burmese food after the party. Thanks goes out to Tiyo, who came and picked me up in San Francisco, took me to Oakland to shop for my ingredients, and then donned an apron and helped me all day in the kitchen. I have not cooked in too many commercial kitchens, and it was a pleasure to use the woks at Burma Superstar, where they have a lot of time-saving equipment such as a serious deep-fryer to cook the cutlets.

Tiyo in the kitchen of Burma Superstar, Oakland

It was an eclectic crowd–including a lot of musicians–that showed up to try some Sri Lankan food at a Burmese restaurant run by an Ethiopian. Call it true fusion, in every sense of the word–if ‘fusion’ applies to my music, then why shouldn’t it apply to food? Shouts out to Dub Gabriel, Sean Leonard, and Dan The Automator (producer of Dr. Octogon and Gorillaz). Also big up Tamara Palmer, a former music writer, who now writes about food.

The author gets crunk with Dan The Automator

Of course, the restaurant was in full blaze during the time of the book party making things feel even more festive. As soon as the event officially ‘ended’ at 8pm, myself and a party of 9 friends took over a long table in the corner to enjoy some amazing Burmese food. But that’s a whole different blog post (coming soon!).

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Following a late night in Oakland, there was no rest for the weary as I had to make the move to Napa Valley to prepare for my next event–The Sonoma Sri Lankan Supper Club, hosted by my college buddy Graham and his lovely wife Sarah. Within the heart of wine country, Sonoma is known to be beautiful, but you just never know how beautiful until you see it yourself. My friend’s house overlooks the valley from a high hill, and so mesmerized was I by the view that I had to keep pinching myself to believe that it was real.

My buddy Graham's house, site of The Sonoma Sri Lankan Supper Club

Graham & Sarah Edwards with the author

I couldn’t have come up with a better place to host the Supper Club if I was a location scout, and after shopping for fresh produce and meats in the quaint town of Sonoma, I set about preparing for the huge feast I was about to throw down. I marinated the pork, for black pork curry, and also made the dessert, caramel pudding or flan, which needs several hours of refrigeration in order to set. The next day, I started on all the other dishes which included rice, dhal, shrimp varauval, tempered leeks, carrot curry, mallun, and a Sri Lankan salad.

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I started cooking at about 9:30 on the morning of the dinner and worked right through the day until the first guests started arriving about 7pm. By then, I was on my last dish, mallun, which is pretty quick to prepare. After serving the fish cutlets as an appetizer and delivering some introductory remarks to the crowd of about 20, I laid out the buffet and the guests filled up their plates with a meal that hardly anyone in the house had eaten before.

guests mingle at the Sonoma Sri Lankan Supper Club

the buffet line

enough wine was consumed that night in Sonoma

Graham had done his research pairing wines with the spicy Sri Lankan food, and I believe over 40 bottles of wine were consumed that evening. I got so many great comments about the food and people genuinely seemed to enjoy themselves. Of course, it wouldn’t be California without some of the guests heading outside for a late night dip in the hot tub. Not me, however. After being on my feet all day, I was ready for bed.

And, as if my west coast food odyssey was not over, my friends Dave & Holly Tambling took me out to a very special meal at The French Laundry in Yountville, CA, to cap a week of serious feasting!

Holly & Dave at French Laundry

Thanks to Graham & Sara, Dave & Holly, Gabe & Kelly, Sean, Tom, and Tiyo for making my west coast excursion a very  memorable one!

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Sometimes these blog posts don’t work out as planned. I had planned, for example, to do a post on string hoppers, the rice noodle “nests” popular in Sri Lanka for breakfast and dinner. Problem is, I wanted to buck tradition, or conditioning, or whatever you want to call it, and have string hoppers for lunch. Not such a big deal, you  might think, but try finding string hoppers at lunch time in Colombo. My cousin Cane and I set off for Bambalapitiya with high hopes, but kade after kade, we struck out. In a land where rice reigns supreme, and lunch is the main meal, it seems as though it’s a serious breach of dining etiquette here to expect string hoppers for lunch.

string hoppers with fish ambul thiyal, kiri hodhi, pol sambol, and onion sambol

string hoppers with fish ambul thiyal, kiri hodhi, pol sambol, and onion sambol

So we ducked inside Hotel De New Pilawoos, a member of Colombo’s popular Pilawoos franchise (but neither a hotel or French or new), and settled instead for some biriyani. Sri Lankan biriyani is slightly different to what you’ve come to expect from this dish. For one, there’s no yogurt involved. The meat and rice are also cooked separately–and in this case the chicken is actually roasted while short-grain samba rice replaces the traditional long-grain, fragrant basmathi. You also get a whole hard-boiled egg, a side of minchi (mint) sambol, gravy for the chicken, and a piece of pineapple for good measure. We supplemented our biriyani with a side of beef curry because it looked so good!

the main event

with a side of gravy

and, of course, some beef curry

I must say that even though I did not get my string hoppers for lunch, I was not mad at this meal. The rice was bursting with flavors, prominent among them the essence of rose, which Muslims love to use in their cooking (and biriyani, of course, originally being a Moghul dish). The roasted chicken, though juicy, was much aided by the addition of the curry gravy. The minchi sambol added a cooling component to the whole meal (as did the sliver of pineapple), and the beef curry, though a little tough, tasted fine.

Of course, I couldn’t wash down a Muslim meal without a traditional Muslim dessert, so we chose to have some faluda. Faluda is a sweetened drink made with milk, ice cream and rose syrup, which is super sweet, and gives the drink it’s signature pinkish hue. There are also sometimes bits of tapioca floating in the drink for texture. You essentially stir up the whole thing and enjoy it like a milk shake. I hadn’t had faluda in a while, and this one was perfect because it was not overly sweet for my tastes. Though I had been to Pilawoos many times before, I can understand why it is the goto place for such foods as biriyani or Kothu roti in the evening–consistency is the key!

Mmmmmm!!...Faluda

Hotel De Pilawoos

417, Galle Road, Colombo 3. (btw 6th Ln & Alfred Pl), Colombo, Sri Lanka

011 2 574795

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specialty of the house at Juchunyuan

Colombo has no shortage of Chinese restaurants, most of which serve food with its own particular character, shaped, of course, by local tastes (meaning, it’s much spicier than the run of the mill storefront Chinese in New York or any western city for that matter).  It’s also probably nothing like the ‘authentic’ Chinese food you get in China. That’s why Juchunyuan is such a find: It’s a Chinese restaurant in the heart of Colombo that obviously caters to a largely Chinese clientele looking for a true taste of home.

You could call this well-worn establishment a hole-in-the-wall because it’s off the eaten path, but a clean one at that exuding an odd charm. Though not heavy on ambience, the downstairs dining room, with its 4 semi-private booths, is at least spotless and cooled by AC. While upstairs offers additional seating, both times I have been there it was empty (which might have something to do with the waitresses not wanting to carry the large chafing dishes of hot soup up the stairs).

the upstairs dining room

Besides the paucity of décor, the first thing you notice upon sitting down is the gas burner built right into the center of your table, definitely an omen of good things to come. Also of interest is the single-page, double-sided menu that flashes Chinese characters at you (another good sign), but fret not as closer examination reveals tiny English subtitles written beneath. And anyway, didn’t you always want to know how to write “pig’s heart” or “sheep’s stomach” in Mandarin?

Once again, don’t be intimidated by the menu, because at least one of the waitresses speaks passable English and she will help you out with ordering.

“So how do we do this?” I shamelessly blurted. I might be a gastronaut, but never professed to being a know-it-all.

Our helpful waitress, Lena, directed our attention to the other side of the menu, which lists the different kinds of soup available. They’ve got fish, chicken, “pig bone” and even duck with beer among the offerings. You can order it spicy or not. We settled on the “three sort sea food with short rib soup,” extra spicy, of course.

Soup's On!

Soup is not only the starter here, but the star, as well as the medium in which you will cook your meal. That’s right; if you thought the chef was going to do all the work, guess again. This is, after all, not just any restaurant, but  a “Resraurant” as the sign proclaims.

Sign by Scooby Doo

The flip side of the menu features a dizzying array of ingredients. In addition to the afore-mentioned offal, they also have more normal stuff like prawns, cuttlefish, beef, mutton, and vegetables such as mushrooms, kelp, cabbage and kan kun.

“What’s good, today?” I asked Lena. She recommended the prawn wonton.

“We’ll have an order of those.”

I also got up to peek at the table next door, filled with a group of Japanese men happily swilling cold beers with their hot soup, and decided on getting some prawns, white cabbage, kan kun, and noodles.

“That should be enough for now.” I said, thinking about the “three sort seafood and short rib” that came with the soup.

Lena disappeared and reemerged with our utensils, an array of tools fit for us budding soup chefs, which included a tiny soup bowl and porcelain soup spoon, two metal serving spoons, one with holes; a fork; and a set of chopsticks. She flitted back and forth behind the scenes, returning with a delectable assortment of condiments—fresh chopped garlic and cilantro, peanut sauce, soy sauce, and a thick chili oil.

condiments and raw ingredients for the soup

“Wow! This is getting more interesting by the minute,” I said to my cousin Cane, who had turned me onto this place, though he had only eaten some fried rice on his initial visit. Cane was visibly excited because like most Sri Lankans, this was an entirely new dining experience for him.

Lena appeared next with a large stainless steel bowl of soup, whose broth was practically bright red from the preponderance of chilies. It’s good to see that extra spicy meant exactly that. She rested it on the gas burner in the center of the table, and turned on the flame. Then the stuff we ordered started appearing on the table in quick succession, raw, of course.  Our mouths sufficiently watering by now, we wasted no time, sliding a couple jumbo prawns (with head and tail intact) into the mix along with whole leaves of white cabbage, some freshly made prawn wontons, and kan kun  (stems and all).

Cousin Cane ready to get into some soup

While this stuff quickly cooked in the bubbling cauldron, it was time to assemble our bowls of soup. First in went the pre-cooked rice noodles, over which I ladled several spoonfuls of the spicy broth. Next I added a bit of all of the condiments, and finally some of the now cooked vegetables, wontons and a rosy red prawn. I gave it a little stir and sipped a spoonful of the broth.

“Wow! Flavor” I said as both mine and Cane’s eyes seemed to light up at the same time.

YUM!!!

The broth alone was something worth writing home about with its three kinds of seafood and pork ribs. We found out after the meal that the seafood in question was actually dried squid, oysters, and mussels, which had been imported from China, according to Lena. As far as I knew, you couldn’t get this kind of stuff in Colombo.

The "three sort seafood" flavoring the broth -- dried oysters, squid, and mussels

More raw ingredients went into the broth and fished out cooked into our bowls. After much slurping and chewing it seemed like we actually made a small dent in the huge chafing dish of soup. But this was clearly a meal fit for a minimum of four people.

So we went away happy and satisfied with our taste buds thoroughly titillated, and resolved to bring the rest of Cane’s family to help us conquer the next bowl of soup (and next time we did go for the pig’s heart and cow’s stomach).  Juchunyuan proved itself a marvelous and surprising find in the middle of Colombo, and if you ever find yourself with curry-fatigue, it’s got just the tonic for you.

 

Juchunyuan Restaurant

450 B Charles Drive (off Duplication Road)

Colombo 3

011-402-1246

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One of the new Sri Lankan food trucks selling lunch packets

Lunch being the main meal in Lanka, I noticed that there’s a ton of places to get a quick, midday rice and curry—from street side stands and trucks that sell 100 rupee rice packets to the informal, sit-down restaurants that cater to the office crowd.  While most rice packets are perfectly fine, they have usually been sitting around since morning and because they are already boxed, you really don’t know what you’re getting until you open it up. That’s why I prefer to go to a place like Gamay Kade. Though you pay a little more (240 for the basic rice and curry meal with 4 vegetables and a meat dish), you get a load of different dishes to choose from, all piping hot and fresh in the traditional clay chattys in which they were cooked. This is Sri Lanka’s version of fast food, served in a clean setting, under spinning ceiling fans, and on real plates.

My plate at Gamay Kade: fish, prawns, dahl, mallun, beets & mango curry

a side of fried fish

Arjuna's plate: fish, prawns, dahl, jackfruit, mango, mallun

I checked out the Gamay Kade (which roughly translates to ‘village diner’) on Union Street in Colombo with my friend Arjuna,  a  Sri Lankan filmmaker, and went away quite satisfied.  Not only were there about 15 different curries from which to choose, but they also served Chinese food, buriyani, and Malay specialties such as Nasi Goreng. After taking a peek at the sumptuous offerings before us, we told the cashier what we wanted, paid, and got a ticket, which we presented at the buffet line. Here, a lady served up a heaping mound of rice (red rice for me), as well as red fish curry, prawn curry, dahl with spinach, beetroot curry, mango curry, and mallun (sautéed greens). Arjuna got some jackfruit curry instead of the beets, and we also got a side order of fried fish. After washing up at the washing station, we dug in with our hands (the traditional way of eating rice and curry) thoroughly enjoying the feast before us.  The total food bill—a whopping 680 rupees (US $6.18 or $3.09 per person). It tasted as good as home made, and we did not go away hungry.

 

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Pure Perfection in a banana leaf packet!

Although I did a much earlier post about the “Battle of Lampreis” in Sri Lanka, I realized today after lunch that there really is no competition: The lampreis at The Dutch Burgher Union is hands down THE BEST and only lampreis worth eating. For all you novices out there, here’s a little refresher course: Lampreis is a complete rice & curry meal wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf. Authentic, traditional lampreis is comprised of the following individual dishes–samba rice cooked in marrow bone stock; tempered brinjal (eggplant) curry; a fish cutlet or frikadel; a mixed meat curry of pork, beef, and mutton; seeni sambol; fried ash plantain curry, and blachan (a tasty condiment paste made of dried prawns, onions, lime, salt and spices).

Though she appeared a little creepy on the No Reservations: Sri Lanka episode, a little Burgher lady by the name of Lorraine Bartholomewsz, is still the one who makes the lampreis sold at DBU, and she certainly gets massive kudos for her cooking. The delicate samba rice was perfectly cooked and amazingly flavorful due to the rich stock it was cooked in, yet not greasy at all. The tempered eggplant was melt-in-your mouth delicious, while the fried ash plantain had body to it and was not mushy in the least. The mixed meat curry featured tiny cubes of pork fat to enhance its taste, and both the seeni sambol and blachan were bursting with flavor. Instead of only one cutlet or frikadel, there were two. The fact that each individual dish would have been amazing on its own explains why this little package of rice and curry was the equivalent of a multiple foodgasm. If the lunch crowd in Manhattan could get a hold of this, FUHGETABOUT IT!

So, thanks, Lorraine, for your skills, and thanks to the DBU for making this available to the general public. I would recommend calling ahead and reserving yours in the morning as the lampreis becomes available at 11 am and is usually sold out by noon. While normal rice packets sell for about 120 rupees, the DBU lampreis is certainly no steal at 390 rupees, but certainly worth every finger-licking mouthful. Enter around the back of the DBU where there is a little counter where you can pick up your order, and they even steam it for you, so it’s ready to eat!

 

Dutch Burgher Union of Ceylon
114, Reid Avenue
Colombo 4
Sri Lanka

Phone +94 11 258 4511 / +94 11 533 1661

Email – info@dutchburgherunion.org

 

back lot of the DBU

Lampreis: Get yours before its all gone!!!

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Green Cabin, 453 Galle Road, Colombo 3

According to my Aunty Dora, who’s old enough to know, the legendary Colombo eatery, Green Cabin (453, Galle Road, Colombo 3 — Phone: 588811 or 591841), and its sister restaurant The Pagoda Tea Room (105 Chatham St., Fort, Colombo 1 – 011 232 5252)have been feeding hungry Colombo residents for a long time. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, I saw a sign saying that the Cabin is celebrating 127 years, which means it was founded in 1884, making it arguably one of the cities oldest dining establishments.

the dining room, which overlooks a nice garden

the bakery and take-away section

I, for one, remember coming here as a mere tot for short eats, cake, and their famous chocolate eclairs. Later on, when I was old enough to appreciate iced-coffee, this was the place of choice. It was only rather recently that I ate  a full rice and curry mal in their garden, a small oasis of calm in bustling Bambalapitya. I also used to come here for lampreis for lunch, though I think the quality of their lampreis is slipping. But whatever you say about Green Cabin, they are an original, and while plenty of new chains have cropped up to provide competition—including The Fab and Caravan Fresh—I still prefer the short eats and iced coffee at Green Cabin (with Perara & Sons as a close second). Not only do they have such a wide selection, but according to my cousin they are all made fresh in house. The same Rodrigo family also runs both spots as they always have, according to my aunt. In this age of big chains, you’ve just got to love a mom & pop shop where you can still get good food and good service as well as a little piece of history to boot. I managed to get a shot of most of the savory short eats on sale that day, but the stock changes daily. Also, they had a lot more whole cakes and sweet items, but unfortunately, no eclairs!

can't forget the ice coffee!

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