While Sri Lankan food is known for its heat, the regional cuisine of northern Jaffna is reputed to be even more fiery. Last time I visited the island, I had the good fortune of going to Jaffna to see for myself as I went in search of the real deal Jaffna cuisine (http://bit.ly/vsYV4X). But alas, many locals told me that to get real Jaffna food I would have to go to Colombo, to the predominantly Tamil enclave of Wellawatte. So when my nephew mentioned that he wanted to check out a new place called Yaal (the Tamil name for Jaffna), he didn’t have to say it twice. We hopped in the van and driving down Marine Drive overlooking the beautiful Indian Ocean, we soon found it.
Located at 56 Vaverset Place, Yaal is a very clean, spare establishment that distinguishes itself from the typical dark, dingy kades in the area. The menu, too, is extensive, but we soon discovered that many offerings such as pittu and idiyappam (the popular string hoppers), are only available for dinner, and crabs, a personal favorite, including the spicy seafood soup known as odiyal cool, is only available on Sundays. Still there was enough going on the keep our interest piqued, and we settled on a typical Jaffna lunch of chicken pooriyal, prawn curry, kanawa (cuttlefish or squid) curry, mutton curry and egg fried rice. Of course, we had to get a couple orders of rasam, the spicy soup one drinks before the meal as a digestive. With flecks of red pepper, and chock full of spices, it was definitely the hottest thing we ordered.
The prawns, which came shell-on, were crunchy on the outside and tender inside–perfectly cooked, as many times Sri Lankans tend to overcook their prawns. I, of course, downed them shell and all for that added textural counterpoint. The
mutton, too, in a rich spicy gravy, was moist and meaty–not bony, gristly or gamey as you are often apt to get with mutton. But my favorite dish had to be the cuttlefish–spicy, tangy, and perfectly cooked. On the strength of these dishes I was able to overlook the not-s0-decent chicken pooriyal. I had expected a dry-fried chicken dish as I had eaten before on occasion, but what we got was one whole chicken leg that was deep-fried into oblivion. The egg-fried rice was very flavorful as well, and as an added bonus, we each received a cup of gravy to pour over the rice. The heat factor was good as well. I could tell because my nephew was sweating. But I have come to realize that no one can really make food as hot as I like except me!
As I have eaten enough Jaffna food by now to know–this is the real deal–and it’s really delicious as well. I’ll have to stop by on a Sunday to try to the odiyal cool and some crab curry. And, of course, being a sweet tooth, I had to try dessert: one of my Indian favorites, gulab jamun, which are dough balls soaked in a sweet, rose-essence syrup. What a perfect capper to a great lunch!