Archive for the ‘restaurants’ Category

one of the giants at Ministry of Crab

one of the giants at Ministry of Crab

Since ending a brutal 27-year conflict in 2009, Sri Lanka is writing a new chapter in her history, which is seeing the country growing and changing in leaps and bounds. One of the first things I noticed on my latest trip there, after the absence of about a year, was how clean the streets of Colombo have become. Forget about those rotting mounds of garbage that pockmarked the urban landscape–you’re hard-pressed to find even the odd scrap of litter. I’m talking capital C-L-E-A-N. Minister of Defense cum Urban Development Gotabaya Rajapaksa deserves kudos for his beautification campaign, which includes knocking down the walls around all public spaces to create a sense of openness, which is, indeed, very rare these days in most congested Asian capitals. The government is also behind the renovation and restoration of such historic sites as the Colombo Racetrack and the Old Dutch Hospital, both of which have been turned into luxury shopping complexes boasting fine restaurants and bars.  Originally built in 1677, the Old Dutch Hospital, in particular, provides a fitting showpiece for the new Colombo—elegant, exciting, and certainly not cheap. As headquarters for the culinary hotspot known as Ministry of Crab, it is a mandatory stop for all visitors here.


I had heard reports about the Ministry often tempered by complaints about how pricey it is. According to their own website, an XL crab clocking in at about a kilo will run you RS 5250 (which comes to about US $41). Though you may instinctively shudder at the thought of paying that much for a single crab consider the fact that you have never, ever in your life laid eyes on such a monstrous creature unless, of course, you grew up near the lagoons of Negombo or Chilaw, where these crabs are sourced. And never mind the tantalizing sauces they are cooked in—chili garlic being my own personal favorite—which can be mopped up with the old-style kade pan (bread) with which they are served. The crabmeat itself is some of the richest, most succulent animal flesh on land or sea, and even the smallest of its legs is loaded with this white gold. So, if you are the type who appreciates good food and think nothing of, say, plunking down $80 for a couple of ounces of prime Kobe beefsteak, $40 for a 32 ounce crustacean seems like a bona fide bargain. When you also consider that these native lagoon crabs were never before available in Sri Lanka because they were all exported to Singapore, you are, in fact, getting a true taste of The Resplendent Isle.

the open kitchen at Ministry

the open kitchen at Ministry


Veteran restaurateur Darshan Munidasa, along with his partners, star cricketers, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, are the men behind the Ministry, but it is Darshan who maintains a daily presence, when he’s not splitting time at his other exceptional establishment, Nihonbashi, without a doubt the finest Japanese restaurant within 1000 miles (Darshan is half Japanese himself). Brimming with new ideas and enthusiasm, this guy is on top of every detail here—from the design of the open kitchen; to the Japanese, carbon-steel woks used to cook the crabs; to the fact that the pol sambol is made to order here on traditional grindstones, and served in a coconut shell with a 5 mm layer of coconut meat left intact. He clearly loves what he’s doing, and he’s set the bar quite high for Sri Lanka’s fine dining establishments. Hopefully others will follow his lead.

the main event -- chili garlic crab

the main event — chili garlic crab

claypot prawn curry

claypot prawn curry

Though I ate Sri Lankan clams for the first time, and the biggest freshwater prawns I’ve ever seen in my life, the star of the show was, no doubt, the Sri Lankan lagoon crab, which sent shivers of patriotism down my spine. Ministry also takes a playful approach to five-star dining providing customers with bibs, which you will definitely need as you dig into these crabs with both hands. As a connoisseur of crustaceans and a Cancer myself, I can honestly say that these were the biggest and best crabs I have ever eaten. But don’t take my word for it. Indulge for yourself! And long live Ministry of Crab!

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Whenever I’m in Colombo, a city I’ve eaten my way around quite often, I’m always eager to go off the eaten path and discover a place that I’ve never dined at before. A special favorite of mine is Jaffna food, the spicy Tamil cuisine of the northern part of the island, and when in search of a new spot, it’s wise to take a well-informed guide like my friend, filmmaker T. Arjuna, who has a nose that knows since he himself hails from Jaffna. We meet at my Aunt’s place in Slave Island on a stiflingly hot day, and after downing a cold beer and making a few phone calls, Arjuna has just the spot in mind in nearby Wellawatte, a predominantly Tamil enclave in Colombo. He’s never eaten at Nalapaham Restaurant located just off the Galle Road on E.S Fernando Mawatha, so we are both in for a surprise.

fried fish

fried fish

What I’ve learned about the differences between ordinary rice and curry and Jaffna cuisine comes down to subtleties in spicing and flavoring. Jaffna curries tend to use more tamarind and tomato as their base, but there are also just as many “frys” or dry curries without gravy. Seafood and mutton are the main proteins, but plenty of vegetables make it to the table as well. Of course the use of chilies is abundant, which makes this particular regional cuisine among my favorites.


Arriving just short of noon, we are the first customers in Nalapaham, and I’m immediately impressed with the cleanliness of the place. This is clearly not your ordinary “hole-in-the-wall.” A large menu in English dominates an entire wall, and they are just bringing out all of the days dishes onto the steam table.

They’ve got nandu (crab) curry; iral pooriyal (dry fry prawns); kanawa pooriyal (cuttlefish dry fry); varutha koli (dry fry chicken); attuirachi (mutton) curry; jillameen (fish) curry; and fried fish. They also offer a whole host of vegetables including katharika kootu (eggplant tamarind curry); gotu kola salad; pineapple/cucumber/onion salad; dhal, long beans, and wing beans. We order one of everything except the crabs (since I had been ODing on crabs this trip). Served first, the rice, dhal, and vegetables are all-you-can- eat. But pretty soon our table is covered with a colorful, mouth-watering palette of different dishes, and we dig in—using out fingers, or course.

my lunch plate

my lunch plate

After filling my plate with a bit of everything—Sri Lankan style—I douse my mound of red rice with a few spoonfuls of the crab gravy, which is one of the spicier things we ordered. I dive right into the curries and pretty soon my lips are pleasantly on fire. This is how Jaffna food is supposed to taste! The dry curries—prawns and chicken—remind me of a spicy stir-fry with sliced capsicums and onions. The mutton curry has a proper gravy, thickened by coconut milk, and the tender eggplant has the tangy taste of tamarind. I eat the fried fish, which has been marinated in spices, bones and all, since it is so crispy good. Everything has a little bite to it–even the gotu kola salad, which is laced with slices of fresh green chilies. Following the meal, we sip a cup of the traditional rasam, which is a digestive made of ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, black pepper and some other spices I can’t quite identify. But good to last drop! The meal was amazing save for the cuttlefish, which was a little overcooked and rubbery. When I got the bill, however, I couldn’t be mad: 1430 rupees, which comes to about US $11.34 or $3.78 per person since Arjuna’s driver also joined us. For its fast, friendly service; cleanliness; cheap prices, and excellent eats, Nalapaham proved to be a great find, and a definite keeper.

dry fry prawns and chicken(w/ the pineapple salad in the background)

dry fry prawns and chicken
(w/ the pineapple salad in the background)

cuttlefish dry fry with papadum and fried sardines

cuttlefish dry fry with papadum and fried sardines

mutton (goat) curry

mutton (goat) curry

fish curry

fish curry

brinjal (eggplant) curry

brinjal (eggplant) curry

Washed down with a cup of spicy rasam

Washed down with a cup of spicy rasam


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Oh San Francisco! How I love Thee! In addition to being one of the coolest and most beautiful cities in the country, you are probably tied neck and neck with NYC as the best FOOD city in America. I’ve had so many great meals in you (not to mention all the great wine and beer), and I would even consider living in you (if I had cash like that, but I’m stuck out here on the real set of The Wire aka Bodymore, Murderland). But I do love visiting you, and I’m coming out there really soon, so I wanted to give something back. I noticed you had no Sri Lankan restaurants in the area, and for a food mecca such as you, this is a major gap. So I am packing up my spices and bringing my travelling Sri Lankan Supper Club to liven up your palettes for an evening. My good friends at Buyer’s Best Friend, a broker for my curry powder, are letting me use their awesome new digs on Haight Street to throw this little shindig, and my new friends at Rural Returns are supplying some authentic Heirloom Red Rice directly from Sri Lanka (which I’m sure none of you has eaten before) for your dining pleasure. And that’s not all! My other new friends at White Lion Arrack are providing some complimentary Sri Lankan cocktails so this ain’t nothing but a party y’all. But tickets are limited so reserve your spot today! Right here:


Serving only Skiz’s Original Raw & Roasted Sri Lankan Curry Powder:
Available at http://www.foodoro.com

Sri Lankan Supper Club, San Francisco

Monday, Nov. 5th

Buyer’s Best Friend Wholesale & Mercantile

1740 Haight St. (betw. Cole & Shrader)

SF, CA 94117


The Menu


Fish cutlets – breaded, deep-fried croquettes of fish, potato & spices


Heirloom Red Rice from Sri Lanka

Chicken Curry

Fish Ambul Thiyal (Sour Fish Curry) – a signature Sri Lankan dish

Dahl – red lentils stewed in coconut milk

Beet Curry

Mallun – sautéed greens

Tomato/Cucumber Salad – with a chili/lime vinegarette

Mango Chutney

Papadum – thin, crispy lentil wafers


Caramel Pudding (flan)

 *** Complimentary cocktails by White Lion Arrack ***

Sponsored by:

Rural Returns — providing the Heirloom Red Rice  & White Lion Arrack

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I often wonder why more people aren’t aware of the delights of  Sri Lankan food, and the reason, I believe, has to do with the scarcity of Sri Lankan restaurants in America. In fact, the only stateside Sri Lankan restaurants I know about all happen to be in that fabulous food mecca of New York City. While two are located in downtown Manhattan (Banana Leaf and Sigiri), the other five are appropriately clustered in the outer borough of Staten Island–an island cuisine transplanted to another  island. Apparently there’s a sizeable community of some 3-4,000 Sri Lankans living on NYC’s least populated borough, and though you may take a Sri Lankan from Sri Lanka you can’t take him or her away from his rice & curry.

Mantattan’s South Ferry, where you can catch a free boat to Staten Island

“Little Sri Lanka,” located in Staten Island’s Tompkinsville neighborhood, hardly resembles a bustling Chinatown or Little India, but rather encompasses an unassuming intersection (Victory Blvd. and Cebra St.) with a gaggle of Sri Lankan-owned shops and eateries. As far as the restaurants go, the food you will eat at any one of them is authentic, most affordable, and offers a broad gamut of Sri Lankan dishes and specialties. Meanwhile shops like Lanka Grocery (otherwise known as Apey Kade) stock all the unique spices and ingredients needed to prepare this cuisine at home–much to the benefit of the expat community there.

some Sri Lankan “short eats” or snacks at New Asha restaurant

the lampreis at Lak Bojun

Besides the amazing food, another thing these places serve up is some good old Sri Lankan hospitality. Anyone who has visited the country knows that Sri Lankans will smother you with kindness, generosity, and plenty of smiles, and you come away with those same positive vibes after a visit with the Staten Island Sri Lankans.

the waitress at Dosa Garden Restaurant

Staten Island has never been much of a destination for those who reside in or visit New York, but it should be–if only for the amazing experience of discovering another culture and cuisine. The Staten Island ferry is free and runs every half-hour on the weekends, and just a short walk or bus ride from the ferry dock you will find a unique dining experience that is definitely worth the trip!

A plate of “rice & curry” from San Rasa Restaurant’s all-you-can-eat Sunday Buffet

a curry plant for sale at Lanka Grocery

with Viji of New Asha Restaurant

New Asha

322 Victory Blvd.

Staten Island, NY 10301



Sanjeewa & the crew at Lak Bojun

Lak Bojun

324 Victory Blvd.

Staten Island, NY 10301


with Sehan & Jay of Ape Kade

Lanka Grocery (Apey Kade)

344 Victory Blvd.

Staten Island, NY 10301


with the crew at Dosa Garden

Dosa Garden

323 Victory Blvd.

Staten Island, NY 10301


Sanjeewa at San Rasa Restaurant

San Rasa Restaurant

226 Bay St.

Staten Island, NY 10301


And the newest addition to the Staten Island Sri Lankans:

Unfortunately we were unable to schedule a visit there, but it looks great inside.










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The Best Sri Lankan Restaurants in Toronto

by Pira Pathmanathan

Sri Lankan restaurants Toronto

The best Sri Lankan restaurants in Toronto are often overshadowed by those serving up food from its neighbor to the north. But as good as Indian food is in Toronto, cuisine from this beautiful island nation shouldn’t be missed. In its most traditional form, Sri Lankan food brings to mind a plate of rice served with several curries served on a banana leaf. Popular dishes include string hoppers, roti, pittu, and appum. Kothu roti–a seasoned blend of thinly sliced roti served with chicken, mutton or vegetables–can be nothing short of life-altering if prepared right.

With its large Sri Lankan community, Scarborough is home to the greatest concentration of Sri Lankan restaurants in Toronto although it is possible to find the cuisine in Cabbagetown and other areas of the city.

Here are the best Sri Lankan restaurants in Toronto.


Babu Catering

Babu Catering

You can’t talk about Sri Lankan food without bringing up this Toronto gem. Established two decades ago, Babu now has locations in both Scarborough and Markham. With a wide array of tasty Sri Lankan fare, lineups tend to be perpetually long but the efficient staff ensures swift service. Be sure to pick up some patties and sweets from their bakery section too.MORE »

Hopper Hut

Hopper Hut

Located at Kennedy and Ellesmere, Hopper Hut is a go-to for Sri Lankan Torontonians. Their kothu roti is something to write home about and for a special dessert treat, try their appam, a crepe-like dish with a soft, sweet centre made from coconut milk. For an incredibly cost-effective meal, simply pick up a heaping box of string hoppers served with spicy sambul for about five bucks. Don’t forget to also order a few delicious samosa and crunchy vadais. Unlike many other pickup counter-style Sri Lankan restaurants, Hopper Hut has a seating area. MORE »



Found in Cabbagetown, Rashnaa feels slightly more formal than most spots on this list. With many entrees listed under $10, Rashnaa offers an inexpensive entry to the world of Sri Lankan eats for those wanting to dine south of Eglinton. Be sure to order the masala thosai, a popular Sri Lankan dish (similar to South India’s masala dosa) consisting of a lentil rice and wheat flour crepe filled with potato curry. Rashnaa also offers take-out and delivery. MORE »



Known for its spicy kothu roti, Gasa is another east Toronto mainstay for Sri Lankan cuisine. Gasa has two locations. One at Kennedy and Finch in Scarborough and the other on New Delhi Drive in Markham. Be sure to try their nandu (crab) curry but also be prepared to sweat! If you aren’t gunning for a spicy feast, ask the staff to recommend a few milder options. MORE »



Located at Birchmount and Finch, Suvaiyakam is another Sri Lankan takeout joint that offers the usual fare. Like many of its rivals, Suvaiyakam serves up a great variety of roti, string hoppers, curries, noodles, and short eats like mutton rolls, patties and the like. MORE »

Amma Take Out and Catering

Amma Take Out and Catering

Amma Take Out and Catering at Markham and Steeles is fairly new to the Sri Lankan scene but it has quickly gained a loyal following. Try their variety of lamprais or just some basic rice and curry. Amma also offers a variety of snacks including the ever-popular mutton roll. As the name suggests, be prepared to accept your food in a plastic bag. MORE »

Araliya Takeout and Catering

Araliya Takeout and Catering

Relatively new to the scene and located on Markham Road in the Woburn area of Scarborough, Araliya delivers with tasty Sri Lankan fare. Araliya has already established a following, with diners coming back for rice and spicy curries. MORE »

Abbirami Catering

Abbirami Catering

At Brimley and Eglinton, Abbirami is your best bet for lamprais, a traditional dish that consists of rice and various curries baked inside a banana leaf. For about $7, this dish can easily serve two. Be prepared to be adventurous as Abbirami lacks menus. Luckily, as with most Sri Lankan takeout counters, food is readily available in front of you so simply point to what you want to order. MORE »

Ceylon Flavor

Ceylon Flavor

Ceylon Flavor is not your typical Sri Lankan takeout-counter-style restaurant. Located at Markham and Steeles just a few steps from Amma, Ceylon Flavor is also relatively new and boasts a sleek design and comfortable seating area. They offer a large selection of vegetarian and meat dishes including mutton rolls and chicken curry. MORE »

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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


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