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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Eating in Sri Lanka

Okay so I'm sure I've complained about the Sri Lankan cuisine, or at least the lack of diversity in day-to-day meals (read: Rice & Curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner). But I don't want to shortchange Sri Lanka completely, there are in fact some good places to eat here in Colombo. Some of my favorites have been:

The Cricket Club Cafe - This is my favorite place in Colombo to grab a pint and a bite to eat. Located not far from Global towers - off Duplication and Queen's road - the Cricket Club Cafe is a cozy, down to earth English pub themed with an abundance of cricket memoribilia. The food is quite good too, I recommend the Border Burger. The pot pies look quite tasty, I haven't had one yet but I plan to do so before leaving. CCC is a must visit in Colombo.

Mango Tree - Rajitha's aunty was kind enough to take the three of out to Mango Tree, a trendy restaurant/lounge/bar in the heart of Colpetty in Colombo. Mango tree is a TRUE Indian restaurant that actually has a balance of flavor and spice in its food, something difficult to find in Sri Lanka. There are a number of decent south Indian restaurants here such as Shanmagus and Shanti Vihar, but Mango Tree offers a wide array of Indian dishes from all over the country including tandoor items, biryanis, vegetable curries and south Indian fare. We ordered a selection including bindi saag (okra curry), tandoor chicken, jasmine rice, raitha (yogurt), bengan bharta (eggplant), and assorted naan (flat bread). The food was absolutely fabulous - better than Minerva or any other Indian restaurant in the US. I even had an authentic rose lassi to go along with the meal. To top it off, the prices are extremely reasonable, around 300 ($3) for a HUGE portion. We were thoroughly stuffed after the meal with plenty to take home, and an experience guaranteed to bring us back.
UPDATE: Renuka and I headed back to Mango Tree for lunch on Friday. This time I tried one of their specials - a mutton sizzler (sizzling hot goat curry). Ridiculous. I don't eat much mutton but Renuka confirmed that it was the best she has ever had, and she's had plenty of helpings in the past. It was actually our lunch at the Palmiryah that prompted me to order the mutton again here, and I was glad I did. Since mutton isn't quite so previlant in the States, its a treat to try it in a place where they know how to prepare it.

Paradise Road Cafe - Rajitha, Renuka and I skipped over to Paradise Road Cafe a couple weeks ago during lunch. Like Barefoot, Paradise Road is an upscale houseware/handicraft shop that has a cafe to boot. Its a nice place to grab a sandwich and hang out in the breeze on the rooftop patio.

Bay Leaf - We went to bay leaf way back in April. It's located on Gregory Lane where the old La Palace recstaurant used to be - in an old palace. That part of town, Cinnamon Gardens (a.k.a Colombo 7) has the best neighbrohood in Colombo with several nice places to eat and shop. I had an impressive mushroom ravioli at Bay Leaf, and though we didn't have time to hit the bar it looked like a decent place. Harpo, the owner, was warm and welcoming, and I'd like to go back to Bay Leaf before leaving Sri Lanka. Also, the prices are vewy reasonable.

Gallery Cafe
- Gallery Cafe is one of Colombo's best restaurants - innovatively set in Geoffrey Bawa's old office that's now an art gallery. The menu offers a nice blend of local and western food, and the atmosphere is one that will attract you to stick around for hours while dining. Actually, the more I think about it the more I want to go there tomorrow for dinner. Its located right across from the Cricket Club Cafe on Queen's Road. The food is quite good, though when Renuka and I went there I felt hurried for some reason so I don't remember taking the time to truly enjoy the experience. I do remember I had a very good grilled chicken breast dish. I'll go back this week though.

Barefoot Cafe - Barefoot might be the most well-known store and cafe in Colombo. Right on Galle Road, Barefoot is a store filled with colorful hand-crafted goods and fabrics. Its tough to explain, but Barefoot just has an artsy, earthy, natural vibe to it. On Sundays they host live jazz all afternoon in the cafe, so Ren and I made the trip one Sunday afternoon in May. We got there a bit early and missed out on the lunch special menu (they must have still been chalking it up) so I just had a decent sandwich, however I had a ridiculously good milkshake along with it. The rest of the clientele seemed to be visitors, foreign expats, and Colombo's bourgiouse. It was a relaxed yet lively atmosphere and we were able to easily pass a couple hours there hanging out, enjoying the food, music and weather. Rumor has it that Barefoot offers free WiFi on weekdays as well. I have been back to Barefoot to do some shopping - anyone in Sri Lanka MUST go there at least once - and I'd like to have one more meal before taking off. Maybe I'll get a chance to order the special this time.

Palmiryah @ Hotel Renuka - Hotel Renuka, there was never a question of if we'd have a meal here. As it turns out, the Palmiryah restaurant at Hotel Renuka serves some of the best Sri Lankan food around. Rajitha's mom treated us to Sunday lunch here, and we had a fantastic meal. We had pittu (steamed rice flour cakes), vasai (minced prawns and coconut) and mutton ?? ?(curried mutton). Most of our dishes were actually from the Jaffna region, which is known for its tasty cuisine. I also learned about the Palmiryah tree, similar to the palm though the minor differences make it unique to Sri Lanka. We had a great time hearing from Rajitha's mother about some of the 'good old days' when Rajitha was younger, and enoyed a great meal as well. Hotel Renuka and the Palmiryah are right on Galle road near Colpetty.

German Restaurant - Renuka and I hit up German Restaurant on Galle, right across from the Inn at the Green, for a quick Friday night meal. We were curious to find out what's inside this seemingly out of place restaurant. The interior is well decorated in a traditional German theme (not sure what it's called but there's that feel of wooden houses and german guys dancing around in funny hats and knickers). The beer menu is extensive - I got me a Caffrey's Irish Draugh, something I haven't had in years. For dinner we split a plate of, you guessed it, bratwurst. Frankly the brat was only decent, though the sauerkraut was good. I may try to go back to GR to try a scnhitzel but German food is so heavy and filling that I'll have to be in the right mmod for it.

Beach Wadiya - not much to say here except the best seafood restaurant in Colombo, and possibly one of the best in the world. Its a beach hut - nearly wiped away by the tsunami in 2004 - that simply serves great seafood. I wrote about Wadiya in an earlier blog. Its located in Wellawatte right across from Global Towers, and everyone in Colombo knows it. I've been there 3 times and it never fails to dissapoint. If you are in Colombo for one night, this is the place to go hands down. Get the baked crab. Ask for Banda, his gleeful charm enhances the experience infinitely.

The Inn on the Green - This place is more a bar, but the half roast chicken might be my favorite go-to dish in Colombo. Somehow this English pub hits a homer - or a sixer - on the roast chicken. Tetley's, Carlsberg, and Lion are all on tap as well, so a pint of freshly poured beer compliments this dish quite well. Since we're now staying across the street from the Inn on the Green I should have a chance to head back to sample something else, perhaps the Bangers and Mash or Chip Butty. Bonus at Inn on the Green: Darts and WiFi.

Some other places that are worth a mention
  • Shanmugas - nice, solid Indian Vegetarian
  • Wafflers Belgian Waffle Cafe - best waffles in Sri Lanka
  • World Trade Center Deli Market - a Marche-type place with lots of selections for a nice lunch
  • Barista Coffee - India's version of Starbuck's available in Colombo


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