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Ministry of Crab

25 Jan

Last month, Ministry of Crab opened its doors to seafood aficionados in the newly restored and charming 400 year old Dutch Hospital in Colombo. The resteraunt has kept the original design of the building intact, including the high ceilings and tiled floors with the addition of the simple orange and black color scheme for it’s interior. It is co-owned by cricketers Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene and their partner Dharshan Munidasa (also the founder and owner of Nihonbashi – Colombo’s premier Japanese restaurant).

Sri Lankan mud crabs are widely famous, particularly in Singapore but prime quality crabs are rarely available locally. Ministry of Crab is committed to changing that by creating a local market for export quality crabs. The restaurant doesn’t only serve crabs but also other varieties of seafood including calamari, squid and cuttlefish, black tiger prawns or fresh water prawns. All the seafood on the menu is absolutely fresh and nothing is frozen in fact the crabs are kept live in a tank at the back of the kitchen for patrons to take a look before they are cooked.

The open kitchen

According to the “constitution” Ministry of Crab aims to be one of the lowest “food-mile” restaurants in the world i.e. they do not import any major ingredients. This was reiterated by co-owner Dharshan who told us that he prepares his own version of sauces like Tabasco. He laughingly remarked, “good food is like good people, you have to be honest with it.” In the same vein of not using or selling commercial products there is no Coca Cola or other soft drinks on the menu.

After repeated attempts at making a reservation, we finally headed there one evening for dinner in early Jan. Upon arrival, we were handed some sturdy bibs so we anticipated things getting messy!

The crabs come in six sizes, small (700-800g), medium, large, extra large, extra extra large and colossal (1200g upwards). We indulged in the small Pepper Crab (above) on Dharshan’s recommendation, which was accompanied by claw breakers to extract the meat from the claws.  The pepper gravy was thick and generous, not too overpowering and wonderfully seasoned.

The prawn curry (below) packed in a lot of flavour with just the right amount of heat, allowing the rest of the ingredients to shine through. It works well with the redolent garlic rice, which was ridiculously delicious. I could give an arm and a leg to learn how to prepare rice in that manner. We also tried the leek fried rice, but I preferred the garlic rice over this one.

Prawn Curry

Ministry of Crab is by no means easy on the pocket, expect to pay around Rs. 2,500 (US$ 25) per person (without alcohol) but once you bite into the succulent and tender crab meat you will forget the price tag. Also keep in mind you are also being served fresh and high quality produce and ingredients, which are all locally sourced.

Ministry of Crab

Old Dutch Hospital,
Colombo 01
Tel: 234CRAB (2342722)


Lamprais: Green Lump of Deliciousness

1 Oct

Lamprais, is one of the cornerstones of Dutch Burgher cuisine in Sri Lanka. The origin of the word remains unclear but it is thought to be the anglicized version of the original Dutch words – klomp (lump) rijst (rice). 

Traditional Lamprais consists of a mound of samba rice boiled in stock served with a piquant mixed- meat curry (chicken/beef/pork) accompanied by “frikkadels” (breaded meatballs), brinjal  pahè (deep fried eggplant cooked in a traditional sauce), blachan (a spicy shrimp paste), ash plantains and a side of seeni sambol (fried onions caramelised in sugar).

The entire meal is wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed – allowing all the flavors to infuse together into the rice. When you open the banana leaf packet you can immediately smell the delicious aroma of the assortment of the spices blended deliciously together with the rice.  If you don’t fancy a mixed-meat curry you can choose to get your lamprais with a chicken curry instead !

Lamprais is commonly available throughout Sri Lanka – however it may not always be authentic as several variations of the dish exist and most don’t taste half as good as the original dish. Authentic lamprais can be quite rich hence it’s served in smaller portions reserved for special occasions so if you find yourself with a huge packet of lamprais – chances are it’s not really lamprais. Purists argue over what exactly constitutes lamprais – this is a never ending debate since everyone has their own version and variation of the dish.

Some of the best lamprais comes out from the home-kitchens of Burgher women using traditional lamprais recipes that have been passed down through generations. My personal recommendations of the best lamprais I have had so far in Colombo is:

  •   Perera & Sons
  •   Green Cabin
  •   Mrs Warusawithana’s Lamprais

So next time you find yourself in Sri Lanka make sure you try some Lamprais!

PS: You can check out Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation’s episode where he tries out authentic lamprais

Cricket Club Café: Where Cricket is the Main Course

21 Mar

This post is derived from the article “Cricket Club Cafe: Where cricket’s the main course” by Jaffer Bilgrami published in Dawn Magazine on 20th March 2011. F has added a few more details to supplement it.

This past Saturday was a typical late March evening in Colombo, humid and muggy as the full moon shone down and the Pakistani batting lineup thrashed the Australian bowling attack at the Premadasa Stadium. In another part of town, fans had thronged to an upscale cafe usually known for social gatherings but that evening was somewhat different. The result of the match had created one of the greatest milestones in the history of the Cricket World Cup – Pakistan had beaten invincible Australia to end their 35 match victory streak in the World Cup.

The rapturous applause with jeers and booing was noisy and deafening but it wasn’t an unusual scene in this cafe. Called “Cricket Club Cafe” but known more widely as CCC in local parlance, this cafe is perhaps the only venue  of its kind anywhere in the world which has  adopted the game of cricket and the culture surrounding cricket as a theme for its business venture by drawing on not only the history of the game but also vocabulary of cricket and references to prominent cricketing personalities.

Located in the heart of the city, the cafe is owned by a cricket loving Australian couple James and Gabriel who came to the island for their love for surfing back in the early nineties but fell in love with the country and decided to make it their permanent abode. The couple felt the absence of an off-beat bistro like restaurant in the city which was dominated by many five star hotels. Realizing the fanatical love for the game of cricket by the local population they instantly decided to set up a cafe by using the theme of cricket and dedicated every aspect of their business establishment to the culture surrounding the game.

Using their old Australian connections, both James and Gaby started collecting cricket souvenirs and memorabilia and packed the cafe with an astounding array of cricket related items. To begin with Ray Lindwall the Australian pace bowler of sixties gifted his test playing pull over to them. More and more items kept on pouring in the cafe turning the cafe more into a museum.

However, it’s not just the walls of this cafe that are adorned by cricket memorabilia, the menu boasts of an equal dose of cricket. Signature dishes at the cafe are creatively inspired by the names of past and present players. Items include Ganguly’s Grill, Murali Mulligatawny, Imran’s Pakistani Pumpkin, Jayasuriya’s Triple Century to Sachin’s Sausages & Mash to name a few. The waiting staff wear customized CCC cricket jerseys that are also available for sale.

The menu covers quite a broad spectrum of cuisine ranging from finger food, soups & salads, pasta to burgers and wraps.  Some personal favorites on the menu are the Murali’s Mulligatawny Soup, Dickie Bird Burger, Pollock’s Parmesan and Miandad’s Mango Magic.

The Dickie Bird Burger contains a lightly breaded fried chicken fillet coated with garlic mayo &  ketchup served on a bed of lettuce and tomatoes sandwiched between two sesame buns with a generous helping of french fries. Even my vegetarian friends love CCC because it has several vegetarian options in the main course that don’t only consist of salad. One such dish being the HOWZATT India Samosa Burger which contains a potato patty drenched in mint yogurt and spices sandwiched between two buns.

The Dickie Bird Burger

With an innovative menu and appetizing food all encompassing cricket, the Cricket Club Cafe has very rapidly achieved  popularity not only amongst the locals but also among the expatriate community in Sri Lanka. At the entrance a black board lists the daily specials all dedicated to cricket. Once inside, the quaint colonial style house  one can sit in the main restaurant which is sprawled into various segments while open lawn is always there to greet you.

It is obvious that the place is more than about food – it is about Sri Lanka’s favourite sport.

Sri Lankan Street-Food: Kottu

6 Mar

Chicken and Cheese Kottu

Having lived in Colombo for nearly a year, my taste buds have acquired quite a liking for Kottu Roti simply known as Kottu”.  The word “Kottu” is derived from Tamil in which it literally means chopped bread (or roti) and can be considered the unofficial Sri Lankan national dish.

Kottu perhaps the most common street-food dish found in Sri Lanka is a medley of finely chopped Godamba Bread (Flat Wheat Roti), vegetables, an array of curry spices mixed with your choice of meat.

Traditionally steaming hot Kottu is prepared on a flat heated iron stove and is pulverized using metal blades – a concept similar to the Pakistani “Kat-a-Kat”.  If you walk through the streets of Colombo you can hear the distinct racket of clanking metal blades as the Kottu is prepared in road-side restaurants.

Despite being a staple street-food Kottu has made its way on the menu of most of the 5 star hotels in Sri Lanka. Kottu can be prepared with different kinds of meat, eggs and vegetables depending on your taste palette but beware it can be quite spicy!

So next time you find yourself in Sri Lanka or even a Sri Lankan restaurant make sure you try Kottu!

Soup from the East

18 Oct

Growing up in Pakistan one of my favorite soups was “Mulligatawny” soup – a thick, mustard-hued tangy lentil soup garnished with fried onions and lemon slices with a hint of fine chicken pieces and rice.

Not a very common item on menus, the best variation of this soup was found mostly in luxury hotels or country clubs. Over time though, this soup from the East is becoming more ubiquitous in South Asia. My earliest memories of having this soup were in the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. One of the multiple occasions I had this soup happened to be a dinner with my mother’s American colleague who was of South Indian descent. When the Mulligatawny soup arrived on the table and we began to dig in her colleague pointed out that what we were consuming was not in fact the authentic version of this distinctive soup.He explained that the literal translation of Mulligatawny from Tamil is “pepper water” (‘Millagu’ is pepper and ‘Thanni’ is water). The “real” Mulligatawny soup is traditionally a clear curry flavored soup containing vegetables and occasionally rice or noodles. Upon research I realized there are multiple versions of this soups with ingredients ranging from almonds, coconut milk, eggs to lamb!

My favorite version remains the hearty lemony thick yellow soup I have grown up eating – which is the most common version of this soup in South Asia.

Not very commonly found on menus in the U.S or Europe, I recently rediscovered this soup in Sri Lanka where it is a staple item on the menu in most hotels or restaurants. I have probably tried 5 or 6 different restaurants here serving Mulligatawny soup, each one being different from the other. The common factor between all of them is the mustard color, thick texture and hearty flavor. If you ever happen to be visiting South Asia and find this on a menu make sure to try it!

– F

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