Words: PRIMROSE MONTEIRO-D’SOUZA
Photographs: MAHESH SAGARI
GREAT FROM India
GREAT FOR Experiencing local cuisine
There comes a time when you must throw caution to the wind, wrap your mouth around a claw, and suck hard. You’re in a place where such abandon is expected, even encouraged. At Ministry of Crab in Colombo, your surrender to gluttony is a compliment.
Colombo offers a multitude of global cuisines, thanks to a history of colonialism and a large expat population. Yet, it is also a place where Indian travellers, lacking recommendations, complain about not finding a good meal. The secret lies in eating local, in eating seafood and greens, in tapping into Sinhalese flavours, overlaid with Thai and Indian influences, and redolent with the country’s spice cornucopia. At Ministry of Crab, one of the best showcases of both the Sri Lankan crab and the island spice box is the chilli crab, the crustacean steeped in a thick gravy, fragrant, sweet and pungent. Set in the atmospheric Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct at Fort, it makes a fitting introduction to the city’s seafood scene.
At Beach Wadiya, off Galle Face, you will be in a decidedly less fancy setting. You must cross a railway track and a barely-courteous maître’d to be seated. Luckily, the food – whether you’re served at a table near the kitchen or under a gazebo on the sand – is the same: tasty, wholesome fare. Try the crab in a sweet chilli sauce or the pepper prawn curry, the heat offset by a stir-fry of kankun, a local leafy green. At Palmyrah, too, expect some discomfort. You must linger in the massive basement restaurant till the appointed hour of 7pm. But the food is worth the anticipation, with local diners tucking into the string hoppers, egg hoppers, the wonderful prawn curry, and the kaal varai (minced prawn fused with finely-grated coconut and spices). This is also the place to try the wattallappam, a gently-spiced local custard pudding.
For a local lunch on the run, get to the Pagoda Tea Room in Fort by 12pm, to tuck into one of the VFM curry-rice meals. Each comes with rice, assorted veggies, chillies, pappadums, and a bowl of your chosen curry. As a bonus, you will just have dined in a space that featured in Duran Duran’s iconic Hungry like a wolf video.
Keep going; treat yourself to a candlelit dinner at The Gallery Café, tucked away into a small lane off the busy main street. This restaurant is deservedly famous for its black pork curry, served with brinjal pahi (curry), cucumber raita and gotukola sambol (a greens-and-coconut vegetable dish), and its distinctive Tamarind Chile Martini.
But on, on, to drink in a little more of Colombo. Will it be the cup that cheers at the t-lounge by Dilmah, a restful oasis in bustling Fort that brews up the most incredible concoctions? Or authentic Sinhalese joe at the tiny Hansa Coffee Store that celebrates the renaissance of the bean in Nuwara Eliya, Mathale, Bandarawela and Kotmale? If you choose to tap even higher spirits, a mango arrack sour at Colombo Courtyard’s Loft Lounge Bar will hit the spot. Then, head to Hotel de Pilawoos. Tuck into a kotthu – a shredded Malabar paratha stir-fried with meat, or egg. You can’t go wrong – it’s what the locals do.
From hotel options and activity timings to loo stops, find all the practical information you need to plan this trip now – in LPMI’s February 2015 issue. Pick up a copy from your newsstand or click to subscribe via Zinio or Magzter