With Sri Lanka now open to vaccinated travellers, we are waiting with bated breath for the day when we can return to this beautiful island nation – home to gorgeous landscapes and delicious local cuisine.
Sri Lanka-born chef Rishi Naleendra, known for his acclaimed restaurants Cheek Bistro and Cloudstreet in Singapore, says, “Those unfamiliar with Sri Lankan food may think think that it is rich and heavy, but in fact, the use of spices, chillies, textures, aromatics and acidity all play a part in making Sri Lankan food very light, welcoming and easy to enjoy. We use a lot of fresh ingredients like onions, coconut cream, shredded coconut and spices as well as plenty of tamarind and lime, so there is a lot more acidity in the dishes. This characteristic, coupled with the fact that we don’t use much butter or ghee in our cooking, makes Sri Lankan food light on the palate yet big on flavour.”
The affable chef officially opened his first Sri Lankan restaurant, Kotuwa, in December 2020, as he was compelled to open a restaurant focused on Sri Lankan cuisine after noticing a lack of representation in the local dining scene. The eatery, named after Colombo’s central business district, also marks the city’s first full-service Sri Lankan restaurant. “I have always incorporated touches of Sri Lankan flavours in my dishes, and Kotuwa is a great opportunity to showcase more of my heritage and what I grew up with, while bringing this lesser-explored cuisine to Singapore diners,” he shares.
In between supping on Chef Rishi’s delicious creations, we also got his recommendations for the top dining spots in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo.
This is a mainstay on the Colombo restaurant scene and for good reason. Specialising in the country’s most well-known export – Sri Lankan Lagoon Crab – the restaurant serves the crustacean in a variety of styles, from butter and garlic chilli to curry and even as a crab liver pate. Their crabs also range from a regular 1/2-kilo serving (perfect for solo diners) to a whopping 2kg serving, aptly known as Crabzilla. “I love their roast paan (bread and butter) and their pol sambol (coconut relish), which is always prepared fresh. Their fresh and juicy lagoon prawns are also a must-try.”
Old Dutch Hospital Complex, 04 Hospital St, Colombo 00100
2. Mayura Hotel
Don’t be deceived by its name; this establishment is not a hotel. Instead, this eatery set within a narrow storefront serves a variety of tiny crabs prepared Jaffna-style. The spicy crustaceans are heaped onto a banana leaf with a generous serving of rice, curry and vegetables, and is best enjoyed when you eat with your fingers. Often packed to the rafters with hungry locals, be sure to get there early to nab a seat. “I always order the crab set with omelette, which is a piquant dish that never fails to hit the spot.”
46 Sri Kathiresan St, Colombo 01300
Established for more than 40 years, Palmyrah is a tastefully decorated eatery known for its authentic Sri Lankan flavours. Here, you’ll find a wide variety of traditional Sri Lankan dishes such as mutton paal poriyal (a dish where the meat is cooked till fork-tender and mixed with fresh onions, chilli and lime), Jaffna whole crab curry, odiyal kool (seafood soup) and egg hoppers. “This is my favourite lunch spot in the city, and I always order the bitter gourd salad. It is a light and refreshing dish that reminds me of home-cooked comfort food.”
328 A2, Colombo 00300
While it might seem incongruous to have a seafood market set-up within a hotel setting, in the case of The Lagoon, it works brilliantly. Consistently ranked as one of the top seafood dining establishments in the country, the family-friendly restaurant features a dizzying array of fresh seafood – from crabs and lobsters to fish and prawns. “Simply pick the seafood you want and choose your preferred style of cooking, be it Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, Chinese or Continental. The kitchen also has an open-concept so you can watch your dishes being prepared.”
77 A2, Colombo 00300
Founded over 30 years ago by a top pastry chef, this small restaurant has since evolved into a major household name that also provides catering services for birthdays and weddings, with customised cakes available upon request. They have also expanded their menu beyond cakes and desserts to include savoury items such as rice and noodle dishes. “I love their small bites and snacks, especially the mutton rolls and the malu paan (fish buns).”
347 Galle Rd, Colombo 00300
Please check the establishments’ respective websites for opening hours as well as booking requirements before visiting, and remember to adhere to safe-distancing measures while out and about.
The information is accurate as of press time. For updated information, please refer to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website.
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