Sri Lankan food in MD/DC/VA? Just watched No Reservations
A local Sri Lankan friend just brought me to a fabulous food festival; I just have to share! The local Sri Lankan Buddhist temple has an annual festival which is open to the public -- everything is home cooked by local Sri Lankan "aunties". This thing was amazing. For $20 I got a full meal there with several appetizers and desserts, plus two full meals plus an appetizer plus a couple of desserts to bring home with me (each of the take-out meals will probably be enough for two lunches each). I haven't had Sri Lankan food before, so I don't know the names of most of what I had but I'll make a lame attempt to describe it.
We had hoppers with egg and a spicy onion side, of which not enough was served. These are cooked to order; we had to wait some time for them. I was told later that they should be crispy all over. Mine were undercooked as they were obviously struggling to keep up with demand. I also brought home a dessert hopper which I'll have later, heated in a skillet which they helpfully instructed me to do.
We got a variety of fried appetizers. My favorite was called I think "wabe" : spicy lentil patties that were sort of crunchy and chewy and had a lot of different spices going on. We had Sri Lankan "Chinese rolls" - my friend wasn't impressed with the quality of these. There were fish balls which I wasn't too crazy about and small samosa-looking things that had a spinach/feta filling that my friend said were atypical - they were really good though. There were a couple of other types as well.
A thought on heat level... the Sri Lankans seem to think their food is very spicy. Several of the dishes I would say are spicy, true, but not too much so at all. Nothing there came anywhere near blowing my head off.
We got coconut pancakes for dessert: pancakes wrapped around a small amount of very thick coconut/cardamom filling. Another dessert we got that was delicious and very unusual: a fried, treacly, mung bean fritter which was way better than I thought it would be.
To bring home I got string hoppers (whole wheat and regular) with a couple of different types of curries. I also got Sri Lankan noodles with potato curry and another type of chicken curry.
It lasts until 3:00 this afternoon. For next year, I'd say call the temple in Feb. to see if they have a date yet. Everybody there was very welcoming to me, and they had a big sign out front advertising the event so people driving past could see it. They want the public to come, but I don't think they are on top of the best ways of advertising it.
Notes: CASH ONLY (small bills are helpful) -- bring your own plastic bags to take leftovers -- wear slip-on shoes as you will need to remove them -- arrive early, say about 11:30, before they start running out of things
Ven. Pankitha Waihene Pannaloka
5017 16th St. NW (at Colorado)
Washington, DC 20011
You'd have to come by my house--born there and relish the food! Always a highlight of trips back. My American friends kill for it without exception. My fiancee gets grumpy if she doesn't get some (the food that is!) at least once a week.
Bourdain did a good job covering the food scape but over-emphasized the hole-in-the-wall places in Colombo IMO. Food safety would be a concern to anyone with common sense. No restaurants here in DC, though I recently heard about an SL couple running a standard lunch outlet in an office building in Chevy Chase who occasionally dish up some. Also remember a whole street's worth in the Times Square area in NYC a few years back but the one I tried was over priced and not very good. There is a grocery store of sorts in upper Montgomery County that I've heard of but never been to--the local Korean and Indian supermarkets carry just about everything needed to make the food.
I though it was interesting to see Bourdain, in the beginning, go crazy looking for the kinda food he likes or at least the kind that would bring him some comfort. I have cousins who vacationed in Sri Lanka a few years ago and they really enjoyed themselves - they said it was cheap, resorty and the seafood was excellent!
I, too, am not aware of any Sri Lankan restaurants. I suspect that if Sri Lankans own restaurants in the area, they might serve Indian food with some SL dishes, as we see with some of the Nepali places around here.
However, I did a search and found a Sri Lankan cultural assoc. in the area
The website says they celebrate new year in April so there might be an event where you can try some of their cuisine. They may also be able to help you find a restaurant.
re: Dennis S
i'd not agree that it is a cross between thai and southern indian. it is an amalgam from many influences: english, portuguese, dutch, arab, malay, india. (obviously not in order of importance or level of influence).
dennis, why do you think of thai? they never occupied sri lanka or traveled there to the extent of the spice traders of old. they do have in common chilis, coconut milk, a form of curry (spice blend), use of lemongrass and lime, but oddly not kaffir lime. there is use of dried shrimp in thai, and a similar dried "maldive fish" in sri lankan. noodles are not prominent in sri lankan, but rice, rice, and rice crepes. plus, beef use is much more extensive in sri lankan cookery, i believe. there are similarities, no doubt.
and no, there is no sri lanka restaurant around here. if i didn't know how hard restaurants are to make a success, i'd think of opening one with my sri lankan husband. (he'd just go for the string hoppers ;-).
The dishes she cooks are more toward Indian - but with some Thai-ish influences it seems. Probably the commonalities you point out. I do like the rotis she uses, though. She has found those at some market in the Gaithersburg area, but makes them herself often, too.
I thought of opening a place as well. Maybe we should collaborate!
re: Dennis S