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May 1, 2012 07:39 AM

Kuala Lumpur - Sri Lankan flavors at A Li Yaa

Sri Lankan food is surprisingly difficult to find in both Malaysia and Singapore, considering the siginificant number of Malaysians/Singaporeans who are of Sri Lankan descent (both Sinhalese and Tamil).

In that respect, A Li Yaa, a very authentic Sri Lankan restaurant in the drinking/dining precinct in Plaza Damansara, is a rare find indeed.

The decor of the restaurant in its new 4-month-old location (it was previously located in a bungalow on Lorong Dungun) was minimalist chic.

Our lunch today:
- A platter of different types potato cutlets: flavored respectively with fish, lamb, vegetarian and crab. These were good - hardly oily, with crisp breadcrumbed shells encasing moist potatoey filling;
- Chef Publis Pol Kiri Thiyal (Fish Sothi) - fish cooked in coconut,milk, lemongrass, shallots, garlic & curry leaves. The gravy's thinner than the Indian curries which I'm more used to, andvery sour from the use of tamarind pieces. The fish was fresh but slightly overcooked (as usually happens in Indian sub-continental cooking);
- Devilled chicken, flavoured with Sri Lankan spice mix, tomatoes, scallions, leeks and chillies. This dish was unusual - in the sense that it turned out slightly sweet-sour, instead of super-spicy as I'd expected. Very tasty nonetheless - tasting more "Chinese" than Sri Lankan;
- Jaffna Prawn Curry - lethally-red in appearance but not too spicy. The prawns were crisp and very fresh;
- Eggplant sambol - a bit dry for my taste, but the combination of cooked eggplant slices with raw onions, chillies and leeks complemented the curries very well;
- Egg appam - bowl-shaped, with pleasantly crisp edges, moist centres topped with perfectly-poached egg in the middle. The appams were richly delicious with the addition of coconut milk. I found these pancakes totally irresistible!
- Idiyappam (stringhoppers) with sambol - these vermicelli-like noodles were drier and coarser here than other versions I'd tried in South India, or even in Sri Lankan restaurants back in Singapore.
- Pittu (similar to Keralan/South Indian puttu - steamed funnel rice cake, with grated coconut), served with Pol Sambol (grated coconut, dried Maldive fish and chillis) - not very appetising by itself, but provided a perfect foil when eaten with rich curry gravies.
- Dessert was a sweet custard flavored with cinnamon and jaggery called Vattilappam.

Ceylonese tea provided a perfect ending to the meal. Sri Lankan cuisine seemed less complex than South Indian cooking (Tamil, Keralan, Karnatakan, Andhra), and its curries were more "one-dimensional", but it has a very distinct identity of its own.

Address details
A Li Yaa Restaurant & Bar
48G&M, Medan Setia 2
Plaza Damansara
Bukit Damansara
50490 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +6017-717 8700

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  1. Veddy Interesting, thanks for the report.

    The appam (Singhalese: appa)(so I understand) looks intriguing. Hmm, I seem to remember various appam/appa stalls or itinerant vendors selling stuff and I have this recollection of some of them (?many?) being said to be Ceylonese & etc? How about in Brickfields, aren't there Ceylonese/Sri Lankan places?

    Wesak Day - that would have a significant Ceylonese component to it, wouldn't it? (Sinhalese Buddhism/Buddhists etc in addition to other Buddhists) Is there culinary activity around the festival pointing to centers/sources of Ceylonese cuisine?

    2 Replies
    1. re: huiray

      I'd not seen any eateries in Brickfields which profess to be Sri Lankan - so I'm guessing that some of them may operate under the auspices of being a South Indian restaurant, seeing the similarities between Sri Lankan and South Indian (especially Tamil and Keralan) cuisine.

      One thing I realised was that Malaysian "roti canai" (and Singapore "roti prata") are essentially Keralan paratha - when I first went to Bangalore back in 2004, I couldn't get use to their parathas, and trips to Tamil restaurants in Bangalore also proved futile, as Karnatakan and Tamilian parathas were both denser and packed more body than feather-light, crisp "roti canai"/"roti prata". It was only during a lunch at a Keralan restaurant in Bangalore that I chanced upon Keralan paratha, which was *exactly* like "roti canai"/"prata".

      When I was in Chennai recently, a Tamil counterpart there who'd visited Kuala Lumpur before explained to the others who'd *not* been to KL that "roti canai" was essentially Keralan paratha.

      I subsequently asked Malaysians of Tamil descent about the history of "roti canai" after I got back to KL, and a couple of them said that, in the early days, Indians of Tamil descent come to then-Malaya to work in the rubber estates and plantations. The tea stalls, which also offered snacks like "roti canai" were usually run by Indian-Muslims ("mamaks") from Kerala.

      1. re: huiray

        Wish I can be in KL for Wesak Day - the food stalls at the Thai Wat Chettawan in PJ should be fabulous. But am back in Singapore that weekend.

      2. Back at A Li Yaa this evening: the pittu set meal with chicken curry was tongue-searingly delicious :-)

        Always loved the delicious ultra-crisp, delicate bowl-shaped appam which A Li Yaa executed to perfection.