Monday, February 27, 2006

Sri Lanka on a platter (The Hindu's Metro Plus)

Note: I had written this for The Hindu's Metro Plus supplement. You can find the original review article on The Hindu's site here: The Hindu Metro Plus - Sri Lankan Food Festival Review

My original headline was " Culinary bridge to Lanka". I wish they had retained it instead of the "Sri Lanka on a platter" the edit team has put in.

Sri Lanka on a platter

The Sri Lankan Food Festival at Taj Residency introduces you to authentic cuisine of the island country, but some of the more popular dishes out there are missing

GOOD STARTER The festival offers a pleasant introduction to the island country's cuisine Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

The mention of Sri Lanka evokes vivid images of the Ramayana, Muralidharan's offbreaks, Tiger Prabhakaran and sprawling colonial tea gardens. The teardrop island south of the border has a historic past and a delightful cuisine to match. Fortunately, here's an opportunity to sample authentic Sri Lankan food right here in Bangalore.

The Sri Lankan Food Festival, which runs through March 5, is at the lovely poolside Café Mozaic at the Taj Residency on MG Road. Head chef Selvaraju, who has lived for several years in the Lankan resort city of Bentotta running the Taj Exotica restaurant, has brought along two chefs to ensure the preparations are authentic. All spices are freshly prepared — ground from natural ingredients.

While Lankan food is similar to Kerala food, beef and pork are not typically eaten, apparently due to the Sinhalese Buddhist beliefs. Instead, the use of soy meat as a substitute is common. Ghee is used sparingly, and rice forms the staple.

The buffet starts with a sambol, which is a grated salad that is had with naan or fish curry. The popular ones are the lunu sambol (onion) and pol sambol (coconut).

The vegetarian main course items are the traditional ala thel dhala (potato curry) and the mushroom curry, flavoured with authentic thuna paha (Lankan masala). Most Lankans are non-vegetarians, and the curries have flavours influenced by Dutch and Portuguese cuisine and are reminiscent of our vindaloo.

We sampled the soft shell crab curry, the lamb curry and the isso curry (prawns). The large chilli prawns cooked with coconut milk and flavoured with curry leaves and lemon grass was excellent, and was the highlight of the meal. For those unaccustomed to the flavour of lemon grass, the taste may be a tad too citrus for their liking.

You can also pick live seafood and spices of your choice from the display and request to have it cooked.

The dessert selection was quite impressive, and we were treated to kauwum, kockis, pol toffee, which are typically had during the Lankan New Year which falls in April. We also sampled the watalappam, a mildly spiced dessert resembling crème custard flavoured with Lankan hakuru (jaggery) and cardamom.

We did not get to sample the well-known kithul treacle and buffalo yoghurt dessert, but were told it would be available at the evening buffet. A limited Lankan tea selection is also available.

Having spent a couple of weeks travelling through Sri Lanka last year, I had expected to see of some typical dishes I had enjoyed. However, the hoppers, Maldive fish, kiri bath (coconut milk boiled rice had with sambol and fish curry), mango chutney and popular fruits like pineapple fritters, rambutan and mangosteen were not included in the buffet. Also, the thambili (king coconut) and ginger beer, both of which are excellent accompaniments to a spicy Lankan dinner, were missing.

Bottomline: The festival offers a pleasant introduction to Sri Lankan food for a first-timer with excellent seafood and vegetarian dishes in pleasant café surroundings. The dinner buffet starts at 7 p.m. Call 5660-4444 for reservations.

Ambience: Excellent

Service: Good

Specialty: Pick live seafood and have it cooked to your preference

Wallet factor: Rs. 850 for the buffet


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