Flavours of Sri Lanka at Vasco's

The hoppers that Chef Tulitha Neranjana brings to the table are fluffy; the scalloped edges look like the petals of a flower. The only difference between them and appams from Kerala is that the centre of the hopper is not as thick as an appam's. However, it is soft but I can't taste what it has been leavened with. He tells me that it's because it has no leavening!


Known as the Pearl of the Orient, Sri Lanka's similarities to South India surprised us. Driving from Colombo to Kandy a few years ago, lush green paddy fields and swaying coconut trees reminded us of Kerala. And like the food of Kerala, rice, spices and coconut are the backbone of Sri Lankan cuisine.

Chef Tulitha Neranjana

Sri Lanka's cuisine has been influenced by the Dutch, Portuguese and British who colonised the island nation. Dishes like lamprais and frikkadels have Dutch origins, the Portuguese introduced chillies and pao or bread while the English influence resulted in cutlets, puddings, meat and of course the love of tea. They too have appam but call them hoppers, there's also string hoppers or idiappam. Chef Tulitha says though they use the same spices as in India, SL curries taste different because their curry pastes are wet, whereas Indians use dry curry powders.

Kothamalli saaru - a delicious digestive
made with coriander, ginger & lime juice 

Seafood curry soup

"The Flavours of Sri Lanka" is on ongoing food festival at Vasco's. In the two weeks that he will be here, Chef Tulitha, from Hilton Colombo Residences is showcasing his country's vibrant colours through authentic Sri Lankan cuisine. The bright red seafood curry soup was so flavoursome but the taste of curry was missing. The coconut roti with grated coconut  served with a trio of condiments was lovely and made up for the soup.

Coconut roti

Must try condiments esp. the caramelised onions

Sri Lankan pork curry

While Chef Tulitha busied himself with filling little bowls with the curries, I had a quick look around the buffet spread. There were many achars, condiments like seeni sambal and surprisingly, an almost black pork curry. It looked like the Coorg-style one but minus the kachumpuli or kokum.

Stir fried prawn and squid

From top: fish stew; lime pickle; cucumber curry; okra; beef curry; beetroot, sambal & chutney; veralu & yellow rice

Sri Lankans love rice and curry, grains of turmeric coated, mildly spiced rice took centre stage. Around it, like colourful satellites, were bowls containing delicious yellow fish stew, Malabar cucumber curry with a hint of mustard, okra fry, a beef curry, beetroot fry and more chutneys. There was also pickled Ceylon olive or veralu. The marble-size fruit was pleasant to bite into. Strips of rice sticks, reminiscent of papads are always served with rice. 

Desserts - watalapam; coconut taffe; kalu dodal; bibikkan

The watalapam is delish but what takes the cake is the halwa-like kalu dodal. Made with rice powder and jaggery, it can take something like 14 hours to make.

Back in college, we had a Sri Lankan girl in the hostel who used to bring us delicious milky toffee every time she came back from a trip home. I mentioned this to the chef and he disappeared only to return a couple of minutes later with some toffee and coconut candy. How touching was that!

Milk taffee; coconut candy

Flavours of Sri Lanka will be on till July 24th for dinner only at 1845/++ per head.
Vasco's is at The Hilton Chennai.

*This was an invited review 


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