Short Eats

Malu Paan

Rice and Curry has a good review of Green Cabin. What’s most notable in that he’s photographed every single short eat there. What is a short eat? Little starters, usually pastries. I like to imagine they’re derived from Portuguese empanadas or something but I don’t know. It’s an island. When I first discovered short eats I was like I Can Haz Cheezburger? but they’ve grown kinda old.

Photos below are from Rice and Curry’s blog


Samosas are Indian but whatever, triangle, stuffed with stuff. Honestly, the best samosas I had were sold by Desi students in Montreal to raise funds. They came in cardboard boxes and came with a lovely sauce. Perhaps that was because samosas were often my only meal of the day, but they were good.

At places like Bombay Sweet House (Wellawatte, near the junction. There are like 30 Bombay Sweet Houses) they serve samosas with faludas and stuff. What I find lacking is the dipping sauce. A vegetable samosa is often the only veg option, but they all seem to lack that flaky sorta crust.

I honestly haven’t had any samosas to write home about in Sri Lanka.


A cutlet is a ball of fried dough around fish or whatever you want to put in there. The best cutlets are homemade. I’m really not helpful here. If you go to Columbus, Ohio in 1995, hide under the table at a house I can’t remember and steal cutlets, they’re delicious. The best cutlets are definitely ones you’ve been told to stop eating.

I rarely eat cutlets from outlets. At most eateries they serve short eats by bringing a selection to your table and letting you eat a bunch of stuff you didn’t intend to. I’ve had fist sized cutlets at these times, but they’re always too much.

Most people get cutlets from some home cook for parties and events. These are hit or miss. If someone in the family makes them they’re usually great.


Klassy on De Fonseka road has decent flaky sausage rolls. I generally avoid mutton or beef rolls. On the east coast they can be really good, but usually too what’s the word, not rich, mammal for my taste. I used to like the prawn rolls at Cafe On The Fifth, but get them late in the day and they’re horrendous. That would be my bad.

A good roll, IMHO, is covered in a powdery pastry and deeply fried but not burnt. While rotti can be soft, a good roll has a bit of a crunch to it, or at least a bite. If it’s meat I think it’s best cut with tomato sauce. Or sauce, as it’s called.

On a standard government or event welcome plate you’ll get a roll, a cutlet, a white bread sandwich and, if you’re luck, a banana. I always eat the banana and cutlet willingly and the rest because I’m hungry.


Rotti is basically a pancake. In this case it refers to rolled short eats. Vegetable roti is an old standard. If you get it fresh off the grill it’s good. This nameless place on Saranankkara, Dehiwela does a good one. Again, not helpful.

This type of roti is pretty much standard across Sri Lanka. It’s usually vegetable, and usually has potato and I think leeks and onion. The spread is put in and then the roti is folded and browned on a hot plate. When it’s hot hot it’s delectable, but I’ve also had decent cold rotti as well.


A roll is a crusty powdery sorta thing, roti is flat, buns are basically puff pastry. Sausage bun, whatever. I don’t like them. Too much bread.

Malu Paan (fish bun), however, is an exception. Malu Paans are notoriously inconsistent, some places it’s all paan, other all spicy malu, others have no fish at all. I can’t recommend a good place, beyond saying to get them fresh.


I’m always down for a good mushroom pie. Flaky pastry gets all over, but good.


Everyone is familiar with the old white bread with beet and some unidentified green paste. Not a fan, but it’s often the only vegetarian option, if I’m in that mood.

In General

Basically, bad short eats are really really bad. That’s what’s soured me in general. A good short eat, however, is goodness. How do you get one? Generally, the cheaper and more decrepit the shop, the better the short eats. I don’t like places like Perera and Sons because they’ve entrenched consistent mediocrity.

Timing and location is what really matters. If you stop by an average petty kade (box kade, streetside stall) in the morning, they’ll have good, fresh stuff. Also, if you go out of town, you’ll get great stuff along the road. Go at the wrong time, however, and stale short eats are a horror. Anything in a glass case is fundamentally dubious.

As I get older I’ve shied away from short eats cause they offer limited nutritional value and make me bundilicious. I think this is more from over-eating than anything else. I’ve gone weeks eating short-eats every day and that gets old fast. I’ve also eaten from mobile trishaw stands, eaten the last short eats a place had left, so basically my bad. If you eat short eats with some sense, they’re quite good.

Rice and Curry’s original blog on Green Cabin is worth a read. He’s also got a cookbook out.

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2011-11-16 09:25:32

You are correct about the random streetside boxes. Sometimes, one can stumble upon great thing in those. :) There used to be one near Pizza Hut (opposite side), Union Pace which had great omelette (scrambled) buns. Don’t know if it still stands.

Family Bakers (at least in Mt.Lavinia) have decent stuff, the best I’ve had in a regular chain outlet.

2011-11-16 10:08:47

Pork pie at The Fab, crumbly shortcrust pastry and peppery pork and potato curry inside. I used to have one for lunch sometimes when I worked close by, and the funny thing was our Muslim office assistant Z, would volounteer to get it for me. I would tease him saying he was having one himself on the sly.
Beef chinese rolls at Hotel Nippon in Slave Island are also nice. They always serve it hot.
If you’re not familiar with a place, it’s always safer to get something with veg.

2011-11-16 10:38:46

Indi, you forgot the famous patties! The best I’ve had is at that Malay Street joint in Slave Island — huge bhabath patties.

2011-11-18 13:16:33

I was about to say that David. Has the tradition pattie been eclipsed by the sexy samosa??

2011-11-16 11:27:46

David, they are called pastoles,arent they?

2011-11-16 18:23:30

The bhabath patties, or just any patties? I don’t know. I just know the word cutlet comes the German kotlett which is a cut of meat.

2011-11-17 09:44:07

Bhabath patties.

(Comments wont nest below this level)
2011-11-16 12:28:36

I forgot a lot, please add.

2011-11-16 12:31:50

Spring rolls! Flaky pastry wrapped around tempered carrot and cabbage – amazing when hot, crunchy and fresh, an abomination when stale…

2011-11-18 13:19:08

A question for food buffs: is the Sri Lankan Chinese roll a corrupted spring roll? Why is it called Chinese?

I once asked a Chinese girl about Chinese rolls and she was bit insulted.

2011-11-16 12:59:06

Not familiar with most of the stuff but if I remember right we ate similar stuff during tea breaks (morning and evening) in my GrandMa’s house or at the Grand in Nuwaraeliya. What I really fell in love with was the SL Club sandwiches, or tea sandwiches, tiny little triangular sandwiches, multicolored, decked up on layered plates, I can eat those anytime and any amount :) or until GrandMa slaps my wrists.

Rukmani Devi
2011-11-16 22:40:48

Malu paan and Chinese rolls @ green cabin are my favorites. Thanks for making me crave, must hit Sigiri this weekend :-) Thought the short eat concept is very british I.e. Pies and cutlets are Dutch or Portugese?

2011-11-18 11:29:34

Samosas are of Central Asian origin – they are also triangular in shape, but much bigger (like the size of malu paan) and are baked in a tandoor. Good stuff.

Malay patties with babath (stomach lining) are called pastol. They are bigger and the filling is different from the commonly available patties (pastol don’t include potatoes or other veges, just the babath). Funnily, patties are called currypuffs in Singapore but “karipap” in Malaysia :)

2012-03-03 20:28:35


If u ever visit Malaysia be careful not to eat kariap otherwise u will get pregnant

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