To buy a good rice and curry you need to find shops which are still home businesses, usually nameless and hidden on the street. If you know where to look, these are the best meals in the city.
The Unsavory Valley
Sri Lankan cuisine suffers from an Unsavory Valley. Lower class food is great, but then it drops off there, for a long time. On the other side of the valley there’s barely a bump, as Sri Lankan high cuisine hasn’t really evolved yet.
Home food is great and cheap food is great, but the moment a restaurant commercializes it starts to suck. The place gets fully tiled, the service gets terrible and the food loses the love and honesty that made it good. Only one (running) restaurant has come out on the other side of the valley (Ministry Of Crab, IMHO), combining local flavors with innovations that add value rather than volume.
For daily value, however, I’m quite happy with the local, cheap bath kades. My bath kade in particular. Perhaps you have yours.
Look For The Kade With No Name
The best bath kades have no names. They are literally part of someone’s house and they make more than they would usually get. This is, in essence, home-cooked food and it’s both cheaper and more tasty than anything else. These are places which you (obviously) won’t see driving by, but they are where people in the neighborhood would eat. Here are a few for reference:
- Saranakkara: on Sri Saranakkara Road, Dehiwela there is a nameless joint that serves the best vegetables and rice, occasionally a tender and succulent chicken. Tamil flavors, but the usual Sinhala rice and curry formula (these are vague distinctions). It’s near the Canal bypass road, near some place called Sampath
- Bath Amma’s: We call this place Bath Amma’s, literally Rice Mother’s. They have a great pork curry and Bath Akka is pretty hot. You literally eat in their dining room, surrounded by family photos and kids. It’s across from Majestic City, near Romafour, down a tiny indistinguishable lane. I think they’ve put out a board.
- Yarl: I think this place was featured by Anthony Bourdain. Just down Wellawatte Station road there is a literal hole in the wall, between some appliance repair shops, I think. You walk in and they serve spicy crab, goat meat and cuttlefish on banana leaf plates. Jaffna (Yarl) style.
Rules Of Thumb
These, of course, are just the kades I know. Since these things are nameless, they’re often unknown until you know, or unless you know someone that knows. They’re not places you’d find with a car or any guidebook, and they’re usually not places you’d know unless you live or work in the area. As a general rule of thumb, well, here are a few rules of thumb.
- Avoid places that look gentrified (even more, avoid places where they’ve spent money to look village)
- Avoid places with waiters
- Avoid places with menus
- Favor places that are busy
- Favor places that look family run
- Favor places without signs or branding
- Try random places that fit this criteria