Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The best Sri Lankan food you'll never get to taste

Egg hopper from Priyani
Priyani Dissanayake was winning over foodies from all over town in her tiny Northridge Cafe after a glowing write-up in the L.A. Times last year. But restaurants are a tough business, and Priyani Oriental Cafe, one of only a few Sri Lankan restaurants in L.A., closed up shop recently. Bill Esparza from StreetGourmetLA is on a mission to bring not just great Mexican food to more Angelenos, but more great food from all over the world. So he's hosting Street Food Mondays at Evan Kleiman's Angeli Caffe.
Last night a herd of bloggers (and some diners who may have been expecting Angeli pizza but stayed even when they heard it was only Sri Lankan food) convened to try Priyani's food one last time, since no one knows where she'll pop up next. Plus, we missed Sri Lanka Day a few weeks ago, and it comes just once a year. Sri Lankan food is street-friendly, with lots of dishes that can be eaten out of hand. The dishes recalled Indonesian food, but combined with Indian influences to make an entirely distinctive cuisine.
Fish cutlet, beef roll
Croquettes are popular in Sri Lanka, most likely left over from the Portuguese or the Dutch East India Company. These spicy, meat and fish filled patties with a zippy sauce were much more exciting in the mouth than they look on the plate.

String hoppers are similar to Vietnamese rice noodles, formed into a patty that can be rolled up with meats and a wonderful coconut sambal -- like a fresh salsa with chiles and chopped coconut. My hopper photo wasn't the greatest, so check out Elina Shatkin's set of Priyani pics.

The egg hopper at top is similar to an Indian dosa, made with a fermented pancake batter. But instead of being rolled, the egg nestles in the middle of the crispy pancake -- a perfect Sri Lankan street breakfast. Mutton curry hides beyond the hopper. 
coconut custard

Lampreis is chicken curry in a banana leaf, which reminded me of the strong cooked banana leaf smell that perfumes the air all over Southeast Asia.  
Chicken biryani came with a hard-boiled egg, cashews, and a deeply flavored eggplant relish that I could possibly live on for the next several weeks, the caramelized onion/eggplant flavor was so intense.
Dessert was Watalappam, a coconut custard with a possibly hallucinogenic amount of nutmeg, similar to Thai taro custard.
Even if you've had Indian and Indonesian food, Sri Lankan food is really different, and worth searching out, though there's only a few places to have it.
How's the Curry Bowl in Tarzana?


Food GPS said...

Cool that you made it to Street Food Monday for the hoppers and watalappam (one of my favorite desserts). It was a shame to see Priyani close. It was my favorite Sri Lankan spots in Southern California. Curry Bowl is pretty good, and Wadiya is a little better in Anaheim.

Noelle said...

I really was bummed to miss it. Thanks for the pictures and the write up. I think we need to make a trek to Anaheim!

glutster said...

I was so bummed I couldn't make this neither :(

thanks for the write up. sometimes its as good as eating it :)

Charles G. Thompson said...

That was such a fun evening. The food was really good, very interesting -- loved the hoppers the best. Nice to meet you, Pat!

Soni said...

So sad to see that place go, her food looked very yummy, however if you are out and about around the Bay Area stop bye at "KADUPUL" they have everything Sri Lankan would hope to have in the USA been open for almost 2 years now. Excellent food