Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bananas for Banana Leaf

A couple of my close friends are from Sri Lanka, so I've had a few chances to experience Sri Lankan food and wanted more. When I read this Eater article about where the Sri Lankan ambassador likes to get his Sri Lankan food, I officially added Banana Leaf to my 'must-try' list. So when my friend from out of town requested a hole-in-the-wall type place with spicy food, I knew where to go.

To start, we decided to try the Masala Vadai: Lentil Pattis with Sri Lankan spices and a minty chutney. Mmmm, we were off to a strong start.

Masala Vadai

This is when the true hole-in-the-wall nature of the joint started to show it's roots. As we were enjoying our appetizers, our waiter started bringing out the main dishes and cramming them on the table. As part of this process, he took my appetizer plate away from me- while I was still eating from it. I took it in stride, because it became evident that he hadn't understood when I had tried to change my entree order. Instead, I got both dishes. We, weren't too put out though, since we had a hard time narrowing down the options in the first place and we were more than OK with bringing some leftovers home.

Our first entree took some figuring out. I read a lot of great reviews for the String Hoppers, but the menu was incredibly confusing. Finally, we went on a hunch that the section where the hoppers were listed were carbs and that the selection of curries below went with them. Luckily, we were right, because as I mentioned, our waiter's English was not that strong. The string hoppers also came with kiri hodi (coconut and onion gravy) and coconut sambo. We weren't sure exactly how it was meant to be eaten, but we just spooned some of each over the hoppers and it was delicious.

String Hoppers with Chicken Curry
We also got an order of Devilled Beef, since I have had this dish before and knew it to be quite spicy, thereby fulfilling my friend's request for spicy food. Spicy indeed! But in that kind of pleasant way where it creeps up on you and is a slow burn.

The final entree was the Lamb Lampri's: lamb served with saffron rice, cashew curry, eggplant moju, seeni sambol, ash plantains, boiled egg, and fish cutlet all wrapped in a banana leaf and baked. With so much going on, I was most excited about this one so dove right in. I was actually disappointed, since it was a lot blander than I was expecting. However, I left it for a bit to readjust my expectations while I enjoyed the other entrees. When I came back to it, I found I was able to better appreciate the subtle way the flavors worked together and found myself enjoying it immensely.

Devilled Beef (Top) & Lampri's
Lampri's (opened)

I hope to take one of my Sri Lankan friends here when they visit to get their official stamp of approval, but considering all the other patrons were Sri Lankan families, I feel fairly confident that they will pass this test with flying colors.

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