If you look in the right places – in between the saree shops, numerous ‘saivar kades’ and pavement vendors advertising their wares raucously – you will find that Colombo is a veritable food haven.
If you happen to be in the vicinity of Wellawatte, make your way through the numerous sweet marts and vegetable markets and saunter over to the Fresh Milk Shop at 52, Dharmarama Road, Wellawatte. The milk bar’s success lies in its broad appeal across all age groups. From wide-eyed schoolchildren and businessmen after a day’s work to the occasional jogger on his way for a walk or a cluster of teens after a class – the milk bar has a well established base of regulars who pop in for a quick cup of cold milk.
For Rs. 40, we were given a generous serving of refreshingly cold milk in a large ceramic cup. The chilled milk comes in chocolate, vanilla, almond, strawberry, rose and ginger flavours, while hot Nescafe is available for those who would prefer a hot drink instead.
Proprietor, Shabeena Hussain who manages the outlet along with her husband, explained that the outlet has been open for seven years and that traditional chocolate and vanilla flavours are stillthe most popular among its many customers. The outlet is easily identifiable by its bright blue sign and is open from the early hours of 6 in the morning to 8 in the night.
You’ll be surprised to find that the K.G.N. Milk Bar down Marine Drive (despite its name) does not serve milk. Instead, it has gained popularity over its three-year existence for its delicious milk hoppers. A milk hopper, unlike its plain, egg and honey counterparts, is made predominantly with coconut milk and sugar. The hoppers served at the outlet come piping hot with a sticky, sugar-sweet centre and a crisp shell and are a mere Rs. 15. For those who would prefer something more savoury, plain hoppers are also served with a portion of spicy lunu miris.
The beauty of this outlet, removed from the chaos and bustle of most roadside joints is that it is simple and clean. Beyond the rail tracks, through the fringes of the swaying coconut trees, the beach is visible and combined with a sunset, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore and the welcoming smile of Swaminathan Ganesh (the affable owner of the shop) these milk hoppers are the perfect tonic for a long day at work.
To reach the shop turn into Harmer’s Road, Wellawatte (next to the police station) and turn left when you reach Marine Drive. The shop is the second on the left and despite the lack of a signboard, remains well known in the vicinity.
If you have a yen for the munchies, try the Amal Gram Store in Wellawatte. The store is one of four outlets in Colombo and specializes in roasted and devilled gram as well as mixtures of an assortment of flavours. Fried and devilled peanuts, fried lentils, green peas, banana chips and manioc chips are also popular items and can be bought for Rs. 40 (100g) and Rs. 100 (250g).
Manager of the string of stores, Murali, explained that the chain has been in operation for 50 years. The gram is stored in glass cases, while packets of varied mixtures line the store walls from top to bottom. Amal Gram Store is located at 107/C, Galle Road, Wellawatte.
En route from one gastronomic hub to another, we made our way from Wellawatte to Galle Face, all the while keeping watch for a wayside juice shop that had been re-christened ‘Fruti Juice Mart’ a few months ago. We found it a few metres ahead of Majestic City. Located on the land side at 119 Galle Road, Bambalapitiya, if you keep your eyes peeled you simply can’t miss it.
Quite a few fresh juice shops have sprouted around Colombo, but ‘Fruti Juice Mart’ trumps them all with its impressive menu of 140 types of juices. The juices range from non-local fruit such as strawberries, to tropical fruit like passion fruit and pineapple, with even the most inconceivable juices such as jakfruit, for the more adventurous. They also offer health-drinks such as gotukola juice and carrot juice which are popular among the ladies we were told. But that’s not all, the shop unlike its competitors, provides customers with more of an experience. Plastered along the walls are posters with information about the fruits that are available at the shop.
All juices are severed in a wide quirky-looking glass. Quirky because they’ve all got a picture of Mickey Mouse on them. When asked about the glasses, Amaar Nawaz grins while explaining, “We got the glasses when we first started out two years ago. We decided to get the Mickey Mouse glasses because the children would like that.”
The Fruti Juice Mart also makes deliveries for free and caters for events. The price range on average is about Rs. 150 to Rs. 250, with the cheapest being ‘Curry leaf’ juice priced at Rs. 50 and the most expensive ‘Date and Almond’ juice at Rs. 340. From plain juices to milkshake blends to interesting combos such as lime and ginger, the juice shop will have you poring over the menu while trying to decide what to order.
After a refreshing passion fruit juice, we set out for Galle Face. The popular evening hang-out for families and friends, was closed over the past few years but soon after the war ended, was reopened to the public. However, what we remember of the tightly beaded stretch of food stalls along the ‘Green’ is making a slow come back. First the ever famous isso vade carts made their appearance and since then as recently as December 31, Nana’s reclaimed their spot on the stretch under either green or yellow marquees.
There are however, other food stalls under similar coloured tents, displaying signs that read ‘Nana’s’ which have been set up as well. The original Nana’s though can be distinguished by the sign board that reads ‘Nana’s. The seniors. Since 1989’. The marquees are set up at about six in the evenings and the spread of food includes naans and chapattis for Rs. 30 and paratas for Rs. 10. These can be eaten with their Chicken BBQ which is their most popular dish, as well as devilled prawns, cuttle fish, beef and mutton.
There’s also food to snack on while chilling out on the beach such as isso (prawn) vades and crab vades, at Rs. 20 and Rs. 40. The pre-cooked vade which is made of a spiced flour, coconut and egg mixture topped with three prawns lined up or a crab that’s larger than its base vade is dropped into a vat of hot oil and fried instantly. It’s then dabbed with sauce, sprinkled with relish and served piping hot.
In the midst of all the fried food stalls, you will find an Achcharu stand that’s manned by Kanne. Deciding what you want to buy might prove to be a challenge though.
The moment you walk up to the cart the mouth watering trays of salted and peppered guava, and the chilli-sugar mixture veralu (olives), neli, pineapple and amberella will tantalize your senses with their rich colours and fresh heady aroma. Of course you can always get a little bit of everything, at the cost of Rs. 20 to Rs. 30 for a bagful.
With street sellers luring you with delicious delectables and wayside restaurants beckoning you with their freshly prepared fare and profusion of variety, even with a limited purse, a stroll around Colombo is sure to satisfy your palate.