More than staple street food troika–kotthu, pittu and hoppers
His name is Nalir but he says you can call him Dudley. In true Sri Lankan fashion, ‘Uncle’ or ‘Maama’ is also suffixed to his name. Dudley Maama’s cream shirt is patterned with pineapples and foliage and his black and white checked sarong is hitched up to his knees, as he directs both customers and staff of the food outlet he oversees, with a purposefulness reminiscent of a traffic cop during rush hour. The food goes out fast, the service is swift despite the weekend onslaught of customers – his restaurant in Hulftsdorp functions like a well-oiled machine.
Our ‘Eat Street’ for this year begins with the streets of Hulftsdorp where there is an intertwining of food and urban politics. A city’s food, just like its physical infrastructure, is a vital layer which makes up a city and we see this on Abdul Hameed Street.The sales pitch here is predominantly its affordability followed by portion quantities, meat-heavy menus and an array of quick food options. Competition has spawned multiple fast food imitations (we lost count of the number of burger shops on the street) and the street yields some food surprises outside the standard kotthu-pittu-hopper street food troika.
On the Saturday night we visit, the street is humming with activity as schoolboys, families and groups of friends throng the different shops and vendors. In a corner of Abdul Hameed Street is Dudley Maama and his restaurant. The food outlet has been in operation since 1956 and is open 24 hours, changing face throughout the day for its varying clientele. For breakfast, short eats, kiri bath and green gram are served up as well as rice and curry for lunch but it is dinner which yields a feast of options.
For a moment we waver – there’s everything from devilled cuttlefish eggs, tripe curry (baabath) and devilled chicken to pittu kotthu, macaroni and a doughy variation of the khubz roti. We settle on ghee paratha, cuttlefish egg curry, a sampling of devilled prawns and dolphin kotthu (is there any food more erroneously named than dolphin kotthu?) Unlike the standard kotthu, the roti for dolphin kotthu is cut unevenly, with larger pieces of roti and a base similar to that of a milky chicken pallandy binding it. Tonight’s version is the same variation of dolphin kotthu offered at most food outlets with milk, cheese, chicken, chopped vegetables and a spice blend mixed with the roti. The kotthu is served on a plantain leaf with a spoonful of curried chickpeas, chillie paste, onion sambol, slivers of cucumber and a wedge of lime.
The crowning glory however, is the ghee paratha. Hot, cooked to a slight crisp and daubed liberally with ghee, it is the perfect accompaniment for barbequed chicken or fiery devilled prawns.The food is laden liberally with spices and comes in generous portions. Accompaniments such as salad, dhal, potato gravy and raita are offered complimentary with any curry and our total amounted to Rs. 950 for a meal for four.
If you’re a fan of Slave Island’s famed burgers, you’ll be glad to know that Hulftsdorp’s Abdul Hameed Street has multiple variations of the same. Al-Baik, a small eatery with red and white marbled walls and framed paper quilling hung on the walls, is one of many which dish out burgers, submarines, hotdogs and batter fried chicken for hungry hordes. For Rs. 190, we received a spiced chicken patty, smothered in mayonnaise and sandwiched between lightly toasted buns, which surpassed some of the fare at Colombo’s fast food franchises.
When you go, take your time to make your pick. Quite a few food outlets offer tea, faluda, almond milk, short eats or sweetmeats (chicken samosas are priced at Rs. 12, sweet pancakes are also Rs. 12). One outlet serves up biriyani while another had people beating the heat to queue up for its beef soup and fried tripe. Keep a look out for the vendors grilling chicken and kebabs.
It should be noted that this street takes it meat seriously and there’s little on offer for vegetarians. Barring pork and certain seafood, you’re likely to find everything else. Like all street food around the world, it’s not for the fainthearted but Hulftsdorp’s offerings are endlessly interesting and warrant more exploring.