This week, Eat Street heads to the hills to take a look at what the hill capital is serving up. With the Esala Perahera taking place, all roads  lead to Kandy and while the central town’s narrow, winding roads and ensuing traffic jams could easily give Colombo’s famed rush hour jams a run for their [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

For you foodies heading to Kandy for the perahera


Here for the view: Patrons relax at the Slightly Chilled Lounge. Pix by Anuradha Bandara

This week, Eat Street heads to the hills to take a look at what the hill capital is serving up. With the Esala Perahera taking place, all roads  lead to Kandy and while the central town’s narrow, winding roads and ensuing traffic jams could easily give Colombo’s famed rush hour jams a run for their money, so can its thriving food scene.

Kandy’s food offerings have expanded to keep with the crowds and the results range from fine dining and fusion to homemade treats and excellent street food. The list below is only a sliver of the hill capital’s diverse food offerings, which definitely warrant more exploring.

Cool Corner

Under Ramesh Perera’s hands, a scoop of ice cream turns into a performance at Cool Corner. A fedora jauntily angled on his head, the genial owner is all smiles and cheerfully serves up his interpretation of a Thai rolled ice cream. Dubbing it ‘frozen-fried ice cream’ (although there is no frying involved), each serving is made instantly as soon as an order is placed. A homemade creamy concoction is poured on an ultra-chilled metal plate and then rapidly mixed together with the desired flavours and toppings before it freezes. Using a metal scraper to chop up the cooled mix, the performance looks like the making of Kottu, but minus the noise. While the Thai rolled ice cream results in a flattened mixture which is rolled into scrolls, Ramesh opts to serve the ice cream in traditional scoops –
perhaps next, ice cream scrolls could be on the cards for Cool Corner.

Coffee and dessert at Natural Coffee

The result is delicious and easily one of the tastier homemade ice creams we’ve had in a while. Made using fresh, local ingredients, the ice cream lacks commercial synthetic flavouring and is instead, rich and decadent. The tangy passion fruit ice cream we try balances the acidity of the fruit perfectly with the cream components, and retains the faint crunch of the passion fruit seeds. A crowd favourite, the chocolate oreo doesn’t stint on the nuts and oreos and is a heady, chocolate-filled treat.

The small ice cream parlour attracts big crowds thanks to its innovative ice creams and affordability. Prices begin at Rs. 170 for three scoops and the parlour’s menu spans an organic range and sorbets and has flavours such as plum pudding, spiced apple cider, ginger, margarita, cinnamon, beet, coffee coconut and pumpkin clove.

Cool Corner began in March last year and is run by Ramesh and his business partner. A former textile engineer, Ramesh turned a childhood love for ice cream into a professional passion and the ice creams flavours are the results of months long labour to perfect the recipes. The experimenting is still not over – plans are on the cards to start serving deep fried ice cream and they are mulling over multiple requests to open an outlet in Colombo.

Cool Corner is located at 114, Peradeniya Road, Kandy

Soya Centre

Vegans and vegetarians, rejoice. Soya Centre’s menu spans all food products soya-related and the high-protein legume bashfully takes the main stage and shines. The small shop showcases the versatility of the soybean, which is often used as a lactose alternative and a substitute for meat and dairy.

Its location and affordability are the Soya Centre’s biggest strengths and the small outlet serves soya-based savouries such as soya rolls, cutlets, vadais and pastries. Soya chocolate cakes, sugary-sweet date and soya milk toffees, soya pani walalu and rich cake are some of the sweets on the shop’s menu. Fresh tempeh, sausages, soya milk, soya oil, noodles and tofu are also sold over the counter. Drop in on any day and you’re likely to find schoolchildren, shoppers and tourists enjoying cones laden generously with soya ice cream – a best seller at the shop, located in the YMCA building.

Vintage charm: Retro posters at The Empire cafe

The outlet is minimal and stark in its functionality and is a small part of an interesting history with the island’s relationship with the soybean. Earliest references to soybean cultivation in Sri Lanka date back to the 18th century, in Dutch botanist Paul Hermann’s Musaeum Zeylanicum, although many assert that soybeans may have been cultivated on a small scale earlier. In the 1970s, a Sri Lanka Soybean Development Programme was established in response to a survey which revealed that 42% of the country’s preschool children had second or third degree malnutrition and were worsening. Over the past years, Sri Lanka has been innovative in how it has adapted the bean to suit its local diet whether used in soya kola kenda, as a curry or in roti or ice cream – a crowd favourite at the Soya Centre

Managing Director of the Soya Centre Sathasivam Chandrasehar, has been a part of the industry since the 90s and explains that four years ago business was thriving in the hill capital. With a flux of tourists and new restaurants and cafes mushrooming in Kandy, the Soya Centre has had to battle new competition to cater to the demand and hopes to keep up with new trends and revitalize its outlet.

The Soya Centre is located at 116 A, Kotugodella Veediya (YMCA Building), Kandy

Natural Coffee

At Natural Coffee, visitors at the café are promptly greeted with a glass of cool water and face towels to refresh themselves before they dive into its coffee menu.Shinchiro Yoshimori is a Japanese expat who worked as an administrator on a construction site in Sri Lanka. Moved by his experiences in Sri Lanka and a subsequent interest in the pockets of coffee being cultivated in a tea-loving nation, he embarked on a coffee revival project. Yoshimori – who speaks fluent Sinhala – smilingly refers to himself as a ‘coffee artist’ as he taught himself the intricacies of coffee production, from growing and harvesting to roasting and serving when starting on the project.

The café’s repertoire has the standard coffee drinks – café latte, matcha lattes, coffee shakes, and espressos – as well as a non-coffee menu for those who are less enthusiastic about the beverage. Chocolate fondues, sandwiches, waffles and selected desserts (including a coffee infused pudding, sweetened with kithul) are some of the café’s food offerings.

Coffee prices are admittedly high at the small café and the café also acknowledges this, maintaining that it is necessary to ensure fair trade to the people behind the production. Community development, growing a coffee drinking culture and foster professional service development for women form the backbone of the little cafe. Forest unions were formed in two villages and a contract was signed between the unions and the Japan Fair Trade Cooperation to ensure fair trade and that a part of the profit is diverted to improve the lives of the villagers and develop coffee production.Begun in 2013, the project serves up home-grown Sri Lankan coffee at the Natural Coffee café and also supplies to a number of hotels.

Natural Coffee is located at No. 5, Temple Street, Kandy

Empire Café

Located in close proximity to the Temple of the Tooth, the Empire Café gets two thumbs up for its cheerful ambience. The small, compact café is housed in the 200 year old ‘Olde Empire’ Hotel heritage building, which was once a coffee factory and now converted to a hotel (run by a different management).

Yummy! Soya icecream

The café has a quirky, inviting vibe which marries the building’s history with just the right balance of contemporary décor. Backed up with a focused menu and prompt service, the case is a good spot to grab a quick snack. Hot pink and teal interiors are offset with white furniture, vintage dressers, retro posters, warm patchwork wallhangings and bunches of lotus flowers, making the café a favourite among tourists.

Run by Manor House Concepts which manages luxury boutique hotels around Sri Lanka, the Empire Café’s menu leans towards western fare with the occasional Sri Lankan dish thrown in for variety. Its menu spans hearty breakfasts, a variety of wraps, pastas and salads while its dessert range consists of decadent cakes and homemade ice creams. Manager, Prabha, avers that the Perahera stack (Boneless chicken thigh on roast pumpkin mash topped with rocket), the Kandy King salad and the pancake breakfast which serves up thick, American style pancakes are favourites at the café.

Our food fix at the Empire Café was a Ceylon chai and jaggery smoothie which was a welcome antidote to a long, hot day while on previous occasions, the café’s wraps haven’t disappointed.

Empire Café is located at 21, Temple Street, Kandy

Licensed to Grill

If you want to find Licensed to Grill, just follow the music near George de Silva Park and look out for a battered, red tent in the evening. The pop-up street food shop is run by three young friends and begins setting up just as Kandy winds down. Licensed to Grill is a food venture“from foodies for foodies” (their tagline) and brings together essential ingredients for the perfect fast food experience – a relaxed and lively ambience, tight menu, fresh ingredients and a bucketful of energy.

The pop-up stall runs like a well-oiled machine – Navoda Wijesekera (24) and Ramli Raban (24) are hotel school graduates and handle the grilling, cooking and assembling while Dinesh Pathirana (25) takes on the billing and finances. Everything in the restaurant is built for portability and speed and the food comes out swiftly.

Smooth operation: Licensed to Grill in action

When we visit, there’s already a small crowd which fill up the mismatched plastic chairs which dot the tent. The grills are fired up and orders are good-naturedly yelled over the sound of electronic beats. Only one and a half years old, Licensed to Grill has received a good response so far, although it took time for people to get used to the concept and its existence is weather-sensitive. It now attracts a staunch customerbase for its affordable street food.

Licensed to Grill’s menu is (wisely) a concise one, allowing for speed and efficiency thanks to a handful of focused ingredients. The menu revolves around all things grilled and consists of chicken, beef, mutton, tuna and egg wraps and burgers – a heads up for the faint of heart, the spicy chicken takes its spice seriously. There’s even a sweet wrap on offer (bananas slathered in homemade peanut butter and chocolate fudge) and also waffles for dessert.

The food is no-frills but fresh and filling and coupled with its affordability, the casual evening ambience and the enthusiasm of those running it, Licensed to Grill ticks all the checklist for a good street food experience. It’s really no surprise that the small pop-up shop is one of the more popularfood stops in the city, beating out high-end restaurants and franchises.

Licensed to Grill is located on George de Silva Park, Dalada Veediya

Homemade and exotic: Ramesh Perera gives it his personal touch

Slightly Chilled Lounge

Slightly Chilled Lounge (also known as Bamboo Garden) is a tourist hotspot at night in Kandy thanks to its view of the town, laidback atmosphere and Chinese food. On some nights, Michael, the lounge’s owner doubles up as DJ playing a mix of deep house and lounge music. On other nights, often guests are given free rein and plug in their music players and phones. “The highlight is definitely the view,” notes Michael, adding that the lounge largely beckons tourists in the evening, who come and relax over food and drinks after a day’s cultural sightseeing.

Slightly Chilled’s menu leans towards Chinese and western fusion. Its main attraction however is the view which encircles the open-air lounge, offering a stunning vista of Kandy – particularly in the evenings as the sun sets and the city becomes cooler.

Slightly Chilled Lounge is located at 29A, AnagarikaDharmapala, Mawatha, Kandy

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