Despite being quite well known for our sea-food, Sri Lanka is without a doubt a haven for vegans. Not only is it blessed with an incredible array of vegetables, fruit and grains, its cuisine with its rich coconut sauces are completely dairy free and therefore quite vegan. Though admittedly, almost all households are known to add a spoon full of maldive fish (cured tuna fish traditionally produced in Maldives and an essential in Sri Lankan cooking) to all vegetable curries and sambols, we can take pride in the fact that, if we remove that one fishy element, we have in our hands one of the most vegan friendly cuisines in the world.
That is why, Hela Bojun Centres are so important to our country. A brain child of the Extension and Training Unit of the Department of Agriculture, this food centre serves only plant-based food to its customers. The prices are subsidized in order to promote sales as well as the consumption of local and fresh food.
Hela Bojun Food Centres are located in a number of locations all the way from Jaffna right down to Matara. Our lunch stop however, was at the one located at Battaramulla, right across the Department of Forest and in close proximity to Sethsiripaya. Open from 7.00 am to 4.00 pm on weekdays, this open air food outlet has a bustling open kitchen in the centre of the premises with seating around it. It overlooks a beautifully landscaped area with ponds blossoming with water lilies and storks flittering about. The occasional iguana is a bonus.
What is even more precious is that it is completely run by women. Part of the Women’s Agricultural Extension programme to promote local food consumption, these food centres empower and train women of the area to uplift their lives while supplying food at affordable rates.
Hela Bojun, Battaramulla has been in operation for 5 years and having lived literally less than half a kilometer away for almost the same time, I was lamenting over the tragedy of not discovering this gem before. Ranging from rotis, string-hoppers, pittus and dosais to a variety of sweet meats, Hela Bojun interestingly, does not serve the country’s staple rice and curry. Yet come lunch time, the place is humming with a steady stream of customers who were heard saying that the food available here was a welcome change to the usual rice and curry. Nearly 17 vendors were cooking and serving food straight off the stove and that is why we felt Hela Bojun deserves a part two in our weekly reviews.
Ramesh and I started off with fresh juices. I had the wood-apple while Ramesh had the papaya and they were absolute value for money (each priced at an astounding Rs 50). While the woodapple was not as thick as my mother’s one, I loved it and Ramesh loved his. It would be great if you take your own straws or just drink it off the glass to avoid using the single use straws handed over at the counter.
To start things off, I ordered a pol roti infused with mukunuvenna (local herb) and carrot (Rs 20) as well as a kurakkan dosai (Rs 30) and two polos cutlets (tender Jak fruit – Rs50 for both) The polos cutlet was mixed with some sweet potatoes which acted as a binding agent and was quite delectable. I would definitely go for more.
There were some ready-made kurakkan dosais I could have had, but the lady in charge of the dosai stall refused to sell it to me and insisted she would make some while I wait. Apparently, the key element here was to serve it warm as the dosai becomes quite hard and dry after a while. Quality assurance standards, hygiene and professionalism is maintained and is a matter of personal pride for these wonderful ladies. I have never had kurakkan dosai before and was not disappointed. While it is certainly not the traditional fare, it was certainly delicious with the sambaru (mixed vegetable curry) and sambol. Kudos to the cook for insisting on eating it warm.
The roti was also piping hot and served with some of the best lunumiris I have had in a while. (And Yes! No maldive fish here. So much win!). I was pleasantly surprised by the addition of mukunuwenna, and I think it is a welcome change to eating it as a mallung (cooked greens). All this was placed on a Kanda leaf and that means no single use lunch sheets were used.
Meanwhile, Ramesh had a fabulous string-hopper feed. This too was made while we watched. Literally from the stove to the plate. This came with some dhal curry and a coconut sambol. Ramesh teamed it up with a hot hot parippu vadai (made out of dhal, this is similar to the falafel – Rs 20/-). The food tasted like home, love and a determination to strive for bigger and better things. While, one might say cooking might be the stereotypical role of a woman we were happy to see women in business, taking on entrepreneurial challenges and making a positive change in their lives and livelihood.
Being the gluttons that we are, we finished up our meal with a steaming cup of Belimal (herbal drink made out of the flowers of the beli fruit) and some local sweet meats. Created mainly with rice flour, treacle, coconut milk and other such plant based ingredients, Sri Lankan sweet meats are the best as they are truly vegan! One must remember however, that most of these are deep fried in oil therefore is not great for your health. But this was a treat.
Ramesh had pani walalu while I had a veli thalapa and narang kavum. They complimented well with the belimal and it was a truly relaxing afternoon. All this while watching some wondering storks and the wind playing with the leaf laden branches that was right across us was idyllic and therapeutic.
In Conclusion, we LOVED Hela Bojun, not only for the food but also for what it stands for. Our complete meal for two cost us less than Rs 500/ and imagine how wonderful it is for those on a tight budget. It is definitely a service in itself.
Most of all, it is incredible how we can make our daily staples vegan by simply not adding maldive fish. We as a nation are truly lucky that switching to vegetarian or vegan meals is actually easier than we think it is.
In Hela Bojun Part Two we plan to engage with the ladies who run this wonderful enterprise and of course dig into more food.
In the meantime, do not forget to drop by Hela Bojun and also tune in to our video food reviews on social media.
Until our next vegan food adventure, this is Suramya saying TTFN.
I Love pop up sales! I love it more when it is a store filled with vegan products. Established in September 2019, this online based store had its first pop up sale at Horton Place, Colombo 7 on 23rd December 2019 with a steady flow of customers eager to stock up on their vegan supplies. Named quite simply as the VeganKade (Vegan Shop) and filled with vegan goodies imported directly from the UK, the store is run by a group of young girls and their moms. Speaking with Diasha, Rameesha, Anuki and Roshi we found out that the Vegan Kade was started purely to offer quality vegan products at an affordable price to the public so that the transition to veganism could happen smoothly.
Of course, many would argue as to why we need to import vegan products when Sri Lanka is blessed with an abundance of plant based food items be it grains, vegetables or fruit. The fact of the matter is that there are very few vegan products available if you wish to consume a different type of cuisine or want to recreate egg or dairy based baked goods. Further, most ready to drink plant-based milks produced using almond, soy or rice are quite expensive and finding products such as vegan cheese, ham, chocolate spreads, nutritional yeast and egg replacers is near impossible.
By providing products such as eggless salad dressings, dairy free plant based milk, chocolates, chocolate spreads, cheeses, vegan hams, grains and seeds, vitamins, egg replacers, nutritional yeast and many more Vegan Kade is filling a void vegans face on a daily basis.
While browsing through products, Ramesh and I received truly delicious free samples of a Mango/ Chia pudding as well as a chocolate chia pudding. Made by Diasha the Mango Chia pudding had an undertone of coconut with tiny bite sized chunks of sweet ripe mango in every mouthful. The chocolate chia pudding was light and not too sweet which was a perfect blend for me. Only years of drilled etiquette stopped me from asking for seconds.
We at Meatless Monday Sri Lanka are passionate in promoting a vegan lifestyle and are always on the look out to feature businesses and individuals who share our zeal. Looking at the young eager faces behind Vegan Kade, we are heartened to know that cruelty free vegan food is indeed gaining momentum and there is a future for a kinder and healthier lifestyle.
Check out Vegan Kade on FB
Until the next review, this is Suramya saying TTFN!
Vegan Japanese food? ‘Pffffft……’ you would say as the nation’s cooking is deeply rooted in seafood and is perhaps one of the least likely vegan friendly cuisines in the world. However, if you can look past the Sushi and Sashimi, you would see that Japanese food really comprises of rice, seaweed, vegetables, soy products and mushrooms – all that is vegan.
There is something always fishy about Japanese cuisine and that is the fish based seasoning that is used abundantly to flavour the dishes be it in soups, broths or dipping sauces.
However, it is not impossible to find vegan/vegetarian friendly Japanese food.
Feeling quite adventurous, the Meatless Monday team comprising of Ramesh, Thadsha and I trotted over to Sushi Kai, located at the corner of Jawatte Rd and Thimbirigasya Rd. The restaurant has since opened another branch just a few doors away and that is where our table was set. Interestingly, the main kitchen is located at the other restaurant and we were quite skeptical about service time.
Sushi Kai was recommended by a number of my vegetarian friends and I was looking forward to the experience as we were seated in an already bustling restaurant.
Our server, was extremely helpful once he realized we were looking at vegan options, offered to check with the chef if their batters, broths and sauces would contain any meat or fish. Despite being very busy, he took an inordinately long time to take our order patiently and cheerfully. So the service was excellent.
Our drinks arrived first. Along with a pot of green tea, Ramesh ordered the restaurant’s signature drink – Kai Glass containing ginger and lemongrass, I had the Kai Lime and Ginger and Thadsha played it safe with watermelon. Ramesh found the Kai Glass ‘interesting’, while both Thadsha and I loved our drinks.
The food was served nice and warm despite our reservations. Clearly, the distance from the restaurants does not deter serving time and the staff were busy bees.
We started off with a Miso Bowl (Rs 300) and was assured the broth was vegan with no other flavourings apart from the miso which is a fermented soy. The Miso Soup has a life of its own dancing in the bowl where thermal convection happens right before your eyes. (This happens when the heat loss at the top of the dish makes the cells denser than those below them, so they fall back down into the liquid where they get warm again. It happens with all hot liquid, just that the miso consistency makes it a visible delight. And YES, google is my friend.) With wee cubes of tofu, seaweed, a smattering of sesame seeds and spring onions this was delicate on the palate. We all loved it, especially Thadsha. I was inspired to make a gif out of it. You are welcome.
The Veg Roll (Rs 600) served yellow and red bell pepper, cucumber, shitake mushrooms, and cream cheese, topped with the wasabi and ginger these rolls were irresistible. This was the only vegetarian dish we ordered.
The onions, aubergines, pumpkin, sweet potato and parsley of the Tempura (Rs 600) were coated in a vegan batter specifically made for us. A surprise for me was the thinly sliced ladies fingers in the crispy batter. A truly pleasant surprise. Crispy, crunchy and quite a large serving, it was pure bliss. I salivate as I am typing away.
Our chosen carbs came in the form a delicately seasoned garlic rice (Rs 480). Topped with spring onions and sesame seeds it was the perfect accompaniment to the Teriaki Tofu (Rs 460) and Teppanyaki Shitake Mushrooms (Rs. 590).
These dishes were truly amazing with the flavours just bursting in our mouths. There was a collective sigh as we ate and silence on my part as I concentrated on the food. These came highly recommended and I could not agree more.
The sauce of the Teriyaki Tofu was pure Umami heaven. I wondered if it contained oyster sauce, but I was assured that they had not. The Teppanyaki Shitake Mushroom teamed with the lime that accompanied the dish was absolutely yummy.
To end the meal, we wanted to try the banana fritters on the dessert menu but unfortunately, it was not available on that day. So we let it be. But they do serve a fried brownie and a yummy green tea ice cream that is worth tasting.
The Menu at Sushi Kai has quite a number of vegan and vegetarian options making it a place that caters to both vegan and non-vegan, making it an ideal restaurant for friends and family to spend time together. Speak to the serves and they will help you.
Pasan, the owner of the restaurant mentioned that this was a key factor in the restaurant as both his wife and best friend were vegan. Apparently owning a non-vegan friendly restaurant is not an option for him. Lucky us. He was also quite keen on talking about sauces they use saying he prefers not to always use vegan versions of traditional seafood based sauces as they contain artificial flavourings and therefore prefers to use with natural vegan flavours. Health over taste is always a wise option.
He also hopes to extend the menu and add further options for vegans and vegetarians – a choice we heartily agree.
Do we recommend Sushi Kai? Yes, of course. Drop by and let us know what you think.
Until food brings us together again – this is Suramya bidding you a TTFN. (Ta Ta For Now)
The Mount Lavinia Hotel is well known for their incredible vegan buffet on poya days consisting of over a hundred vegan dishes from all over the world, along with their special vegan menu – both firsts in Sri Lanka. Following the tradition of promoting vegan food to Sri Lanka, on 1st November, Mount Lavinia Hotel partnered with Meatless Monday Sri Lanka and Humane Society International to celebrate the Workd Vegan Day.
In 2018 on World Vegan Day, the Mount Lavinia Hotel introduced a special vegan high tea for the first time in Sri Lanka to celebrate this special day. This year on World Vegan Day, the Mount Lavinia Hotel celebrated one year of success with their vegan high tea in partnership with Meatless Monday Sri Lanka and Humane Society International. The event was highly successful with both vegans and non-vegans turning up at the hotel to enjoy the variety of vegan food available to them at the high tea.
(Winners of the Meatless Monday competition enjoying the vegan high tea with family)
At a special price of 1,100 rupees, the high tea was well worth the price as it consisted of a range of both international and fusion items that were an absolute treat to everyone present. The high tea platter was made up of traditional English scones served with jam and vegan cream, a few Sri Lankan dishes with a twist such as spicy “Lavariya”, traditionally a local sweet and miniature coconut rotis with a delicious filling among others. For desserts, they had a beautiful range of unique fusion sweets that were a treat to the taste-buds.
(Scones with a Sri Lankan touch to it)
(Spicy Lavariya and other vegan delicacies)
For vegans, it was another opportunity to treat themselves to vegan treats without the hassle of explaining their diet multiple times or having to question the food being served. For the non vegans, it was an opportunity to devour delicious vegan food and open their eyes to everything the vegan world has to offer.
The Vegan Day celebrations continued with a cookery demonstration conducted by Dr. Pablis of Mount Lavinia Hotel which focused on teaching the Meatless Monday team on making vegan Sri Lanka food.
(Thadsha from Meatless Monday team assisting Dr.Pablis in the food preparation)
Every now and then I get asked by people how I live on a plant based diet. Better yet, they say that without fish or meat, food is just meh!, or that being vegan in Sri Lanka is difficult, expensive, or doesn’t offer enough options.
Today Ramesh and I decided to do our review at Upali’s by Nawaloka on some of the completely plant based classics in Sri Lankan cuisine. It was right around lunch time when we got there and Upali’s had its usual busy and bustling atmosphere.
Despite this, Ramesh and I were escorted to a table for two by a host and handed the menus. They had vegetarian and vegan items marked separately with symbols next to each item which makes ordering much easier. While scanning the menu I asked the waiter if the polos cutlets have an egg wash before frying, and he said that all of their starters have an egg wash. Which was unfortunate for me as a vegan.
So Ramesh and I decided to start off with a soup and then go for the mains. We ordered a Mulligatawny soup and a Thambun Hodi Rasam. Both soups originate from the South Indian cuisine.
For the mains we ordered Themparadu Bath (tempered rice), Kaju Sudata Uyala (a cashew curry), Kos Ata Kalu Pol Maluwa (a spicy curry made with jackfruit seeds), and a Bimmal Baduma (a mushroom fry).
To cool it down, we ordered a Karapincha (curry leaves) with lime drink and a passion fruit drink which were served first.
Karapincha with Lime Juice: 240
I was blown away on my first sip of the karapincha drink. It gave a strong karapincha flavour but was nicely blended with a sweet lime juice. Karapincha is so overrated since we use it in almost all our curries and fried food. But I believe this is another great way to incorporate Karapincha into your meals because it’s known for its benefits in reducing cholesterol.
Passion Fruit Juice: Rs. 275
The passion fruit juice gave the whole exotic tropical fruit vibe as it had a sweet and strong tart flavour. Growing up it was one of my favorite fruits. I remember that my aunt had a passion vine and I always got fresh passionfruit from that. This drink just took me back to childhood. Come to think of it, we don’t often find them in supermarkets anymore unless we go to a weekly pola. I think Ramesh made a great choice with the passion fruit drink!
Both drinks were served with paper straws which are better than plastic straws but still single use. Maybe Upali’s could consider using reusable metal or bamboo straws in future.
Then came the soups we ordered, and they were like nothing I’ve tasted before.
Thambun Hodi Rasam: Rs. 325
The thambun hodi rasam was SPICY! Yes, I wrote that in caps because it really was. But us Sri Lankans love spicy food, don’t we? As a spicy food lover, this was the best Rasam I’ve had so far.
Mulligatawny Soup: Rs. 325
We were quite curious to try this one because it was the first time both were going to have it. The menu listed the ingredients: a combination of tamarind, lemon juice, red lentils, and coconut milk.
It certainly took us by surprise. It was fragrant and insanely delicious with a bit more texture and crumbliness than the rasam.
Both soups were served with two pieces of soft mini roast paan.
Temparadu Bath: Rs. 325
The Themparadu Bath was tempered in vegetable ghee with onions and curry leaves. It was soft and tender because of the vegetable ghee. One potion of it was suffice to fill both our hungry tummies. 🙂
Kos Ata Kalu Pol Maluwa Rs. 550
The curry was literally black as the name suggests. 🙂 The curry was made with boiled jackfruit seeds with grated coconut and a black curry sauce that made it spicy and delicious. It had a nice authentic Sri Lankan taste to it that satisfied all our taste buds.
Kaju Sudata Uyala: Rs. 710
This is hands down one of the best cashew curries I’ve had in a long time. Most of the time I find them either spicy or oily. This curry had just the right amount of spices to make it delightful. It blended well with the other curries we ordered and evened out the spiciness of the Kos Ata Kalu Pol Maluwa.
Bimmal Baduma: Rs. 475
They had used the oyster mushrooms which are quite common in Sri Lanka. It was batter fried with capsicalms, onion rings and dried chillies. It was great with rice and curry but I believe it would also be a good (and vegan!) appetizer. Ramesh and I enjoyed the remaining mushrooms even after finishing our meals.
The mains were served with a complimentary plate of papadam and fried chillies. At the end of the meal both of us were full and satisfied. We were happy and our tummies were happy, too.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t spot anything vegan in the dessert menu other than a fruit platter. As much as we love fruits, it’s not the thing we want to buy at a restaurant. It would have been ideal if they had some Sri Lankan sweets such as pani walalu, aluwa etc.
The staff were helpful and knew the menu thoroughly which was great to clarify all our doubts. Whenever I go out to dine, I have a habit of questioning the waiter about the menu to make sure I get vegan food. But most of the time I find that they either lack knowledge about it or are not happy to clarify things. But at Upali’s, we found it easy as they have well trained staff who know the menu well and are happy to help out.
Upali’s has a variety of vegan and vegetarian options that have been cooked just the right way to satisfy our cravings for Sri Lankan food.
See you soon with our next review! Eat mindfully, live sustainably!