Remember our visit to Mala Hotpot? Well right next to it is Thai where they serve some scrumptious …well… Thai cuisine. Thadsha was craving for some noodles and we decided to pop across to grab a bite from there as well. Here too, the menu was quite limited, yet it covered some crowd favourites such as rice and noodle dishes, salads and Thai curries. We opted for the veggie noodle and green papaw salad and informed that we did not want any ingredient containing fish, meat or egg. While we cannot assure the noodle is vegan, we can say that this was a good vegetarian option and certainly a win for plant based cuisine. The ordering process was quite simple and straight forward and all we had to do was to chat and wait.
The meal was prepared pretty quick and contained noodles mixed with an array of vegetables in a mild yet flavourful sauce. As much as vegetarian and plant based food is more and more popular in Sri Lanka, you do need to be mindful that there are certain condiments that are often disregarded and overlooked as being vegetarian. Chili paste is one such condiment. We forgot to mention about it and there it was nestled in all its fiery glory in the corner of our dish. Of course they were quick to rectify the matter and tucked in we did.
The noodles were cooked beautifully and the umami flavour was just right. We loved it. Filled with cauliflower florets, carrot, a healthy dose of spring onions and tofu, it was a delight. The green papaw salad containing julienned carrots, green papaw, bean sprouts, tomatoes was crunchy and fresh with a handful of roasted peanuts scattered artfully on the surface. Another win. Yum!
So, if you are looking for a quick meal with a generous serving of vegetables this will suit you well. Affordable, filling and plant based, it certainly gets a thumbs up from us.
Believe it or not, there was a time when there were only a handful of cafes and restaurants let alone sweet shops in Sri Lanka. There was little choice and eating out was not always an option. That is why Bombay Sweets will always have a special place in my heart. A visit to Bombay Sweet House was always a treat, not just for the tummy, but because it was a sheer sensory experience. From mirrored walls, displays that had sweets of every colour with silver and gold glistening on some and the sweet milky scents to the slightly sticky table tops it was every child’s dream land. I used to take a deep breath and just inhale it all in as I stared in wonder.
Well this trip down memory lane was due to a trip Ramesh, Thadsha and I decided to take to Wellawatte. I knew the legendary Bombay Sweet House of Colombo 3 had moved to Wellawatte, but had no idea of the exact location. Google came to my rescue and off we went to the store. I think there are still quite number of loyal customers who come in search of this establishment as the re-location is actually mentioned on its glass windows.
The store is much smaller than I expected and frankly did not evoke the same sort of magic as my memory served. One long table was mounted to the wall on a side with a few chairs to sit and have drinks and while the one in Colombo 3 outlet was not massive, I miss the old school charm.
Bombay Sweet House serves an array North Indian sweets that contain milk, ghee, sugar and at times nuts. Set up since independence, two generations of the Dawood Bhoy family has been running it, with the third generation is mastering the expertise. From Jelebi, to sticky gooey Muscats and Gulab Jamuns, they had it all. What is important is that these sweets do not contain any gelatine or eggs and therefore, suitable for vegetarians who consume milk products.
They also have fried both meat and vegetarian samosas that were warm and incredibly yummy. I especially wanted to have their vegetarian samosa which was unfortunately sold out on the day we visited. (Arghhhhhhh!)
Bombay Sweet House is also famous for its Faluda, which is an experience in itself. Starting off with the sherbet at the bottom then filled with milk, kasa seeds and ice cream it is pure bliss. However, the but we decided to have a plain Sherbet Rose drink with kasa kasa seeds (basil seeds) (Rs 100) and a Nannari – aka Iramusu (Rs 100).
The drinks were served with plastic straws and I opted for my ever present metal one. Sherbet Rose is the base of a Faluda and is a sugary red drink flavoured with rose water. I have never tried the nannari which is locally known as iramusu and is a medicinal plant with properties that can cool the body. Nannari roots are boiled for this drink and I could not wait to try it. So, I took one deep slurp and closed my eyes as the sugary sweetness hit my senses. Cooling or not the sugar content is extremely high in this drink and I could not take anymore. The Sherbert Rose was equally sweet, but it tasted of childhood and therefore was easily forgiven. Oh and remember I mentioned sticky table tops? Those remained the same. While we were well on our way in having a sugar induced coma we also picked a few sweets to taste later.
Ramesh managed to catch me salivating at the drink. What can I say other than some people have absolutely no dignity as far as food is concerned.
Now to the sweets! The White Berfi was milky with hints of rose essence that would have been considered decedent in times of old. The sprinkles on top make them fun and modern and it simply melts in your mouth.
Our next choice was the much loved laddu. Once again cashew nuts, chickpea flour, milk, ghee and raisins are added to these amazing treat. Sweet and crumbly it is once again a taste of the past. It is lovely to know the age old recipes are preserved through the years.
Our final sweet was the sugar dripping whirls of gold a.k.a Jelebi. Made out of flour and ghee, deep fried and then dipped in sugar syrup, this is perhaps my all-time favourite. Crunchy Jelebies hide pockets of sugar syrup that just explode in an unsuspecting mouth releasing all the sugary rose flavoured syrup. An absolute must have.
Bombay Sweet House does not replicate its age old splendour and feels like an old, tired version of its yester-year glory. But the taste and quality of its sweets remain the same and I hope that will be enough to attract an ever changing base of consumers.
After bidding adieu to Bombay Sweet House and walking towards the Bambalapitiya side, we came across the larger than life Bombay Sweet Centre name board with the gigantic disposable drinking cup. I remembered it had almond milk and veggie samosas so I convinced Thadsha to Ramesh to cross the road and have our second snap. (The way we snack, I am starting to think we might be Hobbits)
The Bombay Sweet Centre has gone through a major facelift and looks trendy and modern. The displays contained a fast quantity of sweets both from North Indian origin as well as other sweets such as jujubs and sugar coated almonds.
We trudged upstairs and was hypnotised by the wall paper was in true candy store theme and it looks like they are also on Uber Eats and have Durian Juice! (Suramya faints)
Having no room for any more sweetness we ordered veggie samosas and received them hot and crunchy. They contained potatoes, carrot and leek and were incredibly yummy! The almond milk while was available and is said to be quite yummy, unfortunately containes a percentage of both almonds and milk. (The horror) Therefore, this is a no go for vegans but they do have loads of fresh juices you can choose from.
While we munched on our hot hot samosas, we read the sweet back story of Bombay Sweet Centre displayed on its walls. From humble beginings to its modern establishment Bombay Sweet Centre has certainly come a long way and certainly has its eyes on the future.
Today, Wellawatte has a number of shops serving North Indian sweets. A far cry from how things were, decades ago. However, as far as old timers are concerned, I hope both Bombay Sweet House and Bombay Sweet Centre will continue in their tradition of giving all their patrons a sugar induced coma. I can assure you, it is the best of its kind.
North Indian Sweets are not vegan and only suitable for lacto-vegetarians (vegetarians who do not consume any meat, fish, poultry or eggs but consume dairy products) But they do have some lovely samosas, fruit juices and drinks such as Nannari, Rose Sherbet and Nelli cordial that hits the spot in our tropical weather.
Consuming food from a hotpot is a whole new experience where a divided pot with a heating element is set in the centre of a table with a soup/broth base in one section and a spicy sauce in the other. Different ingredients including various soy products, greens, vegetables, meats, sea food, dumplings and noodles can be added to the broth, cooked and consumed with a serving of sticky rice. It seems a fabulous method for communal eating and it certainly sounds intriguing doesn’t it? While meat can certainly be added to the broth, the broth itself is most often vegetarian. So, essentially hotpots can be easily turned into a plant based dish.
When I was first introduced to the dish in Sri Lanka, the presentation was different and frankly I thought it looked dodgy and wanted nothing to do with it. Many hotpots later, I absolutely love it and convinced Thadsha to try it out on afternoon.
The Mala Hotpot is nestled on the top floor of the Food Studio of the Colombo City Centre. Now for an embarrassing tale. For months I was convinced that this food outlet was named after its proprietor – Mala. Mala being a very common female name in Sri Lanka, I did not for a moment question this thought. Wanting to be friendly and gather more info for the review I asked the staff about Mala the owner of the establishment, only to be told gently that Mala had nothing to do with the owner but is the name of given to a Chinese blended spice containing Sichuan peppers, chilli and other spices. ( Double face palm) I breezed through my embarrassment while Thadsha was laughing away and started the ordering process.
Now this ordering process has a method. Here is a step by step guide.
Pick a tray with tongs
Pick any amount of veggies from the selection
Choose your spice level from mild, medium and High
Weigh your tray and pay accordingly
Take the token you are given and search for a beverage as Mala Hotpot does not provide you with one.
Once the device beeps you are good to go
I think this whole ordering process gives a certain amount of control over what you eat. I picked Pak Choi, Kan Kung, thinly sliced carrots, cauliflower florets, wood car mushrooms, black mushrooms, Tofu, Tofu skin, Bamboo and potato noodles. They did not have seaweed sheets when we went and that broke my heart, because I absolutely love it. Please note that while I love my spices, I do not have a death wish and thought I should take care with my Mala (Not the female, but the spice) and opted for mild.
Now here’s fair warning. Mala Hotpot does not serve the dish on a heating device and what you are served is a fusion that is simply a stir-fry and in a brothy sauce that is accompanied by a sticky rice bowl. You have the choice of using cutlery or opt for chop sticks. The philistine that I was, I used cutlery. I must say, that while you do not get the whole hotpot experience, the flavours that dance in your mouth and the different textures that whirl with it truly compensates. From crunchy to rubbery to smooth it has it all. Despite being mild, this dish is still quite spicy and the sticky rice truly helps in balancing things out. All in all it was a truly nutritious meal that was packed with some awesome flavour. In all we spent Rs 900 and it filled us up.
Mala Hotpot is a go to place for me, especially when I need a mood booster. Try it out and let us know what you feel. Cruelty free, plant based food really is awesome.
Saraswathi Lodge is a bustling wayside saivar food haunt that serves people from all walks of life. From hungry students, street sweepers to rich entrepreneurs, Saraswathi Lodge has been an ever present foodie haven for over 70 years.
I was first introduced to Saraswathi Lodge by my husband (AKA minisa), who thinks it is the best eatery in town. Saivar, loosely translated is vegetarian and that is what you can get at Sarasawathi – South Indian vegetarian food.
Saraswathi Lodge is a diamond in the rough and it is not for the weak hearted. Food is served on stainless steel plates, curries are stored in … well … buckets that are heaved and plonked on tables. Once you enter its doors everything is a blur. From ordering, eating, paying and leaving I don’t think you have time to blink.
So, off we went to breakfast at Saraswathi Lodge. Of course, old timer that I am, I rattled off the Sarasawathi Lodge Etiquette to the team which has been repeated to me over and over again by the minisa but well, never followed by me.
Here it is:
Be aware of what you want and be specific to your server
Don’t expect the server to answer all your questions
Don’t change the order on whim
Don’t try to chat up the server for more information
Know that if you sit down stairs, some random stranger will sit next to you
You do NOT engage in friendly chats with said strangers
You make no eye contact with other patrons
You keep your head low and chomp away
Don’t be shocked by the service
Do NOT use extra vadai to make your food photo pretty and put it back on the tray.
Try not to take food photographs
Do not jump in surprise everytime the curry buckets are slammed on the table.
Wipe your hands with white paper without blinking an eye
Thank the server by way of a polite nod and thank you, nothing more
Pffft… Who listens to his guidelines. Still looking around, that seems to be the etiquette. My sunny smiles were returned with blank looks. The floor was scattered with used white paper. No one was engaging in conversations. But everyone was eating in lightening speed. Buckets of curries whizzed past and it was a hub of activity. There is a universal truth that states that any restaurant with a large customer turn out means that the food served is fresh and clean and I think that is true.
We were lucky to get a table with four seats. While we quickly sat, another gentleman joined our table. While the servers were not the friendliest, they were certainly swift. I wanted uppuma but apparently it was sold out. Saraswathi Lodge opens at 6.00 am so if you need Uppama, make sure you are there on time.
We ordered wheat flour string hoppers, vadai and a plain thosai with two light teas.
To our right was the serving station, with people manning the takeways and refilling the curry buckets, and of course regular orders.
Right next to it was this steaming chrome device that was truly intriguing. Serving as both a plate rack and a plate warmer, this device has a hot water bath that the servers dip the plates in before they plonk it in front of the customers. I think it serves as a germ killer cum plate warmer. Remember to tilt the plate to drain the extra water off your plate. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Soon after the food is served, in comes the sambar curry ( A dhal curry swimming with vegetables such as murunga, onions, carrots, beans, pumpkin, potatoes and sometimes chickpeas) and the red and white chutney buckets with long spoons. Remember to dip the spoon well in to the bucket to get the veggies. If the curries are dripping from the sides of the buckets. Just ignore.
Saraswathi Lodge might mass produce food and it might be served with zero smiles. But the food has soul and that speaks to everyone. The string hoppers are massive and really 10 feels like twenty regular ones. While we opted for the plain thosai, our table partner had a ghee thosai which also looked delicious! I saw neighbouring patrons gobbling down boiled chickpeas. It was a food fiesta. I asked our table partner how his ghee Thosai was and he gave it a thumbs up. I would have spoken to others but got some disapproving glances from my breakfast partners and heard my minisa’s voice in my head saying ‘ETIQUETTE!’ (Hmpf)
While our servers weren’t always the chatty sorts, they were extremely efficient and observant. If we need extras they would bring it and our teas were miraculously waiting for us while we moved to wash our hands.
The tea is served in glasses and boy-oh-boy were they hot. The light tea has only a hint of tea to flavour the milk which was sweet and frothy.
Our bill was ready before we knew it and obviously it was time to leave. We were quickly ushered away while the table was rapidly wiped and the next patrons grabbed a seat. So you collect the bill from one counter and pay at another and there we spotted the menu.
At the entrance are also sweets you can choose from. We were so full, we really couldn’t try anything more. But if you do, please let us know what your favourites are.
Did we love Saraswathi Lodge? Yes, we did! Will we come here again? Yes, again. Somehow, food with no frills and trappings can sometimes be soulful and just what you need. Do not judge it by the papers on the wall or the dripping buckets. Once we were the last customers at Saraswathi Lodge close to 11.30 pm and the staff basically washed and scrubbed the entire store, walls and all with water and disinfecting the whole store from front to back. I have never seen anything quite like it in my whole life.
In all, this vegetarian meal cost us less than Rs 600/-. So, go to Saraswathi Lodge. Seriously, just go there!
As for the minisa who would eventually read this; he would just shake his head and pretend he doesn’t know me.
Located in Marine Drive, overlooking the coastal railway line and the sea, MB Yaal as its name suggests is all about the cuisine found in the northern part of Sri Lanka. Wanting to try some authentic Jaffna food, Thadhsa, Ramesh and I headed to partake our afternoon sustenance aka lunch. The scorching heat outside left us wilted and we were quick to order our drinks of watermelon and mango.
It is interesting to note that while Yaal is named after Jaffna, there are quite number of dishes on the menu that are not limited to Jaffna. The menu had a variety of pittu, parottas, kotthu roti and idiyappam (String hoppers) to be teamed up with various curries. Unfortunately for us, almost all of them were available exclusively for dinner. (bummer) We have to warn you that Yaal has a massive number of meat dishes, but they do have some traditional Sri Lankan curries such as dhal, potato and garlic which makes it open for vegan and vegetarians.
Now for our food order. Thadsha went for a vegetable fried rice while Ramesh and I opted for two vegetarian meals – one with samba rice and the other with Basmathi. Served in a thali, which consists of one large silver plate with curries in its own little silver cup, the rice served on a to a banana leaf The thaali also contained a rasam (a spice induced soup) and a sweet sago pudding made with coconut milk . Thadsha who hails from Jaffna said that unlike in the Sinhala tradition where all our curries are served over our rice, the Hindus serve it this way so that each curry can be savoured either individually or mixed up together to suit each unique palate. Dhal, ash plantains, deep fried okra (ladies’ fingers) curry and greens were the curries served with the traditional papadam and crunchy deep fried red chillie. Sounds simple enough, but it was really truly yummy. Adding the rasam to the rice further enhanced the flavours. Nothing was left behind.
The Vegetable fried rice came with a gravy and it was both flavourful and aromatic and while it might not be authentic Jaffna cuisine, it goes to show how food transcends over culture, people and distance. The different cuisines under one roof and on one table is a true indication of the diverse yet integrated society we live in. We loved it.
As usual I wanted dessert and opted for the fresh fruit salad. It was a mix of banana, papaya and pineapple and frankly I have had better. While it was freshly made, the fruits tasted washed out with little or almost no flavour. Clearly time to change the fruit vendor.
Still, we enjoyed our visit to Yaal and it was lovely watching the waves glistening and the occasional train whizzing past us. We recommend you to come in the night though, to enjoy the full range of their cuisine. We hope to do so too.