When visiting Sri Lanka, a lot of people use Colombo only as a place of transit through to the country’s more picturesque beaches and hillside tea plantations. But the city itself is worth exploring for a couple of days, especially when you have a chef-recommended culinary itinerary. Here is Chef Gizzy’s three-day guide to her hometown and the places that inspired some of the dishes at our everyday Sri Lankan canteen, Hotal Colombo. For a visual feast, check out our video guide here.
Breakfast dosas and string hoppers
This canteen-style eatery is the go-to for workers on their morning commute, grabbing a wholesome breakfast of dosas and string hoppers. A hopper is basically a bowl-shaped crepe, made of fermented rice flour and coconut milk and the shape comes from the pan it is cooked in. String hoppers are made from the same batter served in the form of a noodle pancake. Get messy, eat with your hands and scoop everything up in one big, delicious bite. Dosas and hoppers are a huge part of our menu at Hotal Colombo. We serve a Hopper of the Month, highlighting different flavours and toppings, from bacon and egg to cheese and all of our vibrant house-made sambols.
New Banana Leaf
Biryani for lunch
No plates required at this Sri Lankan institution, where banana leaves are not only the namesake but also the utensil when serving their famous biryani. Go for the yellow rice and chicken in this DIY-style canteen.
Upali’s by Nawaloka
Dinner at a traditional hotal
You know it is really good when, out of all the dining options, you go back for a second meal. Upali’s is a home-style, traditional Sri Lankan restaurant that is always packed with local office workers. It reminds me the most of home and has influenced the way that I cook, and the way that I hope guests experience Hotal Colombo. A lot of their tradition has found its way onto our menu, from hoppers and sambols to our pol rotis and karis. Upali’s does a lot of fantastic vegetable dishes, but their fish head kari is the star of the show.
Dutch Burgher Union
Lamprais for lunch
This social club was founded by the Burgher ethnic group of Sri Lankans over a century ago, most known for their lamprais – an entire meal of rice and meat steamed whole in a banana leaf. Full of flavour, the meat stays tender and juicy and the aromas that you are hit with when you open up the banana leaf parcel is abundant. At Hotal Colombo, we have taken this signature dish and adjusted it on our new brunch menu, putting our own spin on lamprais: yellow rice with brinjal moju, papadums, cucumber salad, fish cutlets and your choice of kari. We serve ours separately but with a nod to DBU. They also serve a traditional Sri Lankan almond cake, known as Love Cake, which I like to take away and enjoy with my tea in the afternoon.
Just a couple of doors down from the famous Red Mosque, Bombay Sweets is a hole-in-the-wall shop that specialises in Falooda, a Sri Lankan rose-syrup milkshake with Iranian roots. Falooda is exceptionally sweet, a common trait in our desserts. You can almost see the dessert colour scheme, particularly of Falooda, in the aesthetics of Hotal Colombo.
Ministry of Crab
Crab feast for dinner
There is a reason Ministry of Crab has made it onto Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, as an approachable way of trying Sri Lankan-style crab: meaty and full of flavour, but be prepared to get a little messy. That is half the fun! Ministry of Crab might be a little more pricey, but it is such great service and always premium quality crab so it is worth the extra pennies. We serve whole crab at Hotal Colombo too, of course, as an iconic dish on the Sri Lankan epicurean menu. Selected from a crab tank and made-to-order, I am proud to serve such a signature dish from my home here in Hong Kong.
If you want a little break from the city, just two hours south of Colombo is the beautiful and relaxed seaside area of Galle. If you find yourself needing something to eat after laying out in the sun, then just near Unawatuna beach is mother-son run Happy Spice, a restaurant that is well worth a stop for lunch or dinner. Happy Spice uses the freshest ingredients and traditional recipes, all cooked from scratch (so try not to be in a hurry). Galle is a get-away, so everything takes on the chilled Sri Lankan attitude and requires a little patience, but is worth the time spent waiting when you tuck into the exceptional home-cooked food at places like Happy Spice.
Craving a kari? Hotal Colombo now serves brunch every weekend from 12-4pm, serving up Chef Gizzy’s favourite Sri Lankan dishes. If crab caught your eye, Hotal Colombo will be ringing in the New Year with Colombo Crab Club on 31 December.