Colombo snacks your ears sense first

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

YOU can hear Sri Lanka’s favourite street snack be­ing made be­fore you see it. The loud, dis­tinc­tive sound of metal blades bash­ing against a metal hot­plate fills the smoky air along the seafront at Galle Face Green in Colombo, min­gling with the crash of waves against the sea wall and the cries of cooks yelling or­ders at each other.

Like many great dishes, kottu is made from left­overs, us­ing day­old ro­tis that are chopped into strips and mixed with spices, egg, chicken or beef, and gar­nished with chopped raw onion and chilli. And the place to eat it on the hoof in Colombo is Nana Kings; or Nana Rauf; or Nana Toina; or any of the Nanas on the large ex­panse of scrubby grass fac­ing the In­dian Ocean and over­looked by the iconic Galle Face Ho­tel.

The orig­i­nal Nana’s opened here in the early 1980s. It no longer ex­ists but its legacy lives on – with every new stall to open along the same stretch tak­ing the same name. We took a seat at Nana Kings, or­dered a chicken kottu … and lis­tened to the chef be­gin his rhyth­mic shred­ding.

Kottu isn’t pretty: it’s a big, messy pile of com­fort food; a tasty, mor­eish carb-fest. Yet my guide, Thushni, in­sisted we try more lo­cal dishes, and soon our plas­tic ta­ble was full – with egg naan, and dev­illed cut­tle­fish and crab smoth­ered in a deep red, tangy sauce. The ta­ble was a mess of crab claws, our tops were splat­tered in sauce. We moved on to the next stall for the barbecue course, another Nana spe­cial­ity. Prawns on sticks ar­rived with an il­licit can of beer wrapped in white pa­per – the Mus­lim-run stalls are un­li­censed, but the wait­ers can spot a Westerner with a thirst.

Be­tween the Nanas are smaller stalls sell­ing pineap­ple, mango and ve­r­alu, a sour, olive-like fruit of­ten used in pick­les, sprin­kled in chilli and salt; and carts piled with salty, crunchy cas­sava fries or isso vadai, another pop­u­lar hawker snack of prawns on a len­til pan­cake. At the end of the row there’s a wooden pier where a paan man sits on the steps with a tray of sar­avita – grated co­conut, coloured and spiced and wrapped in be­tel leaves – and the sound of the sea drowns out the fu­ri­ous rat-a-tat-tat of metal on metal.

The Galle Face Green stalls are open un­til 11pm. Lo­cals seek­ing their kottu fix af­ter that head in­stead to the Galle Road, home to another fa­mous kottu pur­veyor: Pi­la­woos. Just like Nanas, the orig­i­nal Pi­la­woos has spawned a host of name-a-likes, all on the same stretch. But un­like Nanas, the orig­i­nal Pi­la­woos, which started in 1979, is still go­ing strong. It is noth­ing much to look at in­side – the hot­plate the­atrics take place out of view – and most lo­cals don’t even bother to go in: Pi­la­woos is ef­fec­tively a drive-through that you don’t ac­tu­ally drive through. Open 24/7, it seems hun­gry lo­cals rock up at all hours (usu­ally post-club or wed­ding party), park and wait for a waiter to take an or­der at the car win­dow.

Here kottu is mixed with soft cheese, mak­ing it richer and heav­ier – the per­fect booze soaker. The ac­com­pa­ny­ing drink of choice is lime juice, which cuts through the rich­ness, or chilled Milko (cho­co­late milk), which doesn’t. A waiter comes to our van to take our or­der, and soon we are eat­ing another pile of shred­ded bread, loaded with cheese and fried chicken. Af­ter half a plate I’m de­feated. I can’t eat another thing. Thushni has other ideas: “You have to have an ice-cream at Car­ni­val – it’s been open for about 30 years and it’s an in­sti­tu­tion.” – The Guardian

Photo: Shutterstock

A street food ven­dor in Colombo is our best hope to find kottu, a Sri Lankan favourite.

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