Feast on Sri Lankan delicacies at Sule Shangri-La

Tuna balls and onion salad.
Tuna balls and onion salad.

Yangon’s Sule Shangri-La Hotel is serving up a colorful buffet of Sri Lankan delicacies this week in honor Sri Lanka’s Independence Day, which was on Feb. 4. For those who have always loved Sri Lankan food or those who want to try it for the first time, “Sri Lankan Nights” will give you what you need.

The buffet is the product of a collaboration between Sri Lankan chefs Nalin Senanayake and Gamini Weerasinghe, who have come in from Shangri-La resorts in Sri Lanka, and Sule Shangri-La head chef Roshan Fernando, who is also Sri Lankan. Coconuts Yangon was invited to taste the three chefs’ collection of creations last week, and we liked it.

Sri Lankan Nights" salad and sambol course
The “Sri Lankan Nights” salad and sambol course.

We started off with an array of salads – some sweet, some spicy, some tangy, and all fresh and flavorful. We especially liked the curried tuna balls, whose tender and tangy insides were encapsulated by a salty, crispy crust. These went well with the sweet fruit chutney, though we’re not sure if the chefs intended that.

The fried hadallo – tiny, crispy fishies that can be eaten whole, bones and all – were also fun to eat with a spray of lime juice.

Fried hadallo.

The literature on Sri Lankan cuisine often points out that it uses coconut oil rather than butter or vegetable oil, giving dishes a lighter feel than their cousins in India or elsewhere in South Asia. We wouldn’t have come to that conclusion on our own, but once we were told, we interpreted the main dishes of this buffet as evidence supporting that claim.

The mains included a spicy chicken cashew curry, tangy chunks of fish with tamarind seasoning, and a sweet, creamy pumpkin stew. Our favorites, however, were the gingery beef curry with jaggery and lemongrass and the soft, spicy sweet potato chunks. Although we were hesitant to waste belly space on rice, the chefs urged us that rice would accentuate all of the subtle flavors of the curries, and they were right.

Kukulmas kadjugama (chicken cashew curry).
Kukulmas kadjugama (chicken cashew curry).

If the mains were evidence of a Sri Lankan lighter touch, so were the desserts. Everyone at the table went crazy for the watalappam – a coconut custard pudding that was creamy and nutty yet still somehow fruity and fresh. The other desserts were an assortment of baked goods that prioritized texture over flavor. Some were soft, some were surprisingly firm; some were crispy, and some were crumbly. All were just a little sweet, like treats for adults.

Sri Lankan desserts.
Sri Lankan desserts.

Throughout the meal, we could feel our ignorance about Sri Lankan food steadily melt away with each of the 20 dishes we tried, and we left not feeling startled by the unfamiliar but comfortably acquainted with a friendly cuisine we’d like to encounter again, whenever it’s back in town.

The “Sri Lankan Nights” buffet is available at Café Sule for US$34 per person from 6-10pm from Feb. 5 to 11. Sri Lankan passport holders get a 20 percent discount. For reservations and further information, call (95 1) 242 828 extension 6421 6422 or email restaurantreservations.ssyn@shangri-la.com.

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